BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — LSU coach Brian Kelly sounds confident that Alabama transfer Aaron Anderson can transform the fifth-ranked Tigers’ return game from a turnover-prone liability into a game-breaking asset.
“He’s pretty dynamic," Kelly said Monday. “It’s just a different look back there."
Anderson, a receiver from New Orleans, was named LSU’s primary returner on Monday as the Tigers prepared to face No. 8 Florida State in Orlando this Sunday night.
It's a rematch of a season-opener last year that saw special teams blunders by LSU — including two muffed punts — play a pivotal role in a 24-23 FSU victory that was decided on a missed extra point after the Tigers had scored a potential tying touchdown at the end of regulation.
The rematch is “going to come down to the execution of the littlest things, and as you guys know, it came down to that the last time we played," Kelly said. "Fielding the football cleanly, executing extra points — all those things mattered and will matter again in this matchup.”
Malik Nabers, who enters this season as one of the nation's mostly highly regarded receivers, took on punt-return duties in last season's Labor Day weekend matchup in New Orleans. Although he's been an exceptionally sure-handed and prolific receiver, fielding punts didn't seem to suit him early last season. He was responsible for both muffed punts.
The 5-foot-8, 190-pound Anderson, who starred at Edna Karr High School in New Orleans' “West Bank,” had planned to go to LSU throughout high school. But Anderson decommitted in 2021 when then-coach Ed Orgeron, who'd coached LSU to a national title in 2019, resigned during the second of consecutive non-winning seasons that followed.
Anderson took a redshirt year as a freshman last season at Alabama because of a knee injury that wiped out most of his season. Meanwhile, the Crimson Tide saw their hopes for a third-straight SEC West crown in 2022 derailed by an overtime loss at LSU last November.
The Tigers went on to secure the SEC West title in what was Kelly's first season in Baton Rouge after coaching at Notre Dame for the previous 12.
With expectations for the Tigers soaring this past offseason, Anderson returned to his home state. In addition to working toward a regular role as a receiver who also could contribute to the perimeter running game, Anderson had been auditioning throughout training camp in August to take over as the primary returner.
Kelly has liked what he's seen from Anderson, who as a high school track athlete posted several sub-11-second times at 100 meters.
“From a special teams standpoint, that’s what we were looking for,” he said. “Our miscues last year were evident. We didn’t field the ball very well.”
This season, Kelly said, “we think special teams should and can be a positive for us and influence games."
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