Following the season opening loss to Mississippi State in 2020, the LSU players started to turn on each other. The loss prompted mixed emotions in the program throughout the season, creating an environment that everyone agreed was neither healthy nor conducive to success.
Losing to the Bulldogs the way they did was a difficult pill to swallow and after a 2021 offseason of addressing the many issues that plagued last year's team, the disappointment in the UCLA performance could've easily started to cripple the mood in the locker room. But that's not what happened in the slightest.
One by one, as players began to fill the locker room in the Rose Bowl after the 38-27 loss, the veterans on the team did what leaders are supposed to do. They began lifting one another up as opposed to tearing each other down, which is what didn't happen in 2020 after the loss to Mississippi State.
"I was talking to a couple of my teammates about this, it's a very different energy this year," offensive lineman Ed Ingram said. "After we lost to Mississippi State a lot of us kind of turned on each other but this year everybody is holding each other. Just stay according to plan, trust the process and get it fixed this next weekend."
Linebacker Damone Clark was one of the first to speak up in the locker room to the players, before even the coaches started entering to give their postgame speeches. One by one the leaders made their voices heard in the locker room.
"Damone brought the team up and said 'This isn't the end.' He kind of huddled us up right before coach O talked to us about getting back on the straight path and we're gonna," punter Avery Atkins said.
"We've got a lot of ball ahead of us, there's no reason to hang your heads, be mad. It's the first game and we're just focused on winning these next 11 and hopefully win out," defensive lineman Andre Anthony said. "Knowing what we went through last year we don't want that to happen again."
The players know there's plenty of work to be done, particularly before conference play heats up. In talking with Orgeron and the players this week, there's a sense that the issues that continued to hurt the team are fixable, the same ones that fell on deaf ears a year ago.
Nobody will believe it until proven otherwise on the field but maybe the missing ingredient is that team togetherness that didn't exist in 2020.
"Right after the game it felt different from last year," Atkins said. "Of course there was disappointment but I think there was hope. We're gonna be better for this and I think that's how the mood is around here right now. Yeah we lost but we do have a good team."