Brian Kelly loses the coaching battle once again.
Against Tennessee, Kelly was generally outcoached, as the Volunteers played a better game on both sides of the ball. However, he also had a few noteworthy decisions in the first half that essentially put the game out of reach.
On LSU’s second drive, he went for a fourth and four instead of kicking a field goal that would have made the score 10-3. As with almost all fourth down decisions, it’s easy to make a judgment after the fact. You can see what Kelly was thinking, though. Against a team with an offense like Tennessee’s, you can’t settle for field goals because the Volunteers will assuredly get touchdowns.
In actuality, the Tiger defense did a fine job against the Volunteers in the first quarter. Tennessee was handed a short field twice because of special teams’ errors, but LSU executed an impressive three and out on one of those drives, yielding only a field goal. Through three Volunteer drives, the LSU defense made Tennessee settle for field goals inside the Tigers’ 25-yard line twice.
Kelly failed to recognize the flow of the game up to that point and didn’t show faith in his defense. You can’t fault his aggressiveness, and if the conversion had been made, it would’ve been huge for LSU. Still, even just establishing some team confidence for having put points on the board could’ve helped the Tigers. Instead, Tennessee’s fourth down stop established momentum for the Volunteers.
Kelly also chose to go for a fourth and 10 with 23 seconds left in the first half, a decision that was especially egregious. The series up to that point had seen Jaray Jenkins drop a long pass that hit his hands, which also could have been big for LSU, setting up a score before half. With his team near midfield, Kelly went for it despite there being a good bit of time left in the half. Tennessee’s kicker had also barely missed a 50-yard field goal that he’d had plenty of leg for just minutes earlier. LSU failed to convert, and Tennessee quickly moved down the field and predictably drained a field goal to close the half.
These missed opportunities in the first half made it impossible to come back, and Tennessee rolled from there. Against great teams like Tennessee and Ole Miss, Kelly’s decisions have to be sound.