As the LSU Tigers look to wrap up their season against the Purdue Boilermakers in the Cheez-It Citrus Bowl, Matt House spoke with media on the growth of the team and some individual players throughout the surprisingly successful first year of the new era in Baton Rouge.
The season started with what could have been a nightmare. Not only did LSU lose to Florida State, but the defense lost who could have been their best player in Maason Smith almost immediately. House spoke on the response to that opening week and how it serves as an example of why they succeeded this season.
“I think the number one thing that you saw was a don’t flinch mentality,” House said. “I mean [Mekhi Wingo], he’s been solid all year, both on the field and off the field, and he brings a hard hat mentality. He really embraces the traits we’re all about, and I think that’s one of the reasons we’ve been able to play successful defense.”Top StorieIt’s also important to note that the Tigers will be getting Smith back next season to join that defensive front. Coach House spoke a bit about how Smith has continued to be bought in despite his early injury and could potentially jump into next season ready to go.
“Mason’s a special guy and he loves ball, and he loves his teammates. He loves the brotherhood. Certainly that’s a special thing,” House said. “He wants to be here. He’s constantly learning if there’s a way to improve when you’re hurt. It’s tough to learn mentally and I think he’s done that.”
It wasn’t just injury that the Tigers had to adjust to this season on defense; they also had a ton of players to replace, which meant a lot of transfers had to find chemistry together and play like they’ve been teammates for years. Coach House spoke on how the defensive backs, in particular, came together faster than expected.
“I love how those guys have bought into each other. I’ve loved how they’ve grown together. Probably the biggest challenge isn’t necessarily scheme. It’s learning how to play with another guy,” House said. “There’s a certain chemistry that only snaps can take. You learn personalities as you play and personalities on the field aren’t necessarily the same personality off the field. Really proud of how those guys have put their personal egos aside and bought into the team.”
A big part of the players coming together was the culture that Brian Kelly and the rest of the staff created around the program. After the mess that has come out of the building over the last two seasons, it’s refreshing to have an entire season of positives instead of constant drama. This was House’s first season with Kelly, who House speaks highly of.
“I think, first of all, the thing about Coach Kelly is that he is tremendous at building an organization,” House said. “He’s got a great feel for balancing the science of football with the player. You know he builds a program that is comprehensive. And I think that’s what’s so exciting. I mean, you learn every day from Coach, and I think he’s got a great pulse of the locker room, a great pulse of the community in a short amount of time, and the great pulse of the university.”
Another player that had a fantastic first year, very close to becoming the face of the program in his first year was Harold Perkins. House gave a peak into their plans for Perkins as they figure out what kind of player he will become, currently splitting time between linebacker and EDGE rusher.
“The great thing about what Harold is that he is versatile, right? We’re going to put him in situations where he’s going to be in an opportunity to play in space and accentuate his talents. As I’ve said earlier, the great thing about him is that the sky’s the limit. He’s just now scratching the surface of learning football and how to play the game,” House said.