TODD HORNE: #BK3 Hinges on Defense

LSU football remains looking in the transfer portal. PHOTO BY: Michael Bacigalupi

Brian Kelly’s 3rd season at LSU football could be a very special one. Then, again, it might not be.

#BK3 – as we at Tiger Rag have tabbed it – faces several challenges. The challenges are enumerated throughout the May 2024 issue of Tiger Rag. You can read the digital issue here on Hope you enjoy reading about the challenges LSU faces in #BK3.

Kelly, historically speaking, usually thrives in his third year with a program. (See Camryn Conner’s and Jim Engster’s columns for more detail on that specifically.)

Also, Kelly himself, since he first strolled into Baton Rouge and stared down the 38 scholarship players he had to work with at the end of 2021 Texas Bowl, thanks, of course, to the extraordinary roster management skills of his predecessor, the legendary Ed Orgeron, almost immediately started talking about this season – his third – as the one where LSU could start competing every year with the Alabamas and Georgias in the SEC for conference titles, the College Football Playoffs and the National Championships Kelly openly admitted he coveted.

Kelly admitted from his first day in Baton Rouge that he came to LSU specifically for that reason – to win Championships. And Kelly wasn’t referring to ReliaQuest Bowl titles.

Both Orgeron and Les Miles, Kelly’s immediate predecessors at the Ole War Skule, won National Championships in their third seasons at LSU – O in 2019 and Les in 2007.

If O and Miles could pull it off, certainly Kelly could. And should. You’ve certainly heard the narrative: If those two guys can win National Championships at LSU, Kelly certainly will.

Kelly’s not backed away – at least not yet – from saying (hoping) it could happen in this, his third season.

The biggest challenge to real success (10-win seasons, of which Kelly has had in each of first two at LSU no longer qualify for success. See Kelly’s, junior tight end Mason Taylor’s, and QBU’s new and refined gunslinger, Garrett Nussmeier’s comments on as much) is, of course, building at least some semblance of a major college defense for 2024.

Everybody knows it’s true. Even Nick Saban.

Saban built the foundation of the football program at LSU, winning his first National Championship in 2003, his fourth season at LSU.

Now, Saban has stepped away from the sidelines and into the booth. It’s almost like Saban’s playing his own supportive role in helping pave the way for Kelly to put it all together and pull off a meaningful championship or two in #BK3.

You better believe Saban knows that the historically rotten defense Kelly threw on the field in 2023 is the only reason his Alabama team was able to win the SEC West, the SEC and make the CFP in his own swan song of a season.

Saban on April 25 appeared on ESPN (home of his new TV gig now that he’s “retired” from coaching himself) ahead of the NFL Draft. He talked with Kelly at one point. The seven-time national title winner predicted that LSU is just a few defensive tweaks away from contending for the national championship.

“You had a national championship offense. You get your defense fixed a little bit, and you guys are going to go for it.”

LSU had a supercharged offense during the 2023 campaign. The 10-3 Tigers led the country in total yards per game (543.5) and points per game (45.5).

However, LSU had no defense. It allowed 408.8 total yards per game, placing it in the bottom 30 among NCAA Division I schools last year. In LSU’s three losses last season, the defense allowed an average of 47.3 points.

“I don’t like to play the game like that,” Kelly said on Sept. 30, 2023 when Lane Kiffin’s Ole Miss Rebels’ shredded LSU’s charade of a defense, scoring 55 points and piling up 706 yards on Matt House’s matadors. LSU missed a bazillion tackles that day in Oxford. The poor tackling continued almost unabated all season.

LSU was ranked 5th in the AP poll before the start of the 2023 campaign. The team started the season with a 45-24 loss to Florida State. The opening loss dropped LSU down to 14th on the AP poll and the Tigers never got back within the top 10 for the rest of the year.

LSU’s offense will have to adjust to life without last season’s starting quarterback Jayden Daniels, who won the Heisman Trophy and carried LSU to all 10 of its arcade-style wins en route to climbing from a projected fourth-round NFL draft pick to the No. 2 overall pick of the Washington Commanders.

The good news for LSU is Nussmeier appears poised to keep the Tigers offense churning, albeit in slightly different manner than Daniels did. He won’t be making defenses look like their standing still as he glides effortlessly for more than 1000 yards himself on the ground the way Daniels did, but Nuss seemingly has what it takes to keep the LSU offense moving along in the upper echelon of the nation’s offenses.

But the truth is, and everybody knows it, success the way Kelly and LSU now define it in #BK3 hinges on the huge investment Kelly made in the defensive coach in the offseason paying quick dividends. For details on the BK spent and how see Will Nickel’s story “Defensive Investment” in this issue or online at

On NFL draft day, before kissing Daniels, Malik Nabors and Brian Thomas, Jr. (all No. 1 draft picks from LSU’s No. 1-ranked 2023 offense) goodbye, Kelly was asked if there’s any reason to be excited about LSU football this year?

BK replied: “Absolutely! Absolutely! I would buy stock. If you were thinking about it, I would buy stock.”

Keep in mind, some stocks employ dividends, which are distribution payments to shareholders made from a company’s earnings. Kelly invested $12 million more in LSU’s defensive coaching staff in 2024 than was invested in 2023.

You better believe Kelly’s expecting quick dividends on that investment in #BK3.

“I know we need to win now,” Kelly said after Nuss and LSU’s No. 1 offense ran roughshod Lane Kiffin-style over the No. 1 defense in the Spring Game. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do, but we will contend . . . “

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Todd Horne

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