Scooter Hobbs column: Empathy but no sympathy

Published 11:48 am Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Lost a few key players to the opt-out craze, did you?

Cry the Tigers a river.

LSU has been there, done that. Wasn’t pretty. Didn’t even get a T-shirt last year for the Texas Bowl.

Surely you know that story.

You’ll recall that a mere 38 LSU scholarship players were available, with a remnant staff led and piecemealed together by an interim coach, Brad Davis, who’d been on campus barely six months.

Final score: Kansas State 42, LSU 20.

There’s Next Man Up … and then there’s Last Man Standing.

Give Tigers credit there. They showed up against Kansas State anyway, which was more than Texas A&M, the inventor of the 12th Man summoned out of the cheap seats tale, could say after sending regrets to last year’s Gator Bowl. Perhaps the Aggies figured they’d be back at full strength the next year (this year) for a bowl and … well, that’s another story.

That night in Houston LSU had six defensive players make their first-ever start, with two others starting at unfamiliar positions.

Minus a few injured starters, the LSU offense was fairly intact, although a wide receiver playing quarterback is never optimal.

As I recall, the flow of the game was that LSU for the most part controlled the K-State running game on first and second downs. Yet on third downs the Wildcats would realize — light bulb alert! — that LSU’s secondary had one starter and four poor fish in a barrel and take proper advantage.

It got monotonous. Brian Kelly stuck around anyway.

Purdue’s situation this year isn’t that dire. But it’s close, if not in sheer numbers then in key contributors.

In fact — and this might be an added novelty option to keep the bowl season interesting — if LSU was able to pick and choose the five Purdue players it would just as soon not have to deal with, the Tigers just might pick the five known to have opted out of the Citrus Bowl.

The Tigers will be a missing a few, too, of course. You don’t get to the NFL from LSU early without the ceremonial bowl game opt-out. It’s a tradition like no other.

So don’t look for edge rushers Ali Gaye and B.J. Ojulari, or defensive tackle Jaqueline Roy. Another with NFL visions, cornerback Jay Ward, has consented to give the bowl one last college try before the combine.

At least a dozen more are already in the transfer portal, although, except for wide receiver Jack Bech, they aren’t household names.

And LSU won’t be running out of wide receivers any time soon.

Purdue looks more like LSU in the Texas Bowl, including an interim head coach, Brian Brohm, after his big brother Jeff bolted for the Louisville head job. New coach Ryan Walters is waiting in the wings.

But the five players known to be skipping Orlando includes quarterback Aiden O’Connell, who threw for 3490 yards and 22 touchdown passes while making second-team all-Big Ten.

Not much is known about the backup, Austin Burton, except that he did not, as O’Connell did, throw for 366 yards in the Big Ten Championship game against Michigan.

We do know that Burton won’t have Purdue’s two two receivers, Charlie Jones (who led the nation with 110 receptions) and Payne Durham, the ever-reliable tight end.

Defensively, the Boilermakers will have to make do without all-Big Ten linebacker Jalen Graham and pesty cornerback Cory Trice.

That’s a pretty convincing sob story. LSU can surely relate to it. It’s the prime suspect as to why LSU was less than a full touchdown favorite when the game was announced but now the line is just over two touchdowns

It would appear the roles have been reversed this year.

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