LSU addressing slew of miscues after Brian Kelly debut

Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
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BATON ROUGE, La. — LSU has emerged from a disappointing season opener trying to address a slew of costly miscues in the Tigers’ one-point loss to Florida State.

The game marked an inauspicious debut for coach Brian Kelly, given his professed emphasis on organization and getting the details right.

“Coming off a difficult loss, you can imagine there’s a lot of emotion,” Kelly said as the Tigers (0-1) prepared to host Southern (1-0) in the first meeting of the two Baton Rouge institutions.

“There’s so many things that I could stand here in front of you (and say) that in Week 1, we want to do better,” Kelly said. “I could touch upon every single aspect of the game.

“But I think we have to be careful not to say that this defines anything about this football team other than what they displayed,” Kelly continued. “They displayed grit. And they displayed character. … Was it pretty football all the time? No, it was not. But they’re accountable. Our coaches are accountable. I’m accountable.”

The lowlights of the 24-23 loss included two fumbled punts by receiver Malik Nabers, a blocked field goal, a blocked extra point that could have tied the game at the end of regulation, a bad snap that went for a 14-yard loss on second-and-goal from the 5, and a third-down incomplete pass near the end zone that glanced off the torso of top receiver Kayshon Boutte, who wasn’t looking for the ball.

Boutte, a preseason Biletnikoff Award candidate, could be seen stewing on the sideline while quarterback Jayden Daniels tried to speak with him, a potentially troubling sign that Kelly said he has addressed.

“His standard is so high. And, obviously, it was a difficult day for him. It wasn’t his best. But he’s going to have great games,” Kelly said, describing Boutte as the “least” of the offense’s concerns.

Boutte had just two catches for 20 yards. He also was unable to maintain control of a contested pass near the back of the end zone. And it’s not often that Boutte’s lack of production becomes a story line, Kelly noted.

“He’s a young man who hasn’t been in this situation before and he needs some guidance,” Kelly said. “We worked on some things that will help him handle the scrutiny. And quite frankly, the scrutiny was strong.”

Meanwhile, Kelly blamed himself for Nabers’ second muffed punt, which could have cost the Tigers their last chance to tie the game had the Seminoles not subsequently fumbled themselves, setting up a dramatic, 99-yard LSU TD drive in the final 1:20.

“It was my decision to stick with Malik,” Kelly said. “I felt like he’s an elite athlete, he’s confident and I wanted to show that confidence in him.”

Protection up front was an issue, not only on the blocked kicks, but also in the running and passing games.

The Tigers entered the game lacking experience across the line. No current LSU offensive lineman has more starts for the Tigers than Cam Wire, who had four prior to the opener. Garrett Dellinger was starting at center for the first time in his career after switching positions in the offseason.

While Daniels rushed for 114 yards, most of that came on scrambles. The rest of the team combined for just 39 yards rushing.

“Obviously, the run game has to continue to grow,” Kelly said, noting how the running backs reads have to be in synch with the blocking of linemen, tight ends and receivers. “We’ve got to get all those pieces working together.”

Daniels, who was sacked four times, had little time to throw until the latter part of the fourth quarter, when the Seminoles dropped into a conservative, “prevent” defense.

Kelly said that pass blockers are still developing an “awareness” of where and when they can and should help one another.

That improves “when you get a group of guys that are playing together for a while,” Kelly said. “Certainly, we lack a little bit of that right now.”

Defensively, LSU will have to adjust to the loss of defensive end Maason Smith, who tore his left anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) when his knee buckled as he came down from a celebratory hop following a teammate’s tackle.

“Obviously, we’re crushed for him because he was celebrating for a teammate,” Kelly said. “He’s a great player. You’re going to miss great players.”

On the whole, Kelly said, the Tigers deserved criticism for their opening showing.

“It’s a high-profile program,” Kelly said. “I’m not up here to make excuses for our guys. … We should be critical of our coaching and of our play. Critical analysis is going to get us better.”

WVU RB Donaldson in concussion protocol, out for Baylor game

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) West Virginia running back CJ Donaldson is in concussion protocol and will miss next week’s home game with Baylor after he was injured in a loss to Texas, coach Neal Brown said Tuesday.

Donaldson remained on the ground after he was tackled on a short gain in the third quarter of Saturday’s 38-20 loss to the Longhorns. His helmet and shoulder pads were removed and he was carted off the field on a stretcher. After the game he was cleared to travel home with the team.

“He’s recovering,” Brown said. “There is a strict return-to-play (policy) that we have to follow here and I’m zero involved in it. All I do is ask the question. They don’t even start the return-to-play until they’re symptom free.”

Donaldson, a 240-pound freshman, leads the Mountaineers with 389 rushing yards and six touchdowns, with an average of 6.9 yards per carry.

West Virginia (2-3, 0-2 Big 12 Conference) is idle this week and hosts Baylor (3-2, 1-1) next Thursday, Oct. 13.

Taulia Tagovailoa says he visited brother, Tua, over weekend

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
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COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa was able to visit his brother, Tua, last weekend after the Terrapins’ game against Michigan State, he said Tuesday in his first comments to reporters since Tua left the Miami Dolphins’ game against Cincinnati last Thursday with a frightening head injury.

Taulia played in Maryland’s win over Michigan State on Saturday but was not made available to the media afterward. He said Tuesday he was able to go to Florida and spend some time with his brother, who suffered a concussion four days after taking a hit in another game but was cleared to return.

“He’s doing good, everything’s fine,” he said. “My biggest thing was just seeing him and spending as much time as I can with him. I came back Sunday night.”

Tagovailoa said he appreciates the support for his brother.

“My brother’s my heart. He’s someone I look up to, someone I talk to every day,” he said. “It was just a hard scene for me to see that.”

Tagovailoa said he was in constant contact with his mother about his brother’s situation, and he was finally able to talk to Tua on Friday night.

“I really just wanted to go there and just spend time with my family, hug them and stuff like that,” Taulia Tagovailoa said. “But he told me he’s a big fan of us, and he’d rather watch me play on Saturday. … After that phone call, I was happy and getting back to my normal routine.”

Tagovailoa indicated that his brother’s injury didn’t make him too nervous about his own health when he took the field again.

“I guess when that happens to someone like my brother, or when anything happens to one of my family members, I don’t really think of how it will be able to affect me,” he said. “I just think of: `Is he OK? How’s he doing?”‘

Although it was a short visit to Florida, he said he and Tua made the most of their chance to be together.

“I just wanted to make sure he’s healthy and stuff, which he is,” Taulia Tagovailoa said.