NEW ORLEANS — The most stunning coach hire in LSU football history has called for a grand entrance, and the Superdome has been delivered.
Brian Kelly’s LSU Tigers took to the field on Sunday amid pyrotechnics worthy of a Pink Floyd concert. Transfer quarterback Jayden Daniels extended the fiery entry with a 25-yard run on LSU’s first play after scrimmage.
And then the Tigers died out.
LSU’s 24-23 loss to Florida State on Sunday served as a failed opener for the Kelly era.
A gaffe-filled game deservedly ended when Shyheim Brown blocked Damian Ramos’ extra point with no more time.
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The worst for LSU? The Seminoles (2-0) and coach Mike Norvell contributed enough blunders, including two inside 10-yard trips that produced zero points, that LSU had a chance of winning. But the Tigers (0-1) couldn’t capitalize, looking as flawed as last year’s team which suffered a losing record for the first time since 1999.
Nick Saban won eight games in his freshman season at LSU. Sunday showed how much work awaits the Tigers if Kelly is to reach that mark.
At least Daniels fed enough yards in the second half to give cause for optimism. He nearly forced overtime by leading a spectacular 99-yard touchdown that, of course, was followed by a failing protection on the extra point.
It’s hard to say which has tormented LSU the most: its offensive line, its special teams or its secondary.
Daniels spent much of the game running from trouble, and the Tigers didn’t bother trying to establish a running game. LSU’s vaunted defensive line seemed pedestrian compared to FSU’s relentless passing rush. Bad shots from new center Garrett Dellinger interrupted the records.
A sniffed blocking assignment allowed FSU to block a field goal. Jay Bramblett punted 31 yards. Malik Nabers missed two punt returns.
Seminoles quarterback Jordan Travis tortured the LSU secondary on third down.
Should I continue?
LSU’s best offensive weapon, Kayshon Boutte, has become a drawback. He couldn’t secure a touchdown take when Daniels threw a perfect ball against tight 1-on-1 coverage. Boutte’s attention was elsewhere and the ball ricocheted off his body. Boutte then dropped two passes to complete his goof tour.
The preseason hyperbole included talk of Kelly instilling more discipline in the Tigers, but that was before defensive tackle Maason Smith injured his leg while celebrating after a play in the first quarter. Ali Gaye was ejected for blatant targeting. Discipline remained MIA on FSU’s first touchdown, which came on a chip flicker reverse pass. LSU safeties chased the reverse and FSU’s Ontario Wilson slipped past cornerback Mekhi Garner for a 39-yard touchdown. Twice, LSU committed multiple penalties on the same play.
It’s hard to imagine the Tigers looking any more failed if a shirtless Ed Orgeron replaced Kelly on the sidelines.
Norvell did their best to position LSU for the win. His poor decision to go for fourth down – a fade route fell incomplete – instead of a field goal before halftime almost proved costly.
Seminoles fans fought their way through much of the second half before having to hold their breath at the end. But, wouldn’t you know, LSU’s line split to allow Brown to rush in and block the extra point.
Freshman coaches should benefit from a modicum of patience, but any plea for patience at LSU would ring hollow after Florida upset No. 8 Utah under new coach Billy Napier.
Kelly has a $100 million contract and the most successful resume of any LSU hire. He hasn’t tried to temper the massive expectations he knows he faces.
“We’re going to start, right now, building Louisiana State University’s next national championship football team,” Kelly said after he was hired. “It’s the norm. The expectation.”
Maybe start by taking the first step. Like a lineman blocking the defender in front of him.
The success of the Kelly era will not be determined by this first game, which is fortunate, because there was not much to take away from a start that went up in smoke.
Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at BToppmeyer@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer.