BATON ROUGE – Make others fight or complain about the weather. In a cold, damp, half-full Tiger Stadium, there was no disappointment for LSU on Saturday.
The Tigers avoided the drama that plagued many of the top teams by dominating UAB from start to finish in a 41-10 win over the Blazers.
While many of the nation’s best teams survived Saturday’s scare, the Tigers’ path to a possible College Football Playoff spot became a little clearer with Tennessee’s sad loss to South Carolina.
The Tigers came into the weekend sixth, one spot behind the Vols in this week’s CFP rankings.
Several other ranked teams faced bigger challenges than expected.
But not LSU. Not this night.
“A lot of teams struggled today to be the best version of themselves,” said LSU head coach Brian Kelly. “That’s my point.
“If (our team) listened to the people, they should hit (UAB). We didn’t take it lightly. It’s about accountability.”
LSU (9-2, 6-1 SEC) will wrap up the regular season at Texas A&M this week before meeting No. 1 Georgia in the SEC championship game.
“The way we asked them to do it is simple, so the elements don’t matter,” Kelly said. “I’m very proud of the mental strength this group has shown.
“Weather conditions are irrelevant. It means being accountable, and the guy next to you knows I care.”
The Tigers won their fifth straight game but still felt they had something to prove in last week’s 13-10 win in Arkansas after a lackluster performance, particularly on offense.
So they bounced back in style, especially with quarterback Jayden Daniels’ return to form.
The Tigers’ spark was missing three key weapons as top two running backs, Josh Williams and Armoni Goodwin, and starting center Charles Turner sat out the game with sustained injuries from last week’s game.
But Daniels didn’t miss by much, throwing for 297 yards and a touchdown and running for 111 yards and another score.
“We were looking to bounce back from what we felt was less than our best game offensively — and Arkansas had something to do with that,” Kelly said. “But Jayden prepared really well this week. You could argue that this was his best game of the year.”
“We attacked harder that week (of practice),” Daniels said. “If you prepare harder, the end will be easy. We just go out and perform.”
Daniels completed 22 of 29 passes, including a 5-yard pass to Brian Thomas that completed the Tigers’ goal. Daniels also scored himself on a 2-yard run.
“He pushed the ball vertically down the field, he saw things,” Kelly said. “He was confident. I think he was responsible for over 400 yards. Whenever a quarterback does that, it’s a pretty good day. So I think you could see that determination that pushes through this and then in his preparation this week.
Noah Cain took on the weakness of missing two running backs with 76 yards and three touchdowns on two 1-yard carries and another from 5 yards.
“It was just important to get back into a rhythm attacking after last week,” said Cain. “We knew we would do our best before the game in Arkansas. All week Coach Kelly talked and preached about mental toughness and how to get back on track and play the kind of football we know we can play. I was just happy that we were able to play at a high level tonight.”
The Tigers finished for 565 yards, most of it in the first three quarters before emptying the bench for most of the last period.
UAB scored on his first two possessions with a touchdown set up by a 66-yard kickoff return.
“They take that (return) out, it could have arguably been our most efficient play on either side of the ball,” Kelly said.
It was just an annoyance. After Matt Quinn’s 29-yard field to open the second quarter put the Blazers 14-10, UAB never really threatened again until the final minute when the Tigers turned UAB away inside the 10-yard line.
The Tigers held the nation’s leading rusher DeWayne McBride to just 34 yards on 13 carries, the first time he has been under 100 this season. McBride also led the nation in rushes of 20 yards or more, but his longest Saturday was 6 yards.
Freshman linebacker Harold Perkins, Jr., the star of last week’s game, had five tackles, two of them from losses, and interrupted a pass.
UAB fell to 5-6 but its previous five losses totaled 27 points.
“Without a doubt, this is a really good football team,” said UAB coach Bryant Vincent. “They’re the SEC West champions for a reason.”
SO LONG: Before the game, LSU honored 17 seniors, including five starters – DE Ali Gaye, CB Jarrick Bernard-Converse, LB Micah Baskerville, S Joe Foucha, DL Mekhi Garner and NK Jay Ward.
Others included S Todd Harris, LB Mike Jones, WR Jaray Jenkins, CB Colby Richardson, LB Hunter Faust, PK Trey Finison, TE MJ Frazier, LB Jared Small, TE Nick Storz, WR Evan Francioni and OL Cam Wire.
12 of the group have already graduated and another three will graduate in December.