Tigers’ championship bid may end in heartbreak, but should still be celebrated

BATON ROUGE – So, the regular-season finale left something (a lot) to be desired.

Let’s face it: there was no part of LSU’s team that looked good last Saturday night. John Emery’s three touchdowns look great on paper and will likely help fill a highlight tape, but individual achievement doesn’t trump the lackluster offense the Tigers displayed otherwise.

There was a quiet defensive performance – most notably zero sacks, despite featuring two of the nation’s best edge rushers – that will undoubtedly go down as one of the worst of the season.

It was the game almost every Tiger fan expected from LSU at the beginning of the season: a supremely-talented Texas A&M team found its footing at home. A supremely-disheveled LSU team looked ineffective and out of sorts.

It certainly doesn’t reflect the storyline of LSU’s season.

I won’t say nobody expected LSU to win at least nine games, beat Ole Miss and Alabama, and win the SEC West. I’m sure somebody, somewhere, did. I hope they placed a sizable bet on those odds in Vegas before the season started.

There are still two more games left, and while the fate of the Tigers’ bowl game is still up in the air (we can say with certainty that LSU won’t be in the College Football Playoff), the SEC Championship game is this Saturday. That means a bout with Georgia, undeniably the best team in the SEC and arguably a cut above everyone else in the country.

Even before Jayden Daniels’ injuries last week, a championship win over Georgia was a tall order. If Daniels misses the game, turn the tall order into a mountain. Brian Kelly said on Sunday that he was “optimistic” about Daniels’ ability to practice on Tuesday, though Daniels wore a boot on Sunday to protect a sprained ankle.

Regardless of Saturday’s outcome, it’s hard not to give Kelly a great report card in his first season on the sidelines.

He started with a secondary that should’ve been more akin to swiss cheese with holes everywhere. Sloppy, or at the very least inconsistent, quarterback play. No stars among the offensive playmakers aside from Kayshon Boutte. Two true freshmen at the offensive tackles that SEC defenses should’ve been overwhelming.

None of that happened, though. Instead, the secondary of misfits became a symbol of the team’s relentlessness. Daniels broke single-season quarterback rushing records at LSU. Mason Taylor and Josh Williams may as well go down as folk heroes on campus for their offensive contributions. Will Campbell and Emery Jones have been two of the brightest offensive linemen LSU’s seen in a decade.

They’ve been steamrolled by teams that should’ve been near the top of the SEC for two of their three losses. Fair warning, Saturday’s game doesn’t look any different. Even if the Bulldogs blow away the Tigers, that doesn’t cheapen the accomplishment of reaching the SEC title game, nor should it.

Kelly was asked during his Monday press conference about the late start that a conference championship game brings on the recruiting trail.

He agreed that it does stall building LSU’s Class of 2023, as most coaches spend this week making their first stops, but pointed out the players he’s recruiting will know where to find him.

We’ll all know where to find Brian Kelly Saturday, and that’s more than anyone could’ve asked for.

Contact Ryne at rgberthelot@gmail.com.