LSU isn’t going to the College Football Playoff.
But it is going to play No. 1 Georgia for the SEC championship. And win or lose, it’s going to a pretty good bowl game.
The 38-23 loss to Texas A&M on Saturday night at Kyle Field denied Brian Kelly’s Tigers their biggest goal.
But they still exceeded any realistic preseason expectations with the SEC West title, a 9-3 overall record and a 6-2 conference record.
Here are 10 takeaways from the Tigers’ 2022 regular season:
The Tigers lost to Florida State in their 1st game under Kelly.
The outcome wasn’t shocking, and the Seminoles have gone on to have a bounceback season. But the Tigers mostly played in the opener like a team that had a long way to go under a new coach inheriting a 6-7 team.
And they did have a long way to go. But they have come a long way within the same season.
Kelly preached patience, and the players trusted him and the staff.
It’s really hard to play tackle in the SEC. It’s even harder as true freshmen.
But Kelly has not 1, but 2 freshman tackles who are starting and thriving in the SEC.
Campbell starts on the left side, and Jones starts on the right.
LSU is 8-1 with them in the starting lineup.
Speaking of freshmen — and patience — that brings us to Perkins.
He was one of the most highly touted freshmen in this class. Kelly and defensive coordinator Matt House knew they had a special player, but they were wary of rushing him.
They carved out a limited role for him so he could get on the field and experience success in September.
They liked what they saw and gradually expanded his role. He kept growing, so his role did, too.
He had a breakout performance with 4 sacks against Arkansas.
Now he’s one of the top freshmen in the SEC.
Most of the attention focused on Boutte has been negative.
Kelly questioned his practice habits early, and Boutte responded positively.
Boutte struggled in the season opener and for most of September.
He has not regained the form that he had as one of the most dynamic playmakers in the country before he suffered an ankle injury in the middle of last season that required 2 surgeries to fix.
He has been more productive in the 2nd half of the season, but primarily in a less glamorous role than he has been accustomed to.
He hasn’t pouted. He has accepted and succeeded as a “possession receiver.”
No, we’re not talking about the head-scratcher against Texas A&M.
This one was the defining moment of this season so far. It might become a defining moment in Kelly’s tenure.
When Kelly ignored the book and trusted his players to convert a 2-point conversion in the 1st overtime against Alabama, he was rewarded with a signature victory.
A week later, the Tigers were SEC West champions.
He used to be a walk-on, but now he’s on scholarship.
Williams earned his scholarship the hard way. Now he’s one of the team’s more important players — its most productive and versatile running back.
He has missed the past 2 games because of injury, and LSU could really use him against Georgia.
The game against Texas A&M was a bad one for the defense, which has given up points before the offense has scored in every SEC game but 1.
But despite the performance against the Aggies and the one against Tennessee, the defense generally has evolved significantly under House, who is a semifinalist for the Broyles Award, which goes to the top assistant coach in college football.
They aren’t really a black cloud hanging over LSU’s SEC title quest.
But they aren’t that far away.
The Tigers had numerous major breakdowns on special teams early in the season. They haven’t had as many of late, but weaknesses continue to appear periodically.
It’s a concern that 1 major breakdown on the special teams could be costly when the stakes are the highest.
Daniels arrived from Arizona State to compete for a starting position. He won it, but no one was quite sure what to expect from him.
He was effective right away, though even Kelly said he wasn’t decisive enough.
Daniels continued to grow and became more decisive, more aggressive, more confident.
Now he’s one of the most important players in the country.
Daniels played gamely through injury in the 4th quarter against the Aggies.
Star defensive lineman Maason Smith was lost for the season because of a knee injury in the opener.
The Tigers have started 6 different combinations on the offensive line. They have had to shuffle the secondary for a variety of reasons.
Kelly and his staff have consistently evaluated which personnel groups have needed periodic tweaking, in addition to the unavoidable adjustments necessitated because of injuries and other issues.
With rare exceptions, they have made wise personnel choices, improved productivity and mitigated losses.
Emory Jones isn’t thriving by any means. He’s not close to being a good RT, but he did get a lot of valuable experience this season. House did a very good job overall as the DC. He completely laid an egg against the Aggies though. I am no fan of Daniels. He can’t read a defense and he is way too much of a one man show. That doesn’t work in the SEC. Both the players and the staff improved as the season went along. That’s a positive.
Realize you didn't appreciate Daniels, but he was the engine that got the Tigers this far. Agree when he's off, he can be a liability. But his agility and running ability saved many plays from sacks and negative plays throughout the season. He killed the Rebels.
I don’t believe it was Houses’ defensive planning as the cause of the poor defensive play. It was more of the players playing too cautious, scared to make a mistake, resulting in many mistakes. If you play to not lose, you’ll lose.
I’m not sure where you get that narrative from. The mindset is derived from the coaches. LSU certainly did not play with the proper mindset. They played like they thought they were entitled to win and the Aggies would just roll over for them. No matter how you shake it out, Jimbo and his staff did a way better job preparing their team for this game than Kelly and his staff. Major fail on the part of Kelly and company.
Jayden Daniels is a flawed QB with unteachable athletic talent. LSU would have been no more than 7-5 without Daniels. He willed the team to victory with his elusiveness and occasional on target passing.