By just the second quarter of LSU’s disastrous, if not comical, 24-23 opening loss to Florida State on Sunday night at the Superdome, the silence was deftly loud.
LSU fans, craving the start of the 2022 football season with their $10 million coach, Brian Kelly, who spurned Notre Dame for LSU, were near hyperventilation just a quarter before that.
After two years of irrelevance – 5-5 in 2020 and 6-7 in 2021 – LSU was going to be back with a vengeance behind the first coach to leave Notre Dame without being fired or resigning since 1907. LSU was going to win at least eight or nine games and be competitive, if not in it.
But early in the second quarter, LSU trailed a mediocre Florida State team – itself without a winning season since 2017 (and that was only 7-6) – by 7-3.
And all the Tigers could muster in the first quarter was 31 yards of total offense and three first downs. New quarterback Jayden Daniels was running for his life and was 2-of-4 passing for a single yard. Armoni Goodwin had the most yards of the running backs with 11 on two carries.
Is Les Miles back?
The sound of silence from such a large contingent of purple and gold had been “heard” before. January 9, 2012, at this same Superdome … Alabama 21, LSU 0 in the national championship game. But this was far worse, because that was a great team – 13-0 SEC champions before that game.
This LSU team is 11-13 since winning the 2019-20 national title in the Superdome.
I didn’t hear anyone say this, but the silence spoke louder than the words. And I could “hear” what they were thinking.
“We SUCK AGAIN!”
The LSU fans were no less mute at halftime as the Tigers still trailed 7-3, and its leading receiver Malik Nabers had two catches for 15 yards. He also fumbled a punt return, and LSU had a short field goal blocked.
“We can’t play any worse than that, I don’t think,” Kelly said to FOX at halftime. “I mean, it’s my first game, maybe we can.”
Wow, he sounds like a Louisiana native already. Just two quarters in as LSU’s coach and the malaise of Post 15-0 had already afflicted him. Yes, Kelly had been LSU’d.
The Second Half LSU Rally Falls Short
LSU actually played better in the second half, but it was too late.
The virus still has some of the older players in its grasp. Junior receiver Kayshon Boutte dropped two touchdown passes. Senior defensive end Ali Gaye was ejected for exactly the type of targeting penalty for which the targeting penalty was invented.
Nabers muffed another punt return in the fourth quarter. Blocking broke down again in the interior, resulting in a blocked extra point that ended the game at 24-23 instead of in overtime.
LSU Radio Network analyst extraordinaire Charles Hanagriff said it best – “Ugly, ugly, ugly.”
A Frustrated Brian Kelly Post Game
Kelly did not mince words either.
“Certainly, mistake after mistake for us, and particularly in the first half,” he said. “And obviously more mistakes in the second half. We started to overcome some of those and played with more of a sense of urgency the last 12 minutes.”
But the plague was too much to overcome.
“Our margin for error was so small that we couldn’t make any more mistakes,” Kelly said. “We didn’t tackle very well. We couldn’t get off the field on third down. We didn’t execute very well offensively. We had two turnovers in our punt return game, which we thought would be an asset for us. And then we had a blocked field goal and a blocked extra point. Any time you have those kinds of situations, you’re setting yourself up for a long night.”
And another long season?
Well, instead of eight or nine wins, it is down to seven or eight in my book. And the rest of the SEC looks much better. At the moment, the SEC is 14-1. Not only does LSU have the only loss, it by far has just looked the worse. Sick, if you will.
Entering the season, it was not a reach to think LSU could play with or beat teams like Mississippi State at home on Sept. 17, Auburn away on Oct. 1, Tennessee at home on Oct. 8 and Florida away on Oct. 15 – four teams that weren’t much better or worse than LSU last season.
Now, Florida looks clearly better than LSU, and those other three are looking at LSU and saying, “Yeah, that’s probably a win.”
It’s still very early, though. They didn’t show it Sunday night, but Kelly has very good assistants in special teams coordinator Brian Polian, offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock and defensive coordinator Matt House. They’ll get their units better. It would be hard not to do so.
“We needed to be in some different pass protections,” Kelly said. “Took us a while to recognize some of those things. So, we’ve got to do a better job coaching that.”
Quarterback Jayden Daniels – the lone bright spot for LSU in the opener – could have put his front and backs in better protections. But Denbrock could have as well.
Considering the porous offensive line, Daniels finished with spectacular numbers – 26-of-35 passing for 209 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions despite four sacks. He also rushed 16 times for 114 yards.
Daniels became just the second LSU quarterback in history to throw for 200 yards and rush for 100 in a game. The previous? Why, Joe Burrow with 270 passing and 100 rushing in the 74-72, seven-overtime loss at Texas A&M in 2018.
So, I would call that hope to maybe not suck.