Liam Shanahan has been put through the wringer in his first season at LSU. The Tigers' senior center has been right in the middle, both figuratively and literally, of one of the most bizarre college football seasons of the 2020 calendar year.
There were times as recently as last week when freshman tight end Arik Gilbert elected to opt out of the rest of the season, where it was hard for Shanahan and his teammates to find the motivation. But as Shanahan has said multiple times this season, he knew this team had the talent to overcome the shortcomings in the results that have come with this weird 10-week schedule.
LSU's 37-34 win over No. 11 Florida was not only a sign for coach Ed Orgeron about what's to come but for the players involved, giving newfound motivation and momentum to finish out the season on a strong note.
"It really helps the morale," Shanahan said. "Even though we didn't have the best record, we were still coming in here and working as hard as we could. When you're not getting the results with wins on Saturday, it becomes pretty draining. To get that sour taste out of our mouths and get a really big win helps build some momentum going into the offseason."
That's the ultimate goal over these final two weeks with the win at Florida and moving on to Ole Miss to finish off the season. For the players, finishing off this mostly down year with back-to-back wins gives, particularly the younger players, the confidence in knowing how to win games in the SEC.
Finishing the season at 5-5 would also be quite an achievement for a team that's undergone the roster overhaul that LSU has this year, with 16 players either entering the transfer portal or opting out of the season.
Shanahan said the goals for the offense haven't changed despite the opt outs of guys like Terrace Marshall and Gilbert as well as the revolving door at quarterback and on the offensive line. Maximizing potential has been the primary focus all season and that's something Shanahan hopes will continue in the Tigers' final game on Saturday.
"I think it's huge for this team and this program to finish like we did last weekend and finish this season strong," Shanahan said. "Really just building that momentum going into this offseason and getting good preparation for next year.
"The win gave hope to a lot of people," linebacker Jabril Cox added. "It shows them that the future is bright here at LSU and that what coach O was saying about building a championship program is true. It shows the heart that everybody still on the team has and we wanted to show everybody watching that we can fight."
Cox, who comes from a winning program at North Dakota State where he won three national championships, said that even for a guy like him, going through the adversity that came with this season was a valuable experience that he can take with him as he moves on in life.
"This year's been an experience that's good for me," Cox said. "It showed great adversity and something I needed to go through and something we all needed to go through. This season is something I wouldn't trade for the world and everything happens for a reason."
A big part of the growing pains that have come is seeing improvement from the younger players who will be the future of this team moving forward. The Tigers played 26 freshmen and sophomore against the Gators and expect a similar amount, if not more, to receive playing time against the Rebels.
Senior safety JaCoby Stevens said he's seen that growth from the young stars on this team and that building some consistency to close the season on a strong note will only benefit the players who will be back in 2021. Stevens mentioned an abnormal offseason and not having those first few non-conference games for the freshmen to get adjusted to the speed of the college game as the biggest factors for the slow start.
"The freshmen didn't get the normal offseason coming into the year," Stevens said. "I'm a true believer in finding team character and team leaders and the theme of the team through those summer workouts. For the freshmen to stick with it and not quit and just learning on the run, I think I see a lot of growth, a lot of maturity.
"I see a lot of grit, a lot of heart and seeing those young guys step up is something that really brings brightness to the future at LSU," Cox added.