BATON ROUGE – There’s no losing left for LSU this season.
They can beat Georgia in the SEC Championship by four touchdowns. Harold Perkins could top the collegiate single-game sacks record in every game left on the schedule. Jayden Daniels could run for 200 yards a game and throw for 300 more.
They could also get blown out by Georgia. Perkins could show that he’s still a freshman, figuring out college life, let alone all of his defensive assignments. Daniels could throw for another measly 86 yards, as he did Saturday at Arkansas, in every remaining game.
It doesn’t matter. They’ve done far more than they were expected to accomplish in Brian Kelly’s first year as coach.
Of course, they could actually lose. They’ve clinched the SEC West, and they could just coast to the finish line, though Kelly’s attention to detail and preparation likely won’t allow for it. It’s highly doubtful they lose to either UAB or Texas A&M, but a defeat in the SEC Championship Game to defending national champion and top-ranked Georgia is a very real possibility.
When that visit to Atlanta comes around, though, the final score is a moot point: LSU’s won the season.
There should’ve been a lot more red in the ledger than the two losses they have. There could’ve been talk about personnel changes, both on the field and on the sidelines. There could’ve been the continued questions about LSU’s lack of high-end quarterback play in recent years (other than Joe Burrow, of course). Those narratives were whisked away in October, with the winds of change as Kelly’s influence became apparent.
The biggest testament to the team’s moxie came Saturday.
Arkansas was trailing by three in the first quarter and was faced with a fourth-and-goal from the LSU 3. Instead of taking the chip-shot field goal, Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman went for broke and trusted backup quarterback Malik Hornsby to make a touchdown happen.
Pittman had his idea of who the better team was, and a conservative game plan wasn’t going to cut it. Even with home field advantage, even with the resounding votes of confidence he heaped on Hornsby all week (never mind the fact that he eventually pulled Hornsby for third-stringer Cade Fortin), the grittiness and mental fortitude that LSU’s developed over the season was enough to worry him. That play call showed that Pittman knew just how easily that game could get away from his team.
In no way is this a condemnation of Pittman’s aggressive playcalling; Kelly did the same thing, going for it on fourth down in his own territory before the play was whistled dead due to a penalty. So Kelly did it again, this time with a fake-punt run by Jay Bramblett, wiped out by another flag.
In past years, that’s a head-scratching move at best, to give the opponent the gift of good field position.
But why not risk it when the defense has been so wildly effective? Perkins was the most impactful player on the field, and it wasn’t close. Why not rely on him and his defensive comrades to keep Arkansas out of the end zone? Kelly called the game to his team’s strengths, something that his predecessors didn’t do often enough.
Pittman’s playcalling was aggressive because he felt it had to be. There was a respect for the team that LSU’s become in Brian Kelly’s first year, a culmination of all the triumphs that the Tigers’ have experienced in the midst of an overhaul.
Kelly said in his postgame press conference that his Tigers haven’t arrived yet.
It sure seems like they have.
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