BATON ROUGE, La. — No. 12 LSU is beginning to look more like a team that deserved its preseason top-five ranking.
Coach Brian Kelly had the Tigers so dialed in during their 41-14 romp at Mississippi State last weekend that they bore virtually no resemblance to the squad that capitulated during a lopsided, season-opening loss to fourth-ranked Florida State.
“That’s an identity that we want to create each and every week and certainly one that we believe that we can," Kelly said Monday after reviewing LSU's victory over the Bulldogs. “Now it's about building on that and looking for that consistency.”
Last season provided a template for Kelly and the Tigers on how to bounce back from a disappointing start.
LSU lost a mistake-filled 2022 opener to Florida State in New Orleans, but Kelly and his staff were able to get a slew of new players — most notably transfer quarterback Jayden Daniels — to improve considerably throughout the season. The Tigers wound up upsetting Alabama in early November and becoming the surprise champion of the Southeastern Conference West Division.
More was expected of the 2023 Tigers, particularly with Daniels, top receiver Malik Nabers, and star linebacker Harold Perkins Jr. coming back to build on breakout seasons.
LSU again stumbled out of the gate, this time with a 45-24 setback in Orlando, during which the Tigers were outscored 31-7 by the Seminoles in the second half.
Now in his 33rd season as a college head coach, Kelly said it's common for formidable teams to get off to rocky starts, particularly if they're integrating a number of new players as LSU has had to do this season.
“With 14 transfers and the amount of freshmen that we were going to have to play, that’s a red flag," Kelly said. “If you’re really looking at it carefully, that’s going to require some tweaking.”
During the past two weeks at least, Kelly's adjustments have produced desired results. LSU has outscored two opponents 113-24 combined.
First came a 72-10 victory in Week 2 over Grambling State, but LSU was expected to win comfortably against a squad from the second-tier Football Championship Subdivision.
Last week's kickoff in Starkville, Mississippi — where fans had their cowbells ready to ring — represented a more significant test. LSU was favored by 9 1/2, according to FanDuel.com Sportsbook, but covered that three times over.
Daniels and Nabers were so good that they shared SEC offensive player of the week honors, while LSU's defense stifled normally prolific Mississippi State QB Will Rogers.
Daniels completed 88.2% of his passes for 367 yards and two scores to go with 64 yards and two TDs rushing.
“Some of the things that maybe don't get the attention was his presence in the pocket, how many times he got hit after delivering a great throw,” Kelly said. “He made some great throws under duress. Those are NFL throws.”
Nabers had 13 catches for 239 yards with two receptions going for more than 40 yards and TDs of 26 and 33 yards.
Kelly said he doesn't “know that there's any reason why" Daniels and Nabers "can't continue to play at that level.”
Perkins had one of LSU's four sacks of Rogers, who was pressured throughout and limited to 103 yards passing and just 11 completions on 28 attempts.
LSU (2-1, 1-0 SEC) returns home this week to host Arkansas (2-1, 0-0) in what will be the second of five straight SEC games for the Tigers. It's a chance for LSU to reestablish itself as contenders again in the SEC West.
“I think we're finding the formula for this team,” Kelly said. “Most teams that I've had, there haven't been as many that have been just add water and just go. They all require a little bit of changing the formula as the season goes along to get the right mix.”