Brian Polian, much like Boutte, was subject to intense criticism from anybody who watched the Tigers’ opening game. Overall, following two muffed punts, a blocked field goal, a blocked point after attempt and a couple of other special teams woes, the anger was justified. Polian’s unit didn’t look prepared for the season when it took the field against Florida State a couple of weeks ago. Plain and simple.
Poor execution on the special teams front ended up dropping LSU to 0-1 on the season. A handful of the mistakes were inexcusable and it was hard to believe Polian was the only coordinator to venture with Kelly to the Louisiana capital. Some were even calling for his job.
For those who didn’t have the chance to watch the season opener, that’s how bad special teams were against the Seminoles. All eyes were on the special team’s groups heading into Saturday night’s game against Southern.
The Tigers eased the tension toward the special teams from the opening whistle. When Southern kick returner Reginald King fielded Damian Ramos’ opening kickoff and tried to return it, he was quickly met by the Hilton mentioned above Jr. The wide receiver jarred the ball loose before veteran linebacker Micah Baskerville promptly scooped it up. This huge play set the tone for how LSU would play—especially on special teams—for the remainder of the game.
Special teams rebounded flawlessly on the evening. The Tigers made all nine of their PATs (eight by Ramos, one by Trey Finison) and only punted twice. They held onto the ball on both kick and punt returns too. It won’t show up with anything flashy on a stat sheet, but LSU defended each return by the Jaguars exceptionally well.
It was a refreshing all-around performance from a unit that struggled across the board the week prior. Special teams jobs aren’t sexy, they are necessary to win games. Kelly and Polian know this as well as anybody in the country, so an excellent night against Southern was imperative to the team’s success.