By RYNE BERTHELOT, Journal Sports
BATON ROUGE — Don’t ask first-year LSU football coach Brian Kelly about trap games.
For the coach who’s preached preparedness week in and week out, a trap game is an excuse for a poorly-prepared team to underperform.
Coming off two Top 10 wins at home, Kelly doesn’t believe that LSU faces a trap heading into Fayetteville Saturday against a 5-4 Arkansas team coming off a homefield loss to Liberty.
For the No. 7-ranked Tigers (7-2), it’s all about the week leading up to the 11 a.m. kickoff.
“I guess, I guess that’s what they call it. I’ve never bought into that because I think if it’s a trap game, you have not done a very good job with your football team,” Kelly said during his press conference Monday.
“For example, (in) January, February, March, we did not train indoors, we trained outdoors. Weather’s not going to be a factor. We’ve been outside in 50-degree, 40-degree weather. They know that Arkansas is an SEC opponent that beat them last year.
“Your thoughts affect your actions, that affect your physiological response, so we’ve been working on how we think since Day 1. It becomes a trap game if you’re not thinking right.”
The Tigers have plenty to remember from when Arkansas beat LSU in Tiger Stadium last season, 16-13. LSU will get another look at quarterback KJ Jefferson, who managed just 142 passing yards and 42 rushing yards in last year’s matchup. With Jefferson sitting just 19 yards shy of the 2,000-yard season mark through the air, Kelly singled out the junior as a challenge the LSU defense will have to resolve.
“We’re obviously facing a team that has a very prolific offense, and in terms of players, it starts with their quarterback,” Kelly said. “I think it’s the fifth time now we’ve seen a big physical quarterback, KJ Jefferson. 6-3, 240. He’s got 17 passing touchdowns, 6 rushing touchdowns. He’s going to be a handful.”
Jefferson — whose sore shoulder is a concern, said Arkansas coach Sam Pittman — will face an LSU defensive front seven that showed renewed energy in the Tigers’ 32-31 overtime win over Bryce Young and Alabama last week, a boost that resulted in Mekhi Wingo earning the game ball last week on defense, while Harold Perkins was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week.
Wingo stepped into a starting role after the first drive of the season against Florida State, after Maason Smith tore his ACL celebrating. He’s become a key piece along the defensive line ever since, and paired with Jaquelin Roy, the two have allowed the Tigers to show multiple looks up front for opponents.
“I think that anytime you lose a stalwart like Maason, there’s cause for concern,” Kelly said. “I think what we’ve done really well is mix up the front. We’ve played some three-down to take the pressure off losing a player of that caliber, and by doing so we’ve been able to rotate the defensive tackle position between three-down and four-down.”
It’s players like Wingo, Roy, Emery Jones, Josh Williams and others who have excelled in their roles when called upon that have propelled LSU into the SEC Championship conversation, a far cry from the slow start they endured early in the season.
In Kelly’s words, they never gave up, they just figured it out.
“I’ve said this, the biggest thing is that they jumped in the deep end and didn’t know how to swim,” Kelly said. “But they were not going to drown. They were going to find a way to stay above water, kicking and doing whatever is necessary. That’s kind of built this fight in them, this toughness in them. They haven’t been perfect, and certainly we’re not there yet, but they have such a pride in LSU.”
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