Brian Kelly could see it even in an opening loss to Florida State. So the mission became much more about the habits of what it takes to win consistently, and that’s finally come to fruition through the Tigers’ play over the season’s last month.
“I think it’s pretty clear when you look at where we were, we had a lot of new players playing. New quarterback, new system,” Kelly said. “They showed fight, and so we knew we had something after that, that these guys had a special trait of resiliency so we worked hard on just building an identity within and that was having a better focus from player to player. That’s grown throughout the year. I think it’s a natural progression of a group of guys coming together over a period of time.”
The consistency with which LSU has approached these last few weeks has been noticeable as the team captured its SEC West crown and that will be needed as the purple and gold continue their quest towards an impressive turnaround in year one under Kelly. That focus and intensity will need to carry over in an emotionally charged senior night in Tiger Stadium against UAB.
Here’s a preview of this weekend’s games, including the latest odds, injury report, keys to the game and predictions ahead of the Tigers’ 2022 home finale in Death Valley.
“Winning is a habit, and our guys have done a lot of things the right way to create winning habits off the field that contributed to finding a way to win the football game. So there’s a lot to work on,” Kelly said. “We’ve got to coach better. We’ve got to prepare our football team better. We’ve got to do a lot of things better. That falls on everybody associated, and that’s what we have to work on this week going into UAB.”
LSU enters this game as a 14.5 favorite with an over/under 52.5. The money line is at -600 ahead of the Tigers’ final home game of the 2022 season.
This is a matchup with a concise history, with the two programs splitting the two games they’ve matched up in since 2000. During that 2000 season, the first under then-coach Nick Saban, UAB beat the purple and gold 13-10. But 13 years later, the Tigers thrashed on visiting UAB with a 56-17 win, with the most memorable play from that game coming on Odell Beckham’s touchdown return from the endzone after a missed field goal fell short of the goal post.
For the 2022 matchup, LSU has plenty to work on against a UAB team that’s better than its record might suggest. The Tigers have locked up an SEC Championship berth but a lot is riding on this game from the standpoint of getting back on track, particularly on offense, after a subpar performance on the road against Arkansas.
As LSU enters its final stretch of the regular season, the news is almost non-existent on the injury front, which is tremendous. According to Kelly, running back John Emery should be good to go after suffering a bruise against Arkansas. Wide receiver Brian Thomas, who has been in concussion protocol that forced him to miss the game against the Razorbacks, was considered day to day earlier in the week.
However, Kelly said on Thursday that Thomas had cleared concussion protocol and will be available on Saturday.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Get the passing offense back on track
The single most important component to this game from LSU’s perspective should be getting the passing game back to where it was for most of the last month. Jayden Daniels and the Tigers’ receiving core never looked better in the wins over Florida, Ole Miss and Alabama.
But that play nosedived against Arkansas because of a lack of separation from the receivers, poor pass blocking up front and a lack of delivering timely, accurate balls on Daniels’ end. LSU survived with passing for under 100 yards for a second time this year but can ill afford to have that kind of production through the air for the rest of the season.
“We have talented players on the perimeter and we’ve gotta get the ball out to them,” Kelly said. “Understanding what adjustments we have to make when teams are looking to defend things that have been really good for us. We gotta look at how we’re doing things and be one step ahead from that perspective. Do some things that allow us to be effective at what we’re good at and quite frankly our preparation has to be better, we gotta coach better.”
A bounce-back game for Daniels through the air would be a good start as the Tigers prepare for postseason play in Atlanta for the SEC championship and wherever they fall in the bowl picture.
BE ASSERTIVE AND PUT UAB AWAY EARLY
This has been the struggle all year for LSU as it looks to get off to even one good start that it can hang its hat on. Defensively it was a very consistent beginning against Arkansas but that couldn’t be matched by the LSU offense.
The Tigers cannot afford to let UAB hang around in this game, as it’s a team with a potent running attack and a defense filled with savvy veterans who have played all season consistently. On both sides of the ball, there is a deliberate method of consistency to what they want to do. Offensively, it’s about utilizing running back DeWayne McBride’s talent through inside-outside zone run schemes while being very efficient on third down.
On defense, it’s a group that mixes its schemes up between three and four down linemen and be multiple with the looks it gives within those schemes. Making sure that the mistakes are low and emotions are tempered on a senior night will be a key point in trying to separate early and making it a more enjoyable evening for everyone in attendance and watching.
UAB has a habit of hanging around in games that it’s won and lost. LSU will want to eliminate that trend and put this team away soon, maybe earning the possibility of sitting the starters a bit earlier.
GET OUT OF THE GAME HEALTHY
This goes hand in hand with getting off to a faster start, but LSU has been so good with injuries as of late that the last thing this group will want is for nicks and bruises to crop up at this stage of the season. The Tigers will need all hands on deck for games in College Station and of course, against No. 1 Georgia, which is why a sizable early lead will help in managing snap counts as the game moves along.
There are a few players who are dinged up at the moment but getting guys like Garrett Dellinger some snaps in this game will be suitable for the o-line depth. LSU’s finally healthy in the secondary as well, and the rotations and play have looked a lot fresher in the back half of the defense.
For a team that wasn’t considered particularly deep entering the season, the job of strength and conditioning coach Jake Flint and the rest of the nutrition and recovery staff has been exemplary. Nothing should lead us to believe it won’t continue Saturday in the home finale.
Glen says…This is no pushover non-conference opponent to close the season, which I think is good for this team. UAB could easily have seven or eight wins on the season with the way it’s hung around in many of its losses thus far.
Coming off a pedestrian performance in the passing game, the most critical factor for the Tigers is getting Jayden Daniels and company into a rhythm before the final two conference games of the season. Slowing down McBride and the run game won’t be a walk in the park for the LSU defense but it’s had success against stiffer front o-lines this year. In the end I see LSU coming out of this one somewhere in the 38-17 range.