The most excellent coaching hire in LSU football history called for a grand entrance, and the Superdome delivered.
Brian Kelly’s LSU Tigers took the field Sunday amid pyrotechnics worthy of a Pink Floyd concert. Transfer quarterback Jayden Daniels prolonged the fiery entrance with a 25-yard run on LSU’s first play from scrimmage. And then the Tigers flamed out. LSU’s 24-23 loss to Florida State on Sunday served as a dud opening to the Kelly era.
A blunder-filled game ended when Shyheim Brown blocked Damian Ramos’ extra point with no time left.
The worst part for LSU? The Seminoles (2-0) and coach Mike Norvell contributed enough gaffes, including two trips inside the 10-yard that produced zero points, that LSU had a chance to prevail. But the Tigers (0-1) couldn’t capitalize, looking as flawed as last year’s team that suffered a losing record for the first time since 1999.
Nick Saban won eight games in his first season at LSU. Sunday showed how much work awaits the Tigers if Kelly reaches that mark.
At least Daniels fueled enough second-half yardage to offer a reason for optimism. He nearly forced overtime by leading a spectacular 99-yard touchdown drive that, of course, was followed by a protection failure on the extra point.
Hard to say what plagued LSU most: its offensive line, its special teams, or its secondary.
Daniels spent much of the game running from trouble, and the Tigers didn’t bother trying to establish a run game. LSU’s vaunted defensive line looked pedestrian compared to FSU’s relentless pass rush. Bad snaps from new center Garrett Dellinger interrupted drives.
A whiffed blocking assignment allowed FSU to block a field goal. Jay Bramblett shanked a 31-yard punt. Malik Nabers muffed two punt returns.
Seminoles quarterback Jordan Travis tortured LSU’s secondary on third downs.
Need I go on?
LSU’s top offensive weapon, Kayshon Boutte, became a detriment. He couldn’t secure a touchdown grab when Daniels threw a perfect ball against tight 1-on-1 coverage. Later, Daniels zipped a pass to Boutte as the wide receiver streaked toward the goal line, but Boutte’s attention was elsewhere, and the ball ricocheted off his body. Boutte then dropped two passes to complete his tour of blunders.
Preseason hyperbole included talk of Kelly instilling more discipline to the Tigers, but that was before defensive tackle Maason Smith injured his leg while celebrating after a first-quarter play. Ali Gaye got ejected for blatant targeting. Discipline remained M.I.A. during FSU’s first touchdown, which came on a reverse flea-flicker pass. LSU’s safeties pursued the reverse, and FSU’s Ontario Wilson slipped behind cornerback Mekhi Garner for a 39-yard touchdown. Twice, LSU committed multiple penalties on the same play.
It’s hard to imagine the Tigers looking more bungled had a shirtless Ed Orgeron replaced Kelly on the sideline.
Norvell did his best to position LSU for victory. His bad decision to go for fourth down – a fade route fell incomplete – instead of a chip-shot field goal before halftime nearly proved costly.
Seminoles fans tomahawk-chopped their way throughout much of the second half before having to hold their breath at the close. But, wouldn’t you know it, LSU’s line parted to allow a perfect avenue for Brown to rush through and block the extra point.
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First-year coaches should be granted a modicum of patience, but any call for patience at LSU would ring hollow after Florida upset No. 8 Utah under new coach Billy Napier.
Kelly boasts a $100 million contract and the most accomplished résumé of any LSU hire. He hasn’t tried to temper the massive expectations he knows he faces.
“We will begin, starting right this minute, to put together the next national championship football team at Louisiana State University,” Kelly said following his hire. “That’s the standard. The expectation.”
Maybe start by taking the first step. Like a lineman blocking the defender in front of him.
The success of the Kelly era won’t be determined by this first game, which is fortunate because there was little worth remembering about a debut that went up in smoke.