By RYNE BERTHELOT, Journal Sports
BATON ROUGE – Don’t look now, but LSU’s vying for a share of the lead in the SEC West as the Tigers gear up to face Ole Miss at home Saturday afternoon.
Don’t tell that to Brian Kelly, either.
“We won’t be talking about tying for the West,” Kelly said about addressing it with his team. “It’s too early for that, I think there’s just too much football left to be played. What we’re going to talk about is how we play better at home in front of our fans against a Top 10 team.”
The Tigers (5-2, 3-1) positioned themselves just behind the No. 7-ranked Rebels (7-0, 3-0) on the division leaderboard, thanks in no small part to the loss Tennessee handed to Alabama in Neyland Stadium Saturday. While LSU’s gotten a taste of ranked competition, the results haven’t been great: The Tigers dropped an ugly 40-13 loss to the same Tennessee squad in Week 6.
But Saturday’s performance showed a renewed effort from a team that was punched squarely in the mouth the week before, and at the helm of it was oft-maligned, highly-regarded wide receiver Kayshon Boutte.
The storylines revolving around Boutte since the start of camp have largely kept the one-time star out of the good graces of LSU fans, but Boutte flashed glimpses of his former self Saturday, tallying 115 yards on six catches. One of those came on a third down on the Tigers’ first drive, a throw that Boutte hauled in and turned into a 40-yarder that led to a touchdown.
“Those two have been working hard in practice and have been trying to build that relationship,” Kelly said of Boutte and quarterback Jayden Daniels, and how the pair took over the offense. “That drive, quite frankly, we had a lot of mistakes. We made a lot of mistakes. That drive ended up in the end zone because of those two guys. They made big plays, and sometimes that’s what you need. You need your big-time players to step up, and I think that was the first time this year our best players stepped up to that level.”
Boutte and Daniels will have to carry that newfound chemistry into Saturday against one of the SEC’s better defenses, complete with a defensive scheme that even a veteran coach like Kelly would admit is difficult to plan for. The Tigers have largely seen defensive schemes featuring four down linemen this season. Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin aims to throw a wrench in that.
“It’s three-down, 3-3, 3-4, they’re playing with a nickel and dime, there’s some invert, you don’t know some of the pressures, they’re striking from the field, they’re striking from the boundary,” Kelly said of the laundry list of different looks Ole Miss’ defense could potentially throw at LSU. “You’ve got to be on your toes. This is a week where recognition and understanding where it’s coming from is going to be really important.”
Those recognitions are especially important for Will Campbell and Emery Jones, the two true freshmen who Kelly has starting at left and right tackle respectively. Campbell was awarded with the SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week award for his performance against Florida.
Kelly made note that running back Josh Williams saw the bulk of the workload in the backfield to help in pass protection, just in case the two newcomers couldn’t handle their assignments on their own.
After all, it’s the first time in Kelly’s memory he’s started two true freshmen on the offensive line, let alone two at the tackle positions.
“‘I’m having a hard time with last week in my memory, but I don’t believe I’ve started two freshmen period on an offensive line,” Kelly said. “To have two freshmen tackles in the SEC is quite unusual.
“They have the physical traits — you cannot play in this league unless you have physical traits. They have the feet to obviously get out and set these guys. They’re going to miss a couple. We got beat inside on a couple of times they counter-moved us, but these guys are extraordinary in their ability to move on to the next play.”
Contact Ryne at firstname.lastname@example.org