First-year LSU coach Brian Kelly has turned the Tigers from worst in the West to first.
And perhaps more amazing, he had LSU fans pulling for their hated blood rival Alabama and coach Nick Saban Saturday night.
No. 9 Alabama’s 30-24 win at No. 11 Ole Miss on Saturday night coupled with No. 7 LSU’s 13-10 win at Arkansas earlier Saturday gave the Tigers the Southeastern Conference West title at 6-1.
Without Alabama winning, LSU would not have been able to clinch until it plays at Texas A&M to close the SEC season on Nov. 26. So most LSU fans wanted Alabama, which it has hated with passion since Bear Bryant beat the Tigers on a regular basis throughout the 1970s, to beat Ole Miss. And it wanted Saban, whom LSU fans have hated since he went to Alabama from the Miami Dolphins three years after leading LSU to its first national title since 1958, to actually win.
But many were conflicted. And some, just could not bring themselves to pull for Alabama.
Ole Miss (8-2) fell to 4-2 in the SEC. Even if it wins out to finish 6-2 in the SEC, and LSU (8-2) loses at A&M to finish 6-2, the Tigers have the head-to-head tiebreaker. This is because LSU beat Ole Miss, 45-20, on Oct. 22. Alabama (8-2, 5-2) was eliminated from the West race with LSU’s win Saturday.
“Just a great performance,” Kelly said. “We made plays on defense. We found a way to survive on the road when we didn’t have our A game on offense.”
Nick Saban Helps Brian Kelly Again
The assist Kelly received for the SEC West title by Alabama coach Nick Saban in beating Ole Miss was not the first nudge Kelly got from Saban. Kelly called Saban to talk about the LSU job before he accepted it last year.
LSU and Kelly still could have won the West without Saban’s help with a win at Texas A&M on Nov. 26. The Aggies fell to 3-7 overall and 1-6 in the SEC going with a 13-10 loss to Auburn late Saturday night.
Kelly left Notre Dame after the 2021 season to become LSU’s coach and replace coach Ed Orgeron, who dropped to 5-5 in 2020 and 6-7 in 2021 after winning the 2019 national title at 15-0.
LSU finished tied for last in the West with Auburn last year at 3-5, but lost to Auburn, so it was the last place West team.
LSU will play in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 3 in Atlanta (4 p.m., CBS) against SEC East champion and No. 1 Georgia (10-0, 7-0). The Bulldogs beat Mississippi State Saturday night.
LSU Wins Despite Sluggish Offense
“It wasn’t the best performance,” Kelly said.
The Tigers lacked the same gusto they had last week in a huge, 32-31 overtime win over No. 6 Alabama in Tiger Stadium.
“We just had enough to get the win. Sometimes, you’ve just got to grind through,” Kelly said.
Arkansas (5-5, 2-4) trailed 13-3 after three quarters, but made a game of it. Third team quarterback Cade Fortin threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Matt Landers to cut LSU’s lead to 13-10 with 13:17 to play. Malik Hornsby started at quarterback for Arkansas in place of injured starter KJ Jefferson, who dressed out but did not play because of a shoulder injury.
LSU LB Harold Perkins Recovers From Flu For 4 Sacks
LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels also struggled, completing only 8 of 15 passes for 86 yards with an interception around a season-high seven sacks allowed by the Tigers.
Tailback Josh Williams led all rushers with 122 yards on 19 carries for the Tigers.
LSU true freshman outside linebacker Harold Perkins continued to be one of the top newcomers in the SEC- if not the country. He collected four of LSU’s five quarterbacks sacks and forced two fumbles, including one in the final moments to ice the game. Perkins, who played sparingly early in the season, had eight tackles in all with six solo stops.
Perkins was sick with the flu before the game and threw up in the locker room.
“Harold Perkins was outstanding,” Kelly said. “He was all over the field.”
LSU hosts Alabama-Birmingham next week, while Arkansas hosts Ole Miss.