BATON ROUGE – One of the more admirable things about new LSU football coach Brian Kelly is his candidness. He tells it like it is for the most part, like no previous LSU head coach since Nick Saban.
Not a lot of spin, trying to be cute, or catchy slogans that can get hollow and tired fast.
And at his weekly news conference Monday, Kelly basically said, don’t get your hopes up.
“I just wanted to make sure that it was dually noted that there’s going to be some tough days ahead of us,” Kelly said.
Is this a president talking about the economy?
“The next month, there’s going to be some good days, and there’s going to be some bad days,” he said. “And we’re going to have to grind through it. But they are giving us all that they have.”
I had to double check the schedule and make sure LSU (3-1, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) wasn’t playing No. 1 Georgia, No. 2 Alabama and No. 8 Tennessee over the next three weeks.
The Tigers only play Auburn (3-1, 1-0 SEC) on Saturday at 7 p.m. eastern on ESPN. And LSU is an 8.5-point favorite on the road.
Yes, Kelly lost his opener to what most thought was an average to weak Florida State team that was a 3.5-point underdog. But Florida State is 4-0 and ranked No. 23 in the nation now.
And LSU dominated a then-undefeated Mississippi State team that had received votes for the Associated Press poll in the second half for a 31-16 win two weeks ago.
But Kelly just seems a little cautious, which is different.
“We know where our issues are,” Kelly said in his opening remarks, and coaches usually don’t volunteer that their team has shortcomings. “It’s a team that will fight, but we’re thin in some areas. We’re going to have to make sure we keep our team rested.”
Wow. Great to hear reality, especially in these delusional parts. Some of us knew this already. Of LSU’s last four coaches, Kelly clearly inherited the weakest roster since Nick Saban was hired after a 3-8 season in 1999. That ’99 team finished 1-7 in the SEC and had gone 4-7 and 2-6 in 1998. LSU was 11-12 in the two seasons before Kelly and looked horrendous in a 42-20 Texas Bowl to Kansas State.
Kelly and his staff did a terrific job replenishing what was a mid-major type roster in that bowl game via the NCAA Transfer Portal. But the truth is in most cases, that is the NCAA Backup Portal. If they were starting, they likely would not have entered the portal, unless they wanted to go up a class. In that case, it’s the NCAA Upwardly Mobile Portal. This is why LSU still has “issues” and is “thin in some areas.”
One of LSU’s thin areas is the offensive line. Another is the secondary and maybe linebacker. But LSU is very good on the defensive line, at wide receiver and at quarterback, where Jayden Daniels has been the brightest spot of the offense. He left LSU’s 38-0 win over New Mexico last week with a minor back injury, but that was only because it was New Mexico. He will likely be 100 percent or close to it Saturday.
Auburn has many more problems than LSU, which will beat Auburn by two touchdowns or more. Auburn’s offensive line is worse than LSU’s and is now on its third team center – Jalil Irvin. He did not play well in Auburn’s fortunate, 17-14 win over Missouri in what looked like a spring scrimmage. Irvin had to replace starting center Tate Johnson, who injured his elbow in the first half. He is having surgery Thursday and is likely out for the season.
Johnson entered the season as the starter because Nick Brahms called it a career just before the season after 33 straight starts because of recurring injuries.
Auburn is 13th in the SEC and 89th nationally in total offense. LSU is third in the SEC and 12th in the nation in total defense. Auburn will start transfer redshirt freshman quarterback Robby Ashford, who played well last week with original starter and former LSU starter TJ Finley out with a shoulder injury. Even if Finley is OK to play this week, Ashford will likely play because Finley has not played well.
I have to assume Kelly was talking about his schedule after Auburn.
Tennessee (4-0, 1-0 SEC) will bring one of the nation’s best offenses to Tiger Stadium on Oct. 8 for a noon kickoff on ESPN. Interesting decision there by CBS, which opted for Georgia and Auburn at 3:30 p.m. that day. It wanted No. 1 Georgia, but the LSU-Tennessee game will likely be much better than Georgia-Auburn, whether Kelly is hedging his bets or not.
After Tennessee, LSU is at Florida (2-2, 0-2 SEC), which has only lost close to No. 7 Kentucky (4-0, 1-0 SEC) and No. 8 Tennessee. Then LSU is at No. 14 Ole Miss (4-0) before hosting Alabama (4-0) and traveling to No. 20 Arkansas (3-1, 1-1 SEC) and No. 17 Texas A&M (3-1, 1-0 SEC).
The Florida State loss will haunt the Tigers this year, but they can still win seven or maybe eight games. LSU will beat Alabama-Birmingham and will be able to play with and possibly beat Florida, Ole Miss, Arkansas and Texas A&M.
But Kelly’s right and refreshingly honest. He is not counting any wins yet, which is smart.
“You know the Mike Tyson line,” he said. “Everybody has a plan until they get hit in the mouth, right? We’re going to have to stick with our plan and stick with our process every single day because we’re going to get hit in the mouth.”
Kelly can be as honest as a punch in the mouth. But he needs to make sure he keeps his nose clean at Auburn. That would be a really “bad day” – worse than the Florida State loss.