The Tigers started the season on a sour note with two muffed punts and had two kicks blocked in a 24-23 season-opening loss to Florida State.
Unfortunately, it didn’t stop there as the mistakes piled up week after week, except for the Southern game when nothing went awry.
According to play-by-play information from its six games, LSU has piled up at least 25 negative special teams plays, although one — an 88-yard kickoff return by Mississippi State — was erased by a holding penalty.
Among the Tigers’ miscues are 11 penalties for 130 yards, three fumbles lost, and two blocked kicks. One penalty nullified a 76-yard punt return for a touchdown by Jack Bech against New Mexico.
Kelly said it was apparent what happened against Tennessee.
“We have to field the football and we have to tackle in space,” he said. “Those are clearly areas we have to be able to get guys to perform at that level.”
What’s most frustrating to him and special teams coordinator Brian Polian is they’re using several starters on various coverage and return units.
Spending more time individually with special-teamers and demanding more of the players they put out there might be a solution, but Kelly said they’re running short of experienced bodies.
“There isn’t a whole group of other guys ready to play,” he said. “We’re playing front-line (guys). We’ve got starting linebackers on our punt return team, and we have one of our best receivers returning kickoffs.
“It’s not like we’ve got the JV team out there. These are our best guys, and we just have to stick with it and work at getting better.”
The statistics prove that LSU ranks near the bottom of the 131-team FBS in most kicking categories.
The Tigers are 123rd in allowing 15.6 yards per punt return and are 87th in giving up 21.4 yards per kickoff return.
On the flip side, LSU is 104th in returning punts with just 5.3 yards per kick and is 107th in averaging 17.2 yards per kickoff return.
“We’re going to clean it up, I’m not going to lie,” starting cornerback Mekhi Garner said. “We had a player’s meeting Monday and that was the first thing we brought up. That’s something we need to clean up, like fast, if we want to win.”
Garner said the Tigers would have to attack with a sense of urgency before noting it’s not hard to play special teams.
“I wouldn’t say it’s hard … I would say it’s all about effort because it’s just one play,” he said. “You know, it’s about who wants it more when it comes to those teams.”
Wide receiver Jaray Jenkins said proper execution from everyone involved is the key to cutting down on costly mistakes and eventually playing better.
“I feel like once we do that, we’re going to be good,” he said. “We all have to look at ourselves, see what we did wrong, see where we made a mistake and just fix it.”
That goes for the coaches as well, Kelly said.
“We just have to coach better, and maybe we have to simplify some things,” he said. “You can’t spot anybody 10 points and expect to win football games.”