Scooter Hobbs column: Tigers way ahead of schedule

Published 6:18 am Tuesday, November 8, 2022

The current state fad is rushing the field at Tiger Stadium. That’s twice now in the last two LSU games, even if the first of them was frowned upon as superfluous overkill.

Nothing of the sort happened Saturday. Not in the wake the 32-31 last-play, rush-out overtime victory over dreaded Alabama and Nick Saban himself.

The tab was the same — another $250,000 for the SEC’s charity kitty, just like the Ole Miss silliness — but this latest was as unexpected as it was dramatic in the end.

No one begrudged the young and the old alike their fun, even the determined grandmotherly lass who amidst the glee trudged to midfield using a roller walker, doggedly slapping at younger shins as she meandered out.

Oddly, the latest came at the end of a week when the Southeastern Conference, with great fanfare, announced formation of an advisory committee to come up with a solution to the epidemic of field-rushing. “Encroachment,” the league put it politely.

Good luck on that. God speed.

But by all indications Brian Kelly may be on to something there in his first year at LSU.

It’s still in the testing phase. He finally got the full-Monty Tiger Stadium nighttime experience and it was a spectacle to behold.

In the afterglow, he let everybody in on a little secret, one that refutes the notion that he could never be a proper fit in this here banana republic.

He may talk funny. He may dance like a buffoon. But he wanted to beat #$%$@ Alabama as badly as all those long-suffering, oft-frustrated LSU fans did.

It seems he lost to Bama and Saban two times while at Notre Dame, and it kind of stuck in his craw (if indeed midwesterners have craws).

Twice, huh? Apparently on big stages. Really? He has no idea the pain and suffering that has tormented his new fan base lo these many years.

But as for keeping besotted students off the field, he may eventually have a solution. As many light years ahead of schedule as he now has this LSU program, you can easily foresee a day when victories over Top 10 teams, even Ala-by-dang-Bama, could become mundane enough to merely double-check the scoreboard and return peacefully back to tailgating.

Like, well, like Alabama has always done.

Kelly came to LSU because he thought it afforded him easier access to the kind of talent to do it. Then he arrived to find a mere 37 scholarship players left over from the glorified JV team LSU had just sent as sacrificial lambs to get run over 42-20 by Kansas State in the Texas Bowl.

“I know what we looked like in January,” Kelly said of the rare emotions he displayed after Saturday’s big win. “To see where we are today, that’s pretty emotional.”

LSU has some talent, for sure, but not in the bulk it can have (and often has had). That’s what he’s looking for.

Still, if what he has cobbled together in such a short time could bring down Alabama and suddenly be on the fast track to Atlanta for the SEC Championship game, imagine what the future might hold when all the pieces arrive.

For now, considering how the season started through Saturday’s postgame festivities, we are witnessing one of the truly remarkable one-season coaching performances in college football memory.

Imagine if Kelly had gone for 2 points in that ugly season-opening loss against Florida State. We might be talking playoff contender.

It still think he should have, by the way.

But I think I know why he pulled the trigger against Alabama and did not against Florida State, both in win-or-lose situations.

The LSU team that played Florida State obviously bore no resemblance to what Alabama had to deal with. That’s part of it.

Quarterback Jayden Daniels has meshed into a new offense to evolve into one of the SEC’s most dangerous play-makers. Others have found their roles, some have matured. A lot of light bulbs went off in a lot of youngsters’ heads.

But still there’s more to it — a lot more than just knowing he had a good ball play to spring on Saban’s defense for the win.

Back then against FSU Kelly did not really know his team yet. He probably wouldn’t have admitted it then, but he probably didn’t quite trust them either.

Nor did the players know or really trust him.

It was largely ignored as coach-speak, but even back then he insisted he loved even that team for its fight and grit.

That’s a quarter of the fight, perhaps.

But a lot more had to go on behind closed doors with what he calls — to borrow a Saban staple — “the process.”

Call it what you want — an attitude, a morale, a standard, a confidence … mainly, a “team culture” that is sustainable.

But it is growing daily in the program and translating onto the field. If getting better each and every week isn’t a testament to coaching, I don’t know what is.

So when Daniels scored on the first play of overtime to pull to within 1 point, the 2-point “gamble” was really a tough decision.

Kelly knew his team and he trusted it, and he knew he had the quarterback to execute it.

The subsequent party will go down as the moment even the doubters knew that, cultural fit or not, he was the perfect choice for this job.

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at scooter.hobbs@americanpress.com