‘What’s important now’: LSU’s Kelly has attention of his seventh-ranked team that’s on a mission going to Arkansas

LSU freshman linebacker Harold Perkins (40) has made quite an impact for the No. 7 Tigers who face Arkansas at 11 a.m. Saturday in Fayetteville, Arkansas. PHOTO BY: Jonathan Mailhes

The words of LSU football coach Brian Kelly throughout the season have resonated with safety Major Burns.

Just because the Tigers emerged victorious last week over Alabama and grab the SEC West lead, don’t expect the team to deviate in their approach this week, Burns said.

“BK has a phrase,” said Burns, referring to his head coach. “He’s said, ‘What’s important now’. We really can’t get too locked in on the past success we’ve had, the past mishaps we’ve had. We’ve got to worry about what we’ve got going on right now and taking small steps to keep being successful.”

It’s been Kelly’s method to keep his team grounded from week to week with an eye toward improvement in practice and carrying those results to Saturday.

LSU (7-2, 5-1 in SEC) vaulted to No. 7 in The Associated Press and College Football Playoff rankings but remains guarded about what’s still ahead. The Tigers venture to Arkansas (5-4, 2-3 in SEC) for a SEC West matchup at 11 a.m. at Reynolds Razorback Stadium, aware of opportunities the game affords, but not dwelling on its ramifications. 

“Our goal is to graduate champions, so part of this is they want to be champions,” Kelly said. “They know that there are steps along the way in this process of getting there. This week will be another step towards becoming a champion. Let’s do the things that we need to do. Being early, being on time, making sure that they’re intentional about everything we do. Yeah, championships are important. That’s what they’re here for. Getting to class is what they’re here for. We’re not going to walk in with a PowerPoint on the SEC Championship race and who has what and all those things. But it’s out there. They know what they’re going for.”

LSU could clinch the SEC West championship with road victories over Arkansas and Texas A&M (Nov. 26) and return to Atlanta for the SEC Championship game for the first time in three years. Should Alabama defeat Ole Miss on Saturday, the Tigers could wrap up the SEC West with a win over the Razorbacks and regain possession of the Golden Boot Trophy.

“The next one’s the most important,” said LSU senior linebacker Micah Baskerville, the team’s leading tackler with 56 stops. “We’ve got a bigger goal. That was just a game, this one against Arkansas is the next one. We’ve got to win the next one. That’s what we’re focused on.”

Kelly was asked earlier in the week about the possibility of Arkansas possibly serving as a trap game. His team’s fresh off a 32-31 overtime win over Alabama and travels to Arkansas which has experienced lukewarm results for a game expected to kick off with 37-degree temperatures with an 11-miles-per-hour wind.

Kelly, the nation’s active winningest coach, refuted such talk, saying his team’s prepared in the same manner the entire season, not spiking in enthusiasm for one opponent over another.

The Tigers have won their last three games which includes consecutive wins over Top 10 opponents in then No. 7 Ole Miss and then No. 6 Alabama.

“You’re preparing for these moments in the first week,” Kelly said. “You handle these by being consistent in everything that you do every single day. Nothing changed last week in the way we prepared, and nothing will change this week. I think if we had a lot of fanfare and slogan-isms and changed a lot of last week for Alabama, then maybe you worry about it a little bit, but we didn’t do anything different last week than we did for Ole Miss or we did for any of the other teams.”

Senior wide receiver Jaray Jenkins is a believer in Kelly’s even-keel approach.

“Coach Kelly hasn’t changed for any game,” Jenkins said. “He’s been the same. He’s been doing a great job getting us prepared each week, no matter who we’re playing, no matter how big of a game it is. Seeing him to do that, he’s the leader of us and we just follow him.”

Arkansas roared out to a 3-0 start and No. 10 national ranking. The Razorbacks, who lost standout safety Jalen Catalon earlier to a season-ending injury, have tailed off and lost four of their last six games. The status of 240-pound starting quarterback KJ Jefferson, who has accounted for 2,406 total yards and 23 touchdowns, remains uncertain because of a bruised clavicle.

Running back Raheim Sanders leads the SEC in rushing with 173 carries for 1,101 yards with seven touchdowns. The Razorbacks rank 10th nationally in rushing per game with 233.3 yards an outing.

“It’s still kind of a fluid situation,” Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said of Jefferson earlier in the week. “Either way, whatever happens whether we play KJ or whether we play the back up (Malik Hornsby), will feel like we’ll have a guy that can go back there the team believes in and execute our game plan.”

LSU counters with a balanced offensive approach led by junior Jayden Daniels, who is the only FBS quarterback to have rushed for 600-plus yards (131-619, 10 TDs) and passed for 1,700-plus yards (1,812). He’s combined for 2,431 total yards and 22 TDs, including his team’s touchdown in last week’s overtime win.

Malik Nabers is the team’s top receiver with 42 catches for 504 yards with a touchdown and Josh Williams the top rusher from the running back position with 73 attempts for 359 yards with five touchdowns.

“It’s a tough task whenever you beat a team like that. You see it all over the place,” Williams said of the win over Alabama. “It’s all about the maturity and the discipline to push that aside and focus on the next game. If you don’t win against Arkansas, then it doesn’t matter. We’re on a mission. We have goals. We’re staying consistent and we’re focusing on Arkansas.”

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