The Tigers closed out Brian Kelly’s first season on a high note on Monday afternoon, beating the Purdue Boilermakers 63-7 in the Citrus Bowl in what was LSU’s most lopsided postseason win in program history.
Kelly’s team delivered a dominating defensive performance, totaling three interceptions — one of which was returned for a touchdown — and four sacks. it was a massive day for the passing game, with both Jayden Daniels and Garrett Nussmeier seeing significant action.
Malik Nabers had 163 yards and a touchdown on nine catches, and he earned the game’s MVP as he also had a passing touchdown on a trick play.
The win gives Kelly 10 wins in Year 1, and it marks his sixth-straight season reaching the double-digit win threshold. Here’s what he had to say at his press conference after the win.
First of all, want to thank Florida Citrus Sports, certainly the Cheez-It Citrus Bowl. What a great week and a great venue. We appreciate this Bowl, and our players really enjoy being part of the community here. You know, look, you get these opportunities and you want to be able to celebrate your season, enjoy the bowls and the atmosphere, and then you want to go play well. And we did that today. We did that today. Our guys executed at a high level. They competed at a high level. We were not at full strength, but that did not stop our guys from putting in the time and the effort. Jarrick (Bernard-Converse) is here with me because here is a senior who could have easily not played in this game but took virtually every snap out there, and so he was our MVP on defense today, and what it means to have somebody like him come into our program and really steady things for us in our program and show what true commitment is and doing it the right way every single day. Obviously Malik (Nabers) was electric today. You know, made big plays all over the field, and that’s kind of the mantle of LSU wide receivers, and it’s his opportunity now, and you could see that he wanted to make sure that he made a statement out there today. So, congratulations to Purdue. They were in a very difficult situation, as well. But our guys handled it well today and played at a high level.
On the defensive performance
Amazing, right. We drew it up on a napkin, and the guys just — for me, it was fun to watch them play today because they played with great effort, great desire. The will to win these games is obviously important. You’ve got to have that. But they executed a defense that we had only put in for about two and a half weeks, and really proud of their execution and the way they played today.
On Malik Nabers' development this year
I think he’s maturing. I think we have gone through understanding how to be in the right zone emotionally to his preparation in practice, where he’s preparing harder than anybody else, to flipping the switch to performance. Look, he mentioned one of the drops. He drops the ball, but he comes back the very next play and make a spectacular play. His ability to focus and refocus, that’s the maturity that you see from Malik in terms of how he’s grown in this past year, and I’m really proud of him.
On what will stand out from Year 1 at LSU
Probably the relationships with the players and developing new relationships with 115 players and getting to know them. That, to me, in Year 1, the first time here, you don’t know any of the players and they don’t know you. I think our first meeting said hey, we’re going to build trust, but it’s going to take time for both sides. And I think that that’s what happened. And I’ll remember that in Year 1, that process of building trust.
On if he was OK with celebrations
I was, actually. Obviously I probably crossed the line a little bit and got a penalty. That’s out of character for me. I didn’t apologize for the team. But they will hold me accountable for it with SWAT points probably. Look, if they were to do something that was demeaning to the other team or not in good sportsmanship, we would have taken action, but they were having fun with each other. If a bunch of old men can’t get out of the way of that, we’re in a bad spot. So let them have fun and enjoy it, and at least that’s the way I saw it.
On plan with Garrett Nussmeier and his performance
I thought did he well. And we made it clear he was going to go in the third series, and I didn’t know what was going to happen after that. But just made it clear to him, go in, do your job. You’ve got a job to do, get it done, and then we’ll roll after that and see how it goes. Obviously, he played a lot more. The way the game was kind of trending, he got even more playing time. But there’s no quarterback controversy. Jayden (Daniels) is the No. 1 quarterback. Garrett will get an opportunity to compete, though. Look, the most important thing is when you have two really good quarterbacks, you have to have an open mind. You can’t be closed-minded when you’re looking at two elite quarterbacks. So what we have committed to is an open mind and an open process where you can go in and we’re going to give you an opportunity to continue to grow, and then that’s going to allow both of our quarterbacks and Walker (Howard) to continue to grow as quarterbacks at LSU.
On social media rumors regarding the coaching staff, if all coaches are in good standing entering offseason
Absolutely. 100 percent. Yes. Look, I hold our players to high standards, and they know that. We have a high standard. I’ve been in it for three decades. We have high standards for everybody that’s in our program, and that includes coaches and support staff and anybody that’s affiliated with this program. And so they are held to that highest of standard as well. And so there are no coaches or support staff that are currently with me that have done anything that would require me to feel as they haven’t met the highest of standards that are required within our program.
On momentum from this win entering 2023
This one was really big. It obviously was a convincing win. It showed more about how our guys handle distractions, but when it’s time to get back to preparation, how they can prepare and not be distracted by doing things like being at the bowl game. And that carries on into next year where they understand that if they stick with their process and preparation, they are going to be a really good football team. And so we got that accomplished today.
On if all three quarterbacks will be with the team for spring
I absolutely 100 percent believe that all three quarterbacks are going to be with us, and all of them we’ve had conversations with and feel that that’s the direction we’re going.
On busting out trademark dance moves in locker room
My players would disagree with that (laughter), that I’m known for anything else but being less than a dancer. I was excited for them to be quite honest with you. You know, when you play this well in a Bowl game to finish strong, it really was more about celebrating them and what they accomplished. So I held back a little bit today on the dance moves and probably did a little too much on the sideline.
On Maason Smith helping the team prepare while injured
Yeah, that’s a great question. I would be remiss to not name him in particular for the way he’s hung in there with our team and matured. He’s recognized the value of his education. He’s doing well in the classroom. He was at the pep rally with us. He was at Fun Spot. That’s a big man to put on some of those rides, but he was great with the kids. For me and the field that I’m in, everybody sees me in my office on the sideline, but I get up every morning watching development of young men, and to see his growth and development has been amazing. He needs to take credit for that.
On Quad Wilson's pick six, Frank Wilson's subsequent penalty
For the record, Frank Wilson got the penalty for that one because he ran onto the field as well. So that’s not on me. That’s on Coach Wilson, and he’s happy to take that 15-yard penalty by the way. I said, “You’re good with me.”