That SEC opener proved to be instructive for several reasons. Some of LSU’s younger players stepped into the moment well, and LSU coach Brian Kelly noted that the running back room improved with the return of John Emery Jr. from injury. Kelly also spoke about the wide receiver group, the need to get Kayshon Boutte more involved, and the improving play of Jayden Daniels at quarterback. The Arizona State transfer connected on 22-of-37 passes for 210 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions while also leading the Tigers in rushing with 93 yards and a score on 16 carries.
Can LSU continue that momentum through this weekend’s matchup?
Here’s what Kelly said as the Tigers prepare for New Mexico.
ON THE WIN OVER MISSISSIPPI STATE
“Some individual performances have already been highlighted. SEC accolades, obviously, you guys are aware of. Jay Ward, BJ Ojulari, Defensive Back and Defensive Linemen Player of the Week in the SEC. We’re proud of their accomplishments and like to note those accordingly when those kinds of performances are highlighted. It’s very difficult to be a Player of the Week in this conference, and we like to give them due notice when they are outstanding performances like that.
“As a team, obviously any victory in the SEC is great. The way we came back in the second half, I think the overall performance of our defense from start to finish was outstanding.
“And then we rallied offensively and executed much better down the stretch.
“We’ll look to certainly improve on the offensive performance and its consistency for four quarters. And continue to work on consistency in the special teams game.
“But I really liked the, I think, physically and mentally how our guys stayed with it the entire game.
“The sense on the sideline for me was really good. That our team was at no time anxious, panicking, didn’t believe that they were going to find a way to win the football game. So that’s a very good trait to have moving forward. We’ll look to build on that.”
ON MOVING FORWARD TO NEW MEXICO
“As we move forward now, getting another home game. Excited to be in Tiger Stadium again for a third consecutive week. But now we have to look towards persistence and consistency.
“Looking at a football team now that has a chance to be a good team, you have to have consistency. And that means coming back after a good win and putting together a complete performance. So that’s mental and physical, which is how they prepare. So we start that preparation today, and we work through the week.
“Our expectations and our standards are that we have a great week of preparation, regardless of who our competition is. Whether it’s a SEC competition or not. We need to be consistent in what we’re doing. And that will be the challenge this week.
“The maturity will be on display in terms of how mature we are as a football team and whether we can handle success. We had some success this weekend. How do we handle it this week in our preparation?
“New Mexico is a challenge. We had Zach Arnett’s defense and Mike Leach’s team this weekend; that defense is a handful. We saw that Mississippi State was difficult to handle, especially in the first half. They keep you off balance. Zach came from the Rocky Long tree, and we go against a Rocky Long defense this weekend.
“It is a good defense. They have caused people fits. They’re a defense that is in structure and has some similarities. They’re allowing 13 and a half points per game. Third down, they’re outstanding. I think they’re fifth in the country. They forced seven turnovers this past weekend. Seven. So you can imagine the top 5 in the country in terms of forcing turnovers.
“So this is a defense that will give you problems. If you’re not executing at a high level, they will turn this game into a close game, there’s no doubt about that.
“Offensively, and again head coach Danny Gonzales does an excellent job. He’s a noted offensive mind. He’s always been really good as a play caller. It’s a pistol midline option offense ball control. They have got some talented players on the perimeter. It’s one where they’re playing good defense and very opportunistic on the offensive side of the ball.
“So (Miles) Kendrick is the quarterback from Kansas, he transferred in. He’s athletic, and we’ll have to do an excellent job with our option responsibilities.
“But again, I think, as I mentioned, a lot of this is in our preparation and consistency and how we handle things going into this weekend. So with that we’ll open it up to questions.”
ON WHETHER THIS IS THE POINT OF YEAR THAT STARTS TO SHOW A TEAM’S CONDITIONING
“Yeah, I think it’s how you practice. We don’t condition during practice, or after practice. So it’s a matter of managing the practice structure itself so that you are getting your team to a workload that the games become easier. And then you start to see that in the third and fourth quarter where you can wear down your opponents.
“We’re weight training during the season. It’s not a maintenance program. It’s a program that we’re not putting our guys in a compromising position where they have got too much weight on the bar. Still, we’re being powerful with our weight training and intentional about trying to get our guys stronger during the season.
“So we want to continue to add strength. We want to continue to condition our players. But also with an eye towards making sure that their workload is such that they can be their best on Saturday.”
ON ANTHONY BRADFORD’S STATUS AND LSU PICKING ITS SPOTS WITH TEMPO
“Anthony is activated for this week. He’s in a competitive situation with the guard position. But certainly will have an opportunity to earn playing time this week.
“Yeah, it’s not as simple as just say, Hey, let’s go tempo and all of our problems have been erased. I think I kind of alluded to some of ’em. Having three different offensive line combinations require a lot of communication. We had eight penalties. Six of them were unforced and five of them were communication errors. So we’ve got to clean up communication, cadence, rhythm.
“So tempo takes some of that out of the mix so to speak and you can just go fast and not have to worry about it. I think at times we have to think in terms of correcting the gross errors instead of trying to correct everything at the line of scrimmage. We’ve been a little bit maybe too detailed and we just got to play.
“And then when you play a faster pace there are some things you just can’t account for. I think maybe we have over coached it a little bit and I think we’re trying to find our sweet spot as to what are the things that we just have to live with and really do a good job of getting the ball out of our hands.”
ON HIS ASSESSMENT OF JAYDEN DANIELS
“Yeah, I love coaching somebody that is open to the dialogue during the game. You can have conversations with him during the game and he can make the corrections in game. Some can’t. So you just don’t even try to do those things.
“But Coach (Joe) Sloan is talking much more conceptual. I’m trying to deal with some technical things on the sideline. Because sometimes I don’t have the big conceptual picture from the sideline.
“So he’s handling both ends of that. Coach Sloan is talking with him about some concepts and some different looks and I’m trying to really focus on some specific things. I think that that’s worked out pretty good. He handles both of those conversations really well.”
ON HOW EMERY JONES DID IN HIS FIRST START
“I would say that he exceeded expectations. Look, you know, he’s not going to be perfect, but he’s active. He’s got great feet. He is a great open field tackler.”
ON KAYSHON BOUTTE GETTING DOUBLED AND OPENING THINGS UP FOR OTHERS, BUT ALSO NEEDING TO GET KAYSHON MORE OPPORTUNITIES
“Yeah, I think that’s a little bit of both. I think, look, this is never one sided, right? It’s never all on the player. It’s never all on the coach at this level. I think you have to look at both, right. We got to look at how we can move him around and utilize his talents. Then he’s got to continue to work hard and work on his skill set and continue to work hard in practice.
“So it’s always going to be that, at this level and at the next. It’s always going to be on the player, it’s always going to be on the coaching staff to work together. This is working together as a team, you know, is how you get better. It’s never just one side of it.
“So absolutely. We’ve got to do our job as coaches to move him around and be creative. He’s got to do his end of continue to work hard and be the best player he can be.”
ON SPECIAL TEAMS BREAKDOWNS
“Yeah, so a couple things: The kickoffs are a direct result of the kicks. The kicks that have been returned have been line drives down the middle of the field. That is going to compromise your coverage. We don’t have a chance to get off blocks and get properly covered.
“Now can we get off some blocks and make some plays? Absolutely. We’ve got to be better there. So this is not all on the kicker. However, it does expose you with those types of kicks.
“As it relates to the fielding of the punts, we got to coach better and I’ve got to be involved in that and make sure that those guys are absolutely clear in terms of they cannot move their heels pass the 10-yard line. Greg obviously lost track of where he was. He’s a young player. We’ve got to do a better job coaching him there.
“The one that he tried to field, he felt like it hit one of our players. Look, when you’re looking at it, it’s close, but again, that goes to awareness and maybe we could have coached him better. If he saw some Mississippi State players moving towards the ball, maybe that’s the cue that you fall on it. If he doesn’t see a Mississippi State player going to it, maybe he stays away from it. And I think we can do a better job coaching that too.”
ON THE RUNNING GAME AND HOW IMPRESSED HE’S BEEN WITH LSU’S BACKS
“Look, I mean I think last week we talked about run efficiency and where is that as it relates to Week 2. And I said I really can’t tell you until we start SEC play. Our run efficiency was much better. When we needed to run the football we were able to do that to close out the football game.
“So I’m pleased with the efficiency of being able to run the ball in short yardage situations, to close out games inside the 10-yard line, what we call our white and blue zone. We’ve been effective running the football there.
“And then our backs are kind of what we expected. They’re all going to contribute in some fashion. I think they all did. I think they all lended themselves to what we’re doing from an offensive perspective.
“Getting (John) Emery back helped. You saw him catch the ball out of the back field. He was really good in pass protection. I think he’ll get better as he continues to get reps and he’ll add to the depth of that position.”
ON WHETHER HE CAN ACCEPT ERRORS THAT INVOLVE EFFORT
ON WHETHER THE EFFORT MAKES HIM FEEL A LITTLE BETTER
“Yeah. As he came off, my first reaction is, What are you doing? Right. And as he explained his position on it. You really can’t come back with anything else, other than, Okay, let’s take a look at it on film. Maybe we can help you with that decision making in the future. But he’s trying to make the right play. And those are about as gray as they come within special teams.
“Moving off your spot at the 10-yard line, that’s a little bit different. That has to be coached and there’s got to be more discipline in those situations. So there are going to be some of those gray areas. We just need to be better all over the place. That falls on Brian, that falls on me. We all have to do a better job then. And our players have to commit themselves and understand how important special teams is.”
“It was a great play by Slade (Roy) and the hang time was terrific. It was 4.5 plus. Gave us the opportunity to be in position to make the play necessary to obviously get a big play.”
ON HOWARD PERKINS GETTING A BIGGER ROLE AS A BLITZER AFTER PLAYING WELL
“Yeah, I think there’s a role for him. Certainly he adds something to our pass rush. We certainly saw that. That’s why he got the opportunity to play out on the edge a little bit. You saw him inside with some blitzing inside. I think we found a niche for him in terms of where he can help us. I would say that you’re accurate in that he can continue to evolve into that position.
“Now is he going to beat out BJ Ojulari at that position? I don’t think so. But he certainly can lend some support to that position in certainly some dime and nickel packages.”
ON THE JOB MATT HOUSE IS DOING IN DEVELOPING THE DEFENSE
“Yeah, I mean I think the ability to put the pieces in place, moving Jay down has obviously benefited us greatly. Greg (Brooks) going back to the safety position has added a communication level that’s really benefited us greatly. I think that in itself has solidified the back end for us. We’ve been able to rotate in corners and give guys the necessary rest in that end of things.
“And then we’re mixing things up. We’re not lining up with one post safety the whole time. We’re lining up and showing one post and playing two high and vice versa. So I think schematically we’re where we need to be.
“The nature of having a guy like BJ Ojulari and Ali Gaye where you can play three down and four down and not change personnel is quite difficult sometimes. We saw that against a very veteran and skilled offense. Quite frankly, they didn’t know what they were getting from snap to snap.”
ON MALIK NABORS BOUNCING BACK FROM HIS MUFFED PUNTS AGAINST FLORIDA STATE
“Yeah, I think we hear this all the time, in that he has, he’s been able to focus and refocus. He’s been able to move on to the next play. That is a great quality to have, especially in the game of football.
“Look, you’re going to have some adversity. And he’s had it. He’s dealt with it. He’s moved on and he’s stronger for it. He’s been really good. We have seen his ability to make dynamic plays for us on the offensive side of the ball and I just think from that perspective he’s really grown.”
ON BROOKS AND WARD MAKING SWITCHING SPOTS IN THE SECONDARY
“Yeah, we were looking for better communication. Jay is a very active player. He’s a physical player. We saw that with the play this weekend. Greg is too. But Greg is a veteran player that is used to playing back at that safety position and a very good communicator.
“So it was just getting to know our personnel better and really plugging them in where we felt that we would be better served. Whether it was on the offensive line, whether (Miles) Frazier’s a guard, whether he’s a tackle. Whether Emery Jarvis is better at guard or tackle. We’re just trying to get to know our personnel and find out what the best lineup is. And that was kind of what that was.
“Yeah, I mean, he’s a little banged up but we expect to have him for this weekend.”
ON WHETHER HE WANTS DANIELS TO RUN LESS
“Yeah, I mean I think when we evaluate when he runs we want to see that if it was within the progression and it was a really good coverage. Or maybe that play wasn’t great against this coverage. Or we got beat at a particular position and he got flushed. Versus you turn down, you know, a potential high/low read and you took off, right?
“And so that’s what we’re trying to evaluate. And it’s a little bit of both. I think there’s still growth where we can stay a little bit more patient and a little more locked in on the progression. And then there are sometimes dynamic runs where there was really just nothing there and he made something happen.
“So you want to be careful where you go, Hey, you’re running too much, and then when he needs to be dynamic he’s not. So we have to be very careful and along the way keep coaching him to really do a great job of getting through his progressions and seeing the things necessary that allows us to be balanced in both.”
ON MASON TAYLOR AND THE SKILL SET THAT ALLOWED HIM TO PLAY AS A FRESHMAN
“I think he’s very confident in his ability. So I think it starts with confidence first.
“I think second it’s a pass-catching tight end. A guy that has really good hands. His ability to run after the catch is extremely athletic. So I think it’s skill set, confidence, and he’s put on the necessary size to go into traffic and make some plays.
“We didn’t find him very well on Saturday. Maybe a couple of freshman mistakes. He stepped out of bounds on arrow route where he needs to know where he is. But I’m okay with those. That’s a learning curve. And those are great opportunities to point out to a freshman that he’s not going to make that same mistake twice. But I would say confidence and then just the physical attributes that he has.”
ON HOW EMERY PLAYED IN HIS FIRST GAME BACK
“He was elated after the game that he played football for the first time in a long time. He was sore, he was tired, and I think he had all the feelings that he remembered in playing. So I think the post was excellent.
“He was really nervous going in. But I thought he, you know, afforded very well. I thought he ran with pretty good vision for a guy that hadn’t played in a while. I talked about rust, there was some.
“Again, I think, all in all, caught the football, played with low pads and he’ll get better. So I thought a good first game for him.”
ON HOW THE RECRUITING LANDSCAPE HAS CHANGED FOR KICKERS AND WHETHER HE’S CHANGED KICKERS MIDSEASON
“I think I have changed kickers in mid-season. I’m not interested in changing kickers right now. I think our kicking situation is much more technical than it is anything else. We just got to clean up some technique.
“But we’ve got a scholarship kicker as well. We’ve got a transfer from Northwestern who is also talented in (Trey) Finison. So (Nathan) Dibert, Finison, (Damian) Ramos, Peyton Todd’s an outstanding punter. We’re pretty deep in kickers. (Jay) Bramblett punted the ball very well.
“So I really think that there’s some great depth there. But we’re not going to say there’s never competition at the position. If we feel like we need to make a change in a particular area, for example, we got to change kickoffs versus field goal, extra points, we’ll consider all of those things for the betterment of the football team.”