Tyson once said that everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth before a bout against Evander Holyfield. Kelly reminded reporters of that quote on Monday as he considered the awaited conference slate.
“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 said.
Fortunately for LSU (3-1, 1-0 SEC), Auburn doesn’t pack much punch.
AU (3-1, 1-0) can thank Missouri’s refusal to win for its overtime triumph last weekend.
Eliah Drinkwitz’s conservative, play-for-a-field-goal strategy in the closing minute of regulation backfired. That decision, plus a comedy of blunders, prevented Missouri from winning a game it had no business losing.
Kelly tried to prop up Auburn as a worthy foe. He touted the skills of running backs Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter and lauded quarterback Robby Ashford’s ability to make plays with his legs.
The flipside: Auburn’s infirm offensive line counteracts Bigsby and Hunter, and Ashford taking to the air would heighten the blood pressure of any offensive coordinator. LSU’s wide receiving corps is enough to make its opponent sick with envy.
Auburn’s defense at least has kept the team in games – if you ignore that disastrous second half against Penn State.
This will be Kelly’s first SEC road game. Auburn has won two straight in this series, and it nearly spoiled LSU’s undefeated 2019 season.
Five of the past six meetings have been decided by five points or fewer. The “anything can happen” cliché is well-earned in this rivalry, considering an old Auburn gymnasium burned to the ground in an inferno next to Jordan-Hare Stadium during the 1996 installment.
When Kelly coached Notre Dame, the independent Irish played certain opponents regularly, and the Golden Domers wore an omnipresent target on their back. But I can’t think those games mimicked the abuse of playing a conference rival.
Get the Sports newsletter in your inbox.
Sports news, no matter the season. Stop by for the scores, stay for the stories.
Delivery: DailyYour Email
LSU touts more rivals than any other SEC team, and Auburn’s rivalry roll call includes two of the sport’s best: the Iron Bowl and the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry.
But players provide a different perspective, and to hear AU’s senior tight end John Samuel Shenker tell it, LSU doesn’t take a backseat on Auburn’s rivalry dance card.
“It’s probably one of the more physical games you ever play,” Shenker said. “It’s one of the reasons why you come here, is to play against LSU. It ranks up there with Georgia and Bama, in my opinion. Those three games are why you come to Auburn.
“The attitude of both teams, normally, there’s a real hatred there.”
Despite these teams’ identical records, one is trending up, while the other is positioned for an in-season coach firing.
Kelly is upbeat about his team’s growth and commitment to his vision.
Jayden Daniels, in particular, made strides amid three straight victories after LSU’s opening loss to Florida State.
Daniels went from a quarterback who leaned heavily on his athleticism and speed to one who is cycling through progressions and delivering passes on the mark – while still worrying defenses with his legs.
Kelly pointed to one-third-down completion, particularly, as signifying Daniels’ growth. He threw a 19-yard strike to Jaray Jenkins to set up a touchdown against New Mexico. Jenkins was Daniels’ fourth progression.
“Those are the kind of things you’re looking for in terms of development of a quarterback,” Kelly said.
John Emery Jr.’s return from an academic-related suspension gave LSU’s run game more punch, and Kelly’s vow to get Jack Bech more involved in the passing game paid dividends in last week’s blowout win against New Mexico.
LSU’s defense also cleaned up after an inability to get off the field on third downs against FSU.
Still, Kelly wants his team on guard and ready to react to a haymaker from an opponent that hasn’t shown much ferocity.