Brian Kelly has been tight-lipped about what he wants to accomplish at LSU.
In the spring, he joined the Varsity House Podcast to explain his decision to leave his Notre Dame coaching job to lead LSU.
“I want to beat Nick Saban,” Kelly said. “Who wouldn’t want to beat Nick Saban? You know what I mean? I want to play with him in the regular season. That’s the standard, right? That’s the standard. Now it’s a conference opponent. I started in Division II as a head coach and I felt , like I was ready to go to Division I Central Michigan. From there I transferred to Cincinnati. From there I transferred to Notre Dame. I loved my time at Notre Dame. I loved the players more than anything else. And then you’re faced with another challenge. I’ve always felt that you never run from work. You run to work. I never ran from Notre Dame. I ran to opportunity. I just felt it was a great opportunity.”
Kelly doesn’t guarantee it. He just says what he wants to achieve. It’s not nearly as outrageous as Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher commented before the 2021 season when he said the Aggies would beat Saban before he leaves.
Yet there is a great gap between wanting something and actually achieving it.
Kelly could find out how big that divide is this week when his No. 17 Tigers (6-2, 4-1 SEC) face the No. 6 Crimson Tide (7-1, 4- 1). ) at Tiger Stadium. Or maybe Kelly gets his wish right away and wins his first game at LSU against Saban.
Kelly has had opportunities in the past, but each one has failed.
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The first time was the BCS Championship Game in 2013. Alabama 42, Notre Dame 14.
Then there was the College Football Playoff semifinals in the 2021 Rose Bowl. Alabama 31, Notre Dame 14.
Maybe the third time will be the charm for Kelly. His chances now look better than they did after the first game of the 2022 season.
Kelly’s time at LSU began with a season-opening loss to Florida State. The Tigers also lost to No. 3 Tennessee in early October, but otherwise LSU is pretty solid.
Kelly’s team has beaten four SEC foes: Mississippi State, Florida, Auburn and most recently won 45-20 over No. 10 Ole Miss.
That sets up for quite a game in Baton Rouge against Alabama, where Kelly could have a good enough team to beat the Crimson Tide.
“(Kelly’s teams) always have balance on offense,” Saban said. “They’re going to run the ball. They had a very good pitching scheme. Very, very good use of the staff they have. They have historically played very well on defense and special teams. It’s typical of what a well-coached team usually does. They’ve gotten to the point where — and all his teams have — they’re not beating themselves. You have to execute and beat them and I think that’s what our team has to focus on.”
Some of it is coach talk, but a lot of it is based in truth. Kelly could get his first win against Saban if Alabama plays on the road like it did against Tennessee or even Texas. Alabama can’t afford 17 penalties like they did against the Vols. He also can’t play undisciplined, as was the case on Quandarrius Robinson’s punt that gave Tennessee the ball back and a short field.
Minimizing undisciplined play will be vital, but Alabama will likely have to do more to beat the Tigers.
Kelly has a dynamic quarterback in Jayden Daniels, who passed for 12 touchdowns and one interception. But that’s just part of his game. Daniels has nine rushing touchdowns and is ninth in the SEC with 524 rushing yards.
Alabama is certainly capable of beating LSU under lights, but it won’t be easy by any means. Especially if the Crimson Tide has more road woes.
If that holds up, Kelly could get the victory over Saban he craves. In the process, LSU could also secure the SEC West crown.