BATON ROUGE — How does one describe what happened Saturday inside Death Valley?
The phrases “beat down” or “beaten like a drum” spring to mind. So does a phrase like their more country-sounding cousin, “butt whuppin’.'”
If you prefer a more aggressive or violent term — it is Halloween season, after all — “curb stomped” or “bloodbath” would also be apt. I personally prefer to use the term “molly whopped” whenever the opportunity presents itself. It sounds aggressive and yet fancy at the same time. So why not?
No matter how you choose to describe what happened to LSU Saturday, the reality is this: The Tigers were thoroughly dominated in a 40-13 loss to Tennessee. Hey, “dominated” is another one!
For the purple and gold faithful, the defeat bestowed by the visiting Volunteers triggered a flood of horrific memories of lopsided home losses to SEC rivals.
There is the pair of gut punches, courtesy of the red menace from Tuscaloosa — a demoralizing 29-0 defeat in 2018 and a far less shocking 55-17 one in 2020. Not to mention flops against Georgia (52-38) and Ole Miss (31-13) in 2008 — the season after winning the national championship.
But Saturday’s disappointment against Tennessee is the worst debacle at home — against a team not named Alabama, anyway — since a 44-15 decision to Florida in 2001.
The 27-point home drubbing — ooh, there’s another turn of phrase — was also the worst of Brian Kelly’s coaching career. Yes, believe or not, even worse than how his Notre Dame teams fared in the College Football Playoffs. In fact, the last time Kelly had this bad a loss was in 2000, when he was still coaching at Division III powerhouse Grand Valley State.
The other thing that occurred to me as this Top 25 clash quickly turned into a horror movie matinee is that Kelly has his work cut out for him.
The defense, in particular the front seven with its soon-to-be drafted NFL players, will keep the Tigers in every game the rest of the way. The back end though is still suspect, with guys who are simply overmatched or inexperienced. Special teams are flat-out bad and the offense is pedestrian at best. LSU struggles to run the football and Arizona State grad transfer Jayden Daniels has limited ability. He is a gamer, and can make plays with his legs, but the passing is inconsistent.
LSU’s ceiling this season is likely six or seven wins.
That’s not a bad foundation season for Kelly, who inherited a dumpster fire of a once-proud program that had plummeted to mediocrity due to neglect and laziness by the previous staff. Last year’s Tigers had 39 scholarship players and were forced to play a wide receiver at quarterback for a bowl game they shouldn’t have even played.
The talent drain for LSU has been so bad, Kelly is being forced to start players from Florida International and McNeese. Yes, FIU and McNeese players starting against Heisman Trophy-candidates-led Top 10 teams. That is not optimal.
Kelly is going to need time — like two or three years — to turn things around.
Yes, the fact that Tennessee came into the Tiger Stadium and “annihilated” his team is a stunning development.
That said, with games still on the schedule against rebuilding Florida, fading Arkansas and a Texas A&M team that could be in full nuclear meltdown mode by the season finale, LSU could finish the season strong.
There is no way around it, Saturday was really, really bad. Hopefully we won’t have to describe Saturdays in Death Valley that way again.
(NOTE – Raymond Partsch III has been a sportswriter and broadcaster for over 20 years, and is now based in Lafayette. The former Alexandria Town Talk and Beaumont Enterprise sports editor is in his second term as president of the Louisiana Sports Writers Association.)
Contact Raymond at firstname.lastname@example.org