Whatever margin for error LSU had going into its opener against Florida State, it had been trimmed down to nothing by the time it took the field on its final drive.
For a victory, the Tigers would need to go 99 yards in 80 seconds. There was no room for any more errors and for a moment it looked like they'd managed to tread the balance beam without fail all the way to overtime. Then came the easy part: a PAT that was blocked and sent LSU home with a brutal, 24-23 defeat at the Caesars Superdome.
"Mistake after mistake for us, particularly in the first half," head coach Brian Kelly said after the game. "And, you know, obviously more mistakes in the second half, we started to overcome some of those and played with, you know, I would consider more of a sense of urgency with the last 12 minutes."
The sense of urgency was needed in large part because mistakes had kept the Tigers off the board for much of the game after an effective opening drive that was bogged down by a mistake of its own (a high snap). LSU muffed a punt in the first half (Malik Nabers), it muffed a punt in the second half (Nabers). It got a key player ejected for a targeting penalty (Ali Gaye). A 30-yard field goal attempt was blocked (Damian Ramos). A likely touchdown pass bounced off a receiver's chest (Kayshon Boutte). A punt was shanked 30 yards (Jay Bramblett). Coverage was blown on the back-end against a flea-flicker (Mekhi Garner). LSU's defense failed to get off the field on six of the first seven third downs it forced (including three on third-and-8 or longer).
But there was one final, ultimate, most costly mistake: After the exhilarating 99-yard drive was finished off in the end zone by Jaray Jenkins as time expired, Ramos had the game-tying PAT blocked, the ball skidding off the crossbar to secure a Seminoles win. The result soured what was an otherwise incredible closing performance from LSU's offense, with TD drives of 82, 75 and 99 yards in its final three possessions.
"I was proud of our resolve. We battled. But, you know, we just have to learn how to play the game the right way, and that is for four quarters," Kelly said. "We didn't play with the kind of sense of urgency that I want for four quarters and that was evident in our play. ... Any time you have those kinds of situations, you're setting yourself up for a long night."
LSU now has a short week ahead before a cross-town matchup with Southern in the Tiger Stadium opener.
MORE FROM BRIAN KELLY
LATEST ON MAASON SMITH?
LSU's star defensive tackle left the game with an injury in the first half and went back to the locker room. He emerged in the second half in street clothes and with a knee brace and crutches.
Kelly confirmed he was dealing with a knee issue and that he'd have an MRI Monday morning.
ON MALIK NABERS' ROUGH DAY
By all accounts sophomore Malik Nabers had been having as good a camp as anyone. He'd performed well in the punt return game, and his coaches expected that area to be one of the team's strengths.
But when the action started for real, it was anything but. Along with the two blocked kicks, the Tigers muffed a pair of punts that Florida State recovered. The first came at the end of the second quarter with LSU set to take over with a chance for points before the break, trailing 7-3. The second appeared more costly late in the 4th quarter, with the Seminoles taking over deep in Tigers territory needing just a field goal to put the game out of reach. A bizarre toss call resulted in a fumble that gave the Tigers an opening for the game-tying heroics. But that doesn't erase the reality of two costly turnovers at the worst possible moments.
Kelly didn't pull any punches in his assessment:
"I've been doing this a long time," Kelly said. "You know, you put a guy back there and a guy like Malik Nabers, and you watch him, you evaluate him through four weeks of practice. And, you know, you feel comfortable that with his elite skill set and his mindset that he's gonna be able to do a great job and that wasn't the case. That was a mistake that we made. He wants to do it. And we'll have to re-evaluate that situation. He's a great kid. We didn't lose the game because he dropped those two punts. We miraculously were able to overcome those. Usually you wouldn't, but that's on us."
DID YOU CONSIDER GOING FOR 2 AT THE END?
"For a slight moment," Kelly said. "but I felt like in that situation that it was the prudent and percentage-wise that we were going to able to execute it."
WHAT WAS THE STRUGGLE FOR KAYSHON BOUTTE?
The Tigers' star receiver caught just two passes for 20 yards, with a few eyebrow raising drops baked in. He also drew a pass interference penalty that helped set up a Tigers touchdown in the third quarter. Kelly says he isn't concerned about his star WR.
"I think it's like anything else, you know, he's a great player trying to make plays, maybe trying to do a little too much, you know, try to catch the ball before he had it," Kelly said. "I wouldn't read too much into it. I think he learned tonight that you know, he's just got to let the game come to him. There's going to be some nights where, you know, he doesn't get all the balls. ... We've just got to get to him and tell him to let the game come to him, he's gonna get his catches, and not to press as much."
THOUGHTS ON JAYDEN DANIELS SCRAMBLING
LSU's starting quarterback shined early and often with his legs, rushing the ball 16 times for a game-high 114 yards.
"Those weren't [all designed runs], those were scrambles that he was smart. There was a lot of man coverage. .... If he didn't feel like there was somebody open, that's the dimension that he brings, and that's running the football," Kelly said. "So that's that's the one thing you're gonna give up if you if you've got guys turned back and running and we took advantage of that."