ATLANTA — First-year LSU coach Brian Kelly saw Florida State’s recent rise and fall from afar while coaching Notre Dame. As he prepares to make his Tigers debut against the Seminoles on Sept. 4, he’s bracing to face a program that has “been getting better and better,” even if the results don’t show it.
“I think probably more than anything else, (there’s more) fight in that team,” Kelly said Monday during SEC media days at the College Football Hall of Fame. “I thought they fought for four quarters against Notre Dame last year. ... That has a lot to do with buy-in.”
No, the ‘Noles were not successful. Though they rallied from 18 down in the fourth quarter to force overtime, they lost 41-38.
Afterward, Norvell deflected any thoughts about FSU taking a moral victory and said his team simply met the minimum expectation of playing with effort. But that effort is something that stuck out to Kelly from the other sideline.
“You could see them playing harder and harder,” Kelly said. “Maybe that wasn’t as visible earlier on.”
It wasn’t. In 2018, Kelly’s Irish thumped Willie Taggart’s Seminoles by 29. Notre Dame scored the first 17 points and the last 10, too.
The 2020 matchup in Norvell’s first season was closer (42-26), and FSU’s defense had a goal-line stand in the closing minutes. But it was still a far cry from their 2014, top-five meeting in Tallahassee, when FSU took advantage of a controversial offensive pass interference call against the Irish to win its 23rd consecutive game.
Those days seem long ago for a program that has suffered through four consecutive losing seasons. But as Kelly prepares to face FSU again, he sees progress and wants his players to see it, too.
“I know they’re doing something special over there,” Tigers defensive end BJ Ojulari said.
Beating LSU would truly qualify as special for these Seminoles. Aside from an upset of North Carolina in 2020, FSU doesn’t have a marquee win under Norvell. Beating LSU in September would certainly qualify, especially given the circumstances.
Kelly has years of notes on FSU to fall back on. A lot of them, he said, will carry over to his new program. The Seminoles, however, will have to figure out how Kelly’s philosophies and systems fit into a different program with different personnel.
FSU also has a warmup game before the Tigers, at home against Duquesne.
“We got lucky,” LSU receiver Jack Bech said. “They’re not going to have any new film on us, but we’re going to have film on them.”
And FSU has the unfortunate task of playing LSU in New Orleans. Though it’s technically a neutral-site game at the Caesars Superdome and the Seminoles sold all of their 30,000 tickets, the Tigers expect a pro-LSU environment.
“It’s going to be painted purple and gold,” Bech said.
All of that makes it a great measuring-stick game for Norvell’s ‘Noles as they try to take a major step forward in Year 3.
“This is a team now that has Mike’s stamp on it ...” Kelly said. “It’s going to play hard for four quarters. You can see the development of younger players coming along, especially on the offensive line. Defensively, there’s a structure there that is sound and fundamental.
“I really just think you’re just seeing the signs of a football program inside-out making the incremental progress. Everybody wants to see more wins, but as a football coach, my eyes see a program that’s been getting better and better.”
How much better? We’ll find out on Sept. 4 against a high-profile coach FSU knows well.
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