BATON ROUGE – LSU will take the field Saturday at Tiger Stadium in a semi-game for the first time since the strangest bowl game in the program’s history.
The Tigers under first-year head coach Brian Kelly will play in an offense vs. defense spring game at 2 p.m. eastern on ESPN + and the SEC Network + as the roster numbers would not be ideal for the usual Purple team vs. White Team game.
Just two years after winning the national championship with one of the best seasons in college football history at 15-0 with wins over seven ranked teams, LSU had only 39 scholarship players for its Texas Bowl fiasco against Kansas State on Jan. 4. Kelly, who was just hired the previous month and was busy recruiting and hiring coaches, was not on the sidelines, and quarterbacks Garrett Nussmeier and Myles Brennan chose not to play.
Offensive line coach Brad Davis, who had only been on campus since June, took over as interim coach, and wide receiver Jontre Kirklin played quarterback in a 42-20 loss to the unranked Wildcats, who finished 8-5.
The Tigers finished 6-7 for LSU’s first losing season since 1999 after a 5-5 fall the previous season. Coach Ed Orgeron was fired at mid-season and finished out the regular season.
The roster is back into the 70s now through the NCAA Transfer Portal and the February signing day. Brennan, Nussmeier, transfer quarterback Jayden Daniels from Arizona State and freshman signee Walker Howard will all play.
“Spring games generally don’t bring the same kind of atmosphere, but it’ll be fun,” said Kelly, who left Notre Dame after 12 seasons to be LSU’s coach. “It’ll be exciting.”
It’s also free.
“Won’t be the real thing, but it will be another step closer to it,” Kelly said. “We’ll handle it like it’s a game-day situation with our pre-game routine, so when we go against Florida State, it’s not the first time.”
LSU opens the 2022 season on Sept. 4 in the Superdome in New Orleans against Florida State, another former winning program that was 5-7 last year for its fourth straight losing season.
The format for defensive points in LSU’s scrimmage will feature three points for a turnover or for holding the offense to three plays without a first down, two points for a third- or fourth-down stop after an initial first down in a drive, and one point for a sack or tackle for loss. Offense scoring will not change.
Kelly will be focused particularly on the quarterbacks as the race has been close with Brennan, a sixth-year senior, in the lead over Daniels, a junior, with the sophomore Nussmeier making a move of late.
“There is competitive balance for positions that are really, realy crucial,” he said. “And obviously the one that we all want to talk about, and we should, is the quarterback position. That is a hotly contested position that requires this kind of game, so those guys can sort out where they are. I don’t want another practice. This is really about watching guys play at a higher level.”
The snaps and throws by all four quarterbacks have been kept very close, which is the plan for the spring game.
“I looked at the numbers, and I think it was an eight-snaps differential between the four in terms of 11-on-11 snaps,” Kelly said. “We’ll try to do the same thing.”
Tailback John Emery, a top recruit from 2019 who has been a disappointment and missed last season for academic reasons, will play in the scrimmage after returning to the fold in the classroom.
“There are a number of guys that have to use this game as an opportunity to take another step forward,” Kelly said.