LSU football: Home finale has significance beyond the outcome
On paper, LSU’s game Saturday against Alabama Birmingham at Tiger Stadium has little significance.
The Tigers, now No. 6 in the updated college football playoff rankings, have clinched the SEC West title. They will play for the SEC Championship.
No matter what happens against the 5-5 Blazers, the Tigers will face No. 1 Georgia in the SEC Championship game on Dec. 3 in Atlanta.
But this weekend’s home finale has meaning beyond what is easy to see. It’s an opportunity for LSU to use game conditions to fix issues that emerged in a difficult 13-10 victory at Arkansas, before it returns to conference play.
The game against UAB provides an opportunity to straighten out the passing game and regain overall sharpness before finishing the regular season at Texas A&M on Nov. 26.
The passing game was poor against the Razorbacks and everyone involved with it was involved in the problems.
The line was mostly ineffective in blocking the Arkansas blitzers. Quarterback Jayden Daniels was indecisive when confronted with those blitzers. The receivers were ineffective in getting open, giving the blitzers a better opportunity to get to Daniels and increasing the pressure – mental as well as physical – on Daniels as he was making decisions.
The running game started slowly, partly because offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock’s early focus was on having Daniels run the ball. Daniels is the Tigers’ leading rusher and he has been the catalyst for the running game all season.
But the Razorbacks were focused on containing Daniels in the running game, in addition to disrupting him in the passing game, and they were effective. Gradually Denbrock turned to the running backs, primarily Josh Williams, as the focal point of the running game.
Williams wound up having a 100-yard day and LSU mustered enough offense to survive.
The challenge against UAB is to regain run-pass balance, and Daniels’ productivity in both elements, which was a key to wins against Florida, Ole Miss and Alabama. The Tigers will need that in order to succeed during the stretch run.
LSU should have a relatively easy time prevailing Saturday and in the process regaining the edge it needs to try to win the SEC title and possibly earn a spot in the playoff.
But this game has significance beyond that.
It’s the last home game of the season. That means it’s Senior Night, an opportunity to honor the Tigers who will be playing their final game in Tiger Stadium.
LSU will honor 17 seniors, 13 of whom already have earned degrees.
Those players who have no eligibility remaining after this season will be at the forefront of the senior ceremony.
Certainly there will be players with remaining eligibility who will choose to leave early for the NFL and won’t play again in Tiger Stadium, even if that’s not public knowledge, perhaps not even known to those players yet.
This will be an opportunity to appreciate everyone who is playing their final home game and anyone who might be playing their final home game.
Any players who choose to leave early for the NFL should be appreciated for completing their college careers at LSU when so many of their former teammates in recent years chose to enter the transfer portal. They chose to keep being Tigers and they chose to take their chances amid the uncertainty of playing for a new coach in Brian Kelly.
One important player who may or may not be playing his final game at Tiger Stadium deserves special acknowledgement regardless of what the future holds.
Daniels might be tempted to head to the NFL after blossoming this season, but he also could benefit from another year playing for Kelly and Denbrock.
When the 6-foot-3 junior chose to leave Arizona State he could have opted for a place where he was more likely to earn a starting position. But he opted to challenge himself by going to the SEC and competing against Myles Brennan, Garrett Nussmeier and Walker Howard.
He won the starting job. He carried a struggling offense and team in the early going. He endured growing pains of his own to rapidly grow into one of the most important players in college football this season.
He, like all of the players on his team, will have a lot of work to do after Saturday night. But Saturday night is an opportunity to appreciate the remarkable season that will conclude in other places.
And it’s an opportunity to appreciate the foundation they have laid for upcoming teams that play in Tiger Stadium.