Kelly puts focus on UAB and Senior Night, not Georgia

TIGER TANDEM:  The Walter Camp Foundation’s National Defensive Player of the Week, true freshman Harold Perkins (40), and Evangel Christian product Micah Baskerville (23), teamed up on this tackle against Alabama. (File photo by PETER FOREST, Journal Sports)

By RYNE BERTHELOT, Journal Sports

BATON ROUGE — By the metrics of almost every preseason prediction, Brian Kelly’s first LSU football squad has overachieved.

There’s a win against Alabama, coupled with wins over Mississippi State and Ole Miss. There are impact freshmen on both sides of the ball that rank among the best at their position in the SEC. There’s an SEC Championship appearance waiting in the wings once the regular season is finally over.

Not to overlook an 8-2 record and No. 6 national ranking, when few expected a spot in any Top 25.

Those weren’t the metrics Kelly was looking to judge his first season by, though.

“I didn’t put any wins or losses on this team,” Kelly said during his Monday press conference. “I put, ‘I want to play hard, I want to be better in November, and I want to teach them how to win.’ I think we’ve hit all of those markers, and that’s kind of where I wanted this program to be. I think we’re at where we should be at this time.”

There are still two games left on the regular-season slate, against UAB at home Saturday night and next Saturday at Texas A&M. While they won’t be the toughest tests on the schedule, they’ll present a unique challenge: they stand as tune-ups for the title bout with Georgia, a game that, barring Tiger stumbles, will draw plenty of attention nationally.

That hasn’t kept Kelly from being focused on the work in front of him, especially given his unique set of goals and standards he had set forth for the season.

“I think we’ll have plenty of time to get information on Georgia, and we’re pretty much aware of Georgia and who they are and what they’re about. Our focus will be on UAB and Texas A&M because they matter. For us in terms of where we are and the development of our program, these singular games are so important to us.”

Kelly’s seen that development on the individual level, as well. There’s Micah Baskerville, for instance, who fell out of favor with Ed Orgeron’s staff last season after seeing significant snaps early in his career. The Evangel Christian product has become a key factor to the success of a potent defense and has turned himself into one the conference’s best linebackers in pass coverage.

Baskerville’s triumphs didn’t stop there, though.

He’s graduated from LSU, one of 13 seniors who will participate in Saturday’s Senior Night festivities to do so. He saw LSU at the pinnacle of college football before it came crashing down a season later, only to be rebuilt under a new head coach. He went through a Covid-shortened season at an empty Tiger Stadium, a shell of what it has typically been on any given Saturday night. He overcame a reputation, Kelly said, that kept him from reaching his full potential until now.

On some levels, Baskerville’s progression is a microcosm of what LSU’s senior class had to endure. The trials and tribulations have all been accentuated with an exceptional closing act.

“When I got here, everybody was like, ‘Well, ya know, he doesn’t go to class, he doesn’t do this, he doesn’t do that,’ and he’s been amazing,” Kelly said of Baskerville. “He’s gotten his degree, he’s been a great leader, he’s been inspirational in everything he’s done. I love that story. To watch him grow, and do the right things in the classroom and overcome all of the things that were in his past, that to me is this senior class.”

Baskerville and his fellow seniors had a choice to make before the season, Kelly said.

“They could’ve been average, they could’ve been poor. They could’ve just been good. They’ve chosen to be champions by the way they’ve gone to work every day, both in the classroom and on the football field. The choices these guys have made have been outstanding.”

For one last Saturday night in Tiger Stadium, they’ll reap the rewards of those choices.

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