We answered some questions from Zachary Junda of And The Valley Shook; he answered some for us. The latter are below.
1. Florida’s first year under Billy Napier has been up and down to date, but it hasn’t seemed quite as tumultuous as LSU’s first season under Brian Kelly, given that thrilling and agonizing opener against Florida State, the swing from being thumped to roaring back against Mississippi State and Auburn, and getting drubbed by Tenneessee. Does it feel more like this team can find another upswing and keep improving or just like it is swinging from outcome to outcome?
I’d like to say the team’s improving but maybe the recency bias of seeing them get blasted by Tennessee last week is clouding my judgment. This is a bigger rebuild than people around here care to admit. I mean, my God, they only had 39 scholarship players available for the Texas Bowl thanks to the previous regime.
It’s “loser talk” to say this, but 2022 really isn’t about wins and losses for LSU — though anything worse than 7-5 would be hard to stomach — but about resetting the culture. And to their credit, I feel like there is buy-in. If the team isn’t bought in, they don’t overcome 13-0 and 17-0 deficits against Miss State and Auburn; they don’t go 90-something yards to score what would have been a game-extending touchdown against Florida State had it not been for a special teams miscue.
So I think the program is moving in the right direction, but that this particular team just isn’t very good. Then again, no one else on LSU’s schedule, sans Alabama and maybe Ole Miss (?), is all that good either, so maybe they can pick off someone.
2. Kelly was obviously going to be cast as the guy chosen after Napier made his choice to leave the Pelican State — with or without significant interest from LSU, we’ll never know — from his hiring onward, but his import from Notre Dame struck many as a fish willingly leaving its preferred waters to take on a challenge in a Tony Chachere’s-seasoned stew. Has he settled in since those early bits of apparent culture clash, and what does or doesn’t make him look like a long-term success at LSU?
I think your opinion on how much he’s settled in depended on what you expected in year one with the mess Ed Orgeron left him. Some people genuinely thought LSU would go 10-2 or 9-3 and finish second in the West this year; others, like me, thought 8-4 was likely and maaaaaaybe they’d have an outside shot at 9-3 if they got every single break possible against a Florida, or an Ole Miss, or an A&M.
There was a slight freakout this summer when most of Louisiana’s top prospects were spurning LSU and choosing schools outside the state, but most of those can be explained away. LSU was never getting Arch Manning, and the same goes for Alabama QB commit Eli Holstein; Notre Dame LB commit Jaiden Ausberry literally grew up going to school on LSU’s campus, so of course he’d want to go somewhere else for college. For all the “Brian Kelly can’t recruit!” fears, he’s got the No. 7 class per 247 and is right on Notre Dame’s heels for the No. 6 spot.
As for what does or doesn’t make Brian Kelly a success at LSU? It’ll come down to whether or not he wins a national championship. The last three head coaches have all done it, so that’s the expectation.
I personally would also like to see LSU win the West and compete for an SEC Championship more often, too. From 2001 to 2007, LSU won the West four times and went 3-1 in SEC title games; they’ve only gone twice since then (but blasted Georgia both times, so that’s nice). Once the CFP expands, I’m also expecting LSU to make it into the field ... let’s say at least twice in a four-year span. I guess what I’m saying is: Ascend to the top of the SEC West hierarchy as we draw (hopefully) to the end of the Nick Saban era.
3. Jayden Daniels is having a season not far removed from Anthony Richardson’s, with efforts maddening to both defenders and fans having happened with little rhyme or reason behind them. Is he good enough to beat Florida through the air, and does LSU have any choice but to rely on his scrambling and playmaking outside of its structure?
No, because through six games Daniels just isn’t throwing the ball downfield — and that’s especially disappointing because LSU’s got at least five future pros playing receiver. The 2022 passing game has been a throwback to peak Les Miles-era LSU football, where you’ve got not just future pros, but first round picks at receiver ... and for one reason or another you can’t consistently get them the ball.
Quite literally everyone involved with the passing game is responsible for the issues: Daniels’ vision has been suboptimal at best and even when he does take a chance, he’s off target; the offensive line hasn’t been especially great and Daniels has had to run for his life every week; new OC Mike Denbrock maybe isn’t calling the most Daniels-friendly plays; and for all the fuss we hear — “Throw it to the receivers! Give them a chance!” — uhhh, they’ve dropped an awful lot of passes when given those chances?
The difference between this LSU offense and those Les Miles offenses was at least LSU could run the ball. This group can’t do that unless Daniels is scrambling.
4. LSU’s defense is not as star-studded as in some years past, but has really settled in after a rocky start and the loss of Maason Smith. How are the Tigers getting it done?
Because Matt House is looking like the best coordinator hire LSU’s made since Dave Aranda. House helped make Josh Allen an All-American at Kentucky and this year he’s got BJ Ojulari to work with.
LSU also has potential Freshman All-American Harold Perkins at linebacker to cause havoc. Perkins is only six games into his college career but might already be the best linebacker on the roster and is looking like Devin White reincarnated.
So, of course, he was only on the field last week against Tennessee for nine snaps, which ... sure! Personally, I like having my best guys out there as often as possible but I guess I’m just built different.
5. Finally: What strange thing will occur in this game if it is going to be a 27-24 LSU win, and what oddity would happen in a 31-30 Florida victory? (Is there a third possible outcome?)
The strange occurrence in an LSU win is Jayden Daniels, fresh off players-only meeting No. 2, turns into JaMarcus Russell and slings the ball over the yard for about 400 yards and four touchdowns (of course LSU’s dogshit special teams fucks up an extra point ... or, I dunno, three) and LSU scores the biggest win yet of the Brian Kelly era.
The oddity is that tonight’s game is essentially a carbon copy of LSU’s opener against Florida State (a very fine school! Maybe the best in the state of Florida?) and Daniels pulls some 80 yard drive out of his ass and leads LSU to the cusp of victory ... only for the aforementioned dogshit LSU special teams to bite them in the ass for the seventh week in a row. The only thing I can’t figure out is: Does Daniels lead the touchdown drive and LSU misses the extra point? Or does Daniels get LSU into field goal position and a bad snap/hold ruin things for LSU? I’m very excited to see how it plays out!