KLEINPETER: LSU should let it all hang out in Fiesta Bowl

Note to Ed Orgeron: if the score is tied in the Fiesta Bowl and LSU has the ball at the Central Florida 1-yard line on fourth down with 2:03 to play, don’t kick a field goal.

If it’s too subtle, that was the scenario in last year’s Citrus Bowl loss to Notre Dame. The Irish needed only three plays to win that game with a touchdown after scoring only one touchdown in the first 58 minutes, 32 seconds.

While LSU is in a New Year’s Day Six bowl game this time, the rules are the same because all 39 bowl games – minus two — are relatively meaningless. In other words, there’s no better time to let it all hang out. These are the times going for the kill shot is an easy call.

LSU fans might grumble about playing UCF as a non-marquee opponent, one that beat Auburn in the Peach Bowl last season. But playing on New Year’s Day adds some prestige to the game, even if it lacks meaning.

Revel in the chance to end a 25-game winning streak by the Knights. It’s a chance to one up Auburn for the third time in two years. Auburn’s inability to beat the Knights should serve as a warning not to take them lightly. The Tigers have been warned.

Bowl practices are a warm up for the next season. The really important December work LSU will be doing is trying to nail down a better recruiting class. There’s a lot of work to do in that department judging by the way the 29-0 loss to Alabama played out. LSU is lacking line depth on both sides of the ball and can’t afford to let the gap between it and Alabama to grow any wider.

I’m not saying the bowl game has no value. Every game, every practice is a chance to get better, learn and explore what you need to do different. But unless players are in one of the College Football Playoff semifinal bowl games, it’s hard to take a bowl game completely seriously.

Players who have been to bowls before notice the lighter approach the coaching staff takes, which is a good thing. Bowl games have always been a reward for the rigors of the season, beginning in the heat of August camp and even before in the ubiquitous summer drills without coaches present. They deserve it, especially the ones that don’t have an NFL career waiting at their next stop.

The week is full of activities, parties, hospital visits and myriad distractions players don’t face during the season. It’s a whole other game week experience.

This is why players like LSU cornerback Greedy Williams and former running back Leonard Fournette opt out. The academic semester is over, they aren’t coming back to school. It’s a good thing that they have control of their future and can make the decision not to play. Greedy gave LSU two rock-solid seasons and they should be appreciated as much as what Leonard Fournette did for the program. Let them go and let’s get a look at whom will be filling their shoes.

That’s not to say Butkus Award winner Devin White is making a mistake by playing. There’s more depth of spirit in Devin White than most college players. Playing for LSU has had great meaning to him, and not just as a launching pad for his career. It validates the emotion he’s exhibited in the past and suggests that the Texas A&M loss eats at him. Going out as a winner is important to him.

I don’t think White playing is any indication he will stay. Regardless of what he has said, that decision has been made. It simply hasn’t been finalized.

For every other player, it’s a chance to do something to get noticed down the road and erase the frustration of the Texas A&M loss. It will be interesting to see if that affects practice and performance.

LSU has been in a similar situation before. In the 1968 Sugar Bowl, an unranked 6-3-1 Tiger squad took on unbeaten Wyoming, ranked No. 6 but not really on the college football powerhouse radar. The Cowboys gave LSU fits in the first half and led 13-0 before LSU rallied for a 20-13 victory.

Playing UCF has its risks. The Knights looked pretty awesome coming back from a 31-14 deficit to beat Memphis, 56-41, in the American Athletic Conference championship game. And they did it without starting quarterback McKenzie Milton, who suffered a badly broken leg against South Florida the week before.

Redshirt freshman backup quarterback Darriel Mack accounted for six touchdowns, four of them running, and passed for 348 yards. That should make for an interesting matchup for whomever steps into Williams and Kristian Fulton shoes. Both LSU cornerbacks will be absent, Fulton because of an injury.

No matter, LSU should prepare to get a top effort from a team that has laid claim to last year’s national championship with a 13-0 record. The Knights are not about to take the chip off their shoulder. It’s a playoff game for UCF but LSU should play fast and loose. And take some chances, even with the game on the line.

About Jim Kleinpeter 12 Articles
Jim Kleinpeter is a graduate of the LSU School of Journalism. He sportswriter for 37 years, including 33 years at the Times-Picyaune.

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