PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. — LSU’s preparation for the Fiesta Bowl has been anything but smooth, right from the start.
On bowl selection day, Dec. 2, star cornerback Greedy Williams declared for the NFL Draft and said he would sit out this game. Five of LSU’s defensive starters won’t face the Knights due to either injury, suspension or NFL priorities. A sixth starter, linebacker Jacob Phillips, will miss the first half after being ejected for targeting during overtime in LSU’s previous game.
Past the player absences, the Tigers have had to deal with events ranging from harrowing to tragic to downright odd over the past week or so.
On Dec. 22, two LSU players were held up by a gunman who tried to rob them. The ordeal ended with one of the players, either running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire or linebacker Jared Small, pulling out a gun and shooting the assailant multiple times, killing him. Both players have been cleared of any wrongdoing by the Baton Rouge district attorney and will be available to play Tuesday.
Cornerback Kary Vincent’s father died Wednesday, one day before the Tigers headed to Arizona. Vincent has been pushed into the starting lineup as the Tigers are without their top three CBs and will start, undoubtedly with a very heavy heart, versus UCF.
LSU’s plane to Arizona was delayed for a couple of hours and when the team finally arrived Thursday night, this happened:
Just to add to this week for #LSU football, two of the team busses got in a fender bender right in front of the Fiesta Bowl hotel on the way home.— Brody Miller (@BrodyAMiller) December 28, 2018
No injuries, though.
However, the Tigers say there aren’t here to make excuses or complain about their shorthanded roster. All they aim to do is win the Fiesta Bowl.
Here are the reasons they have given that are fueling their purpose.
1. They are facing the national champions
Obviously, linebacker Devin White disagrees with that premise, but a handful of Tigers have said they are treating this game with extra importance because they really want to take down a national-championship team and its 25-game winning streak.
“It’s definitely a pride thing,” defensive lineman Rashard Lawrence said. “They call themselves the national champs, and I can’t blame them. They’re a hell of a team. We definitely want to shut them down.”
Tight end Foster Moreau thinks UCF is trying to pull off a repeat in the Fiesta Bowl.
“These guys are playing for a national championship in this game,” he said. “So, if we don’t come to play, we’re remiss. We’re lost.”
2. Their seven-overtime loss still stings
Most coaches give their teams 24 hours to get over a loss. Five weeks on, the Tigers are still remembering their seven-overtime, 74-72 defeat to Texas A&M and desperately want to wash away the bitter taste that game left behind.
“Losing a game like that, coming away from it, the only thing that could remedy that is a win,” Moreau said. “To end the season on a win, to end it on a high note is something that we would really, really like to do.”
Head coach Ed Orgeron said that specific loss serves as “big motivation” because he knows his squad doesn’t want to feel that type of heartbreak again.
“If you’re a competitor, there’s a motivation to go out on the field and do it again. It’s like riding a bike: You get knocked off the bike, you want to get back on and you want to ride it. That’s the way we approach it.”
It’s worth noting that the Tigers have never lost consecutive games under Orgeron. The last time LSU dropped two in a row was in November 2015.
3. They want to reach 10 wins
LSU has a chance to attain double-digit wins with a victory on Tuesday. It’s been five years since the Tigers had a 10 in the W column, and it’s something that Orgeron said the Tigers must do for this year to be considered a success in any way.
“To me, you better win 10 games at LSU and more. That’s what is expected and championships. Anything less than that is unacceptable.”
Said running back Nick Brossette: “We want to get a 10th win. Came up short against Texas A&M getting 10 on the year. Of course, we want to bounce back from that, redeem ourselves and just show the country the brand of football that we can play.”
4. It’s the Fiesta Bowl, stupid
Devin White hates UCF’s national championship, but he sure holds he Fiesta Bowl in high regard. Here’s what the future NFL first-rounder said when asked Saturday why LSU is motivated to go out and beat UCF:
“LSU is motivated to win this game because with this game, this can be a 10-win season. And we’d win the Fiesta Bowl. I don’t know if we’ve got a Fiesta Bowl trophy back at the place (note: they don’t). So, if not, we can bring the first one back to Baton Rouge.
”I don’t care who we play. We could play anybody, we could play them anywhere. It’s the next game on the schedule and you don’t want to lose. You can’t get no more motivated than playing a game.”
“Let’s go out and show the world what we can do,” he said. “It’s televised, so you don’t want to not come with it.”