Two weeks ago, LSU fans were concerned about the Tigers after their disappointing week one loss against Florida State, and now, LSU fans are excited about the team’s chances of being on top of the SEC. So, what changed? It was a combination of two things. First, it was subpar play across the SEC this week, and secondly, it was their total domination of Mississippi State in their SEC opener. Here are five takeaways why Tiger fans should be even more excited about the direction the Tigers are heading at this point of the season.
1. Jayden Daniels had a near perfect, elite passing performance:
One of the biggest headlines during the offseason was how much Jayden Daniels has improved as a passer and the second year Tigers’ starting quarterback has made those strides through three games, but it was his performance against Mississippi State that has solidified how elite of a passer he can be. With the type of stat line Daniels had, that outing can be put in the conversation as one of the most efficient passing performances in SEC history as he finished completing 30 of 34 passes for 367 yards and two touchdowns while also adding 64 yards and two touchdowns on the ground in the victory. While accounting for 425 total yards and four total touchdowns, the SEC Co-Offensive Player of the Week set a LSU record for completion percentage in a game at 88.2%. What helped him set the record was his hot start as he completed his first 13 passes. Not only was Daniels decisive and accurate, but he threw the deep ball and in critical situations including on a fourth down and seven where he threw a 33 yard touchdown strike to Malik Nabers. This type of performance by Daniels makes him even more dangerous. Being decisive, aggressive, and accurate throwing the football makes the Tigers dual threat quarterback even a bigger threat considering that he still hasn’t lost the elite speed to beat you with his legs.
2. Malik Nabers was unstoppable and had one of the best single game performances in LSU history:
The other SEC Co-Offensive Player of the Week for the Tigers also had a historic, dominating performance on the offensive side of the football, and that was Malik Nabers, who made up a pretty dynamic QB-WR duo with Jayden Daniels this past Saturday. If this game was a competitive game, Nabers could have broken Kayshon Boutte’s single game SEC records for most yards receiving in a game. It is hard to have a better first half as a receiver than what Nabers showed as in the first 30 minutes, he had an astonishing 10 catches for 188 yards and two touchdowns. Overall, the former Mississippi State commit finished with 13 catches for 239 yards and two scores. Every time Daniels had a one on one shot, he took advantage and found #8. There were a lot of expectations for Malik Nabers to be LSU’s #1 target and he has not disappointed in having an all-time great LSU wide receiver performance while showing why he leads one of the most talented receiving cores in the country. When Daniels and Nabers are clicking on all cylinders, it is going to be extremely hard to slow down this Tigers offense.
“His ability to handle any coverage variation and the way he maintains space on the field. He carves out an opportunity to catch the ball. Malik is strong and physical. He can hold his line and gives a quarterback an opportunity.”LSU HC Brian Kelly on Malik Nabers’ performance
3. The pass rush showed up and made it tough for Will Rogers all game long:
Heading into the season, the LSU front seven was expected to be one of the best in the country, and they finally backed up the hype this past Saturday after frustrating one of the SEC’s most veteran quarterbacks in Will Rogers all game long as he was sacked four times and was hurried four more times. The Bulldogs offense could not get anything going and had only seven total yards of offense in the first quarter. Whether it was Harold Perkins, Saivion Jones, Mekhi Wingo, Bradyn Swinson, Maason Smith, Major Burns, Da’Shawn Womack, you name it, everybody was affecting Rogers that day. One of my keys to the game was that LSU’s pass rush had to show up in order to help out the backend of the defense. That was certainly accomplished for the Tigers as Matt House’s defense only gave up 107 passing yards throughout the day and it was because of the pass rush that the Mississippi State offense looked completely lost for four quarters.
“If you look at the quarterbacks that we have played this year, they are pretty athletic quarterbacks, but if you are a pocket quarterback, we are going to get to you. If you are a play action team that doesn’t get the ball out in two seconds, we are going to get some pressure. We got some good guys up front in Smith, Wingo, Womack, and of course, 4 (Harold Perkins) gets pressure all the time. The ball got out quickly with the first two opponents and today, if you take any time, we are going to get to you.”LSU HC Brian Kelly on successful pass rush today
4. Young players are stepping up and shining in key roles.
What was most incredible about LSU’s surprising defensive performance was that the team had to do it without two of their most veteran players in Omar Speights and Greg Brooks.. Because of that, young players had to fill in their place at a couple of key positions, especially Whit Weeks, who got his first start at linebacker. The Tigers certainly have something in the younger Weeks as he not only looked comfortable on the inside, but he was making plays all over the field. He set the tone on the second play of the game with a TFL and continued to lead the defense the rest of the way with eight tackles and also a quarterback hurry.
Not only did Weeks step up on the defensive side of the football as a freshman, but Ryan Yaites was a starter in the secondary when the Tigers went into nickel and played very well as a backend safety.
Having Yaites and Weeks step up in their roles will allow other star defenders to thrive and showcase their strengths. With Yaites playing as a back safety, Major Burns can do what he does best and that is become a box safety towards the line of scrimmage. Meanwhile, with Weeks, Speights, and Greg Penn manning the inside linebacker spots, that will allow Harold Perkins Jr. to thrive what he does best and that is making havoc on the edge. A final mention of a freshman that has been getting more and more reps on the defensive side of the football is Dashawn Womack, who is getting a lot of looks because of his freakish athleticism as a five star coming in.
It wasn’t just the defense that featured impactful youngsters, but the offense did as well. Because of Mason Taylor’s injury, freshman tight end Mac Markway got the start and fared well considering the fact that he was making his first start on the road in the SEC.
Also, Lance Heard got some first team reps in the first quarter at right tackle. Although he was called for holding that took away a big pass play, the potential is there for Heard to make a lot of headway including in the running game opening up holes for the Tigers running backs.
One of those running backs is freshman Kaleb Jackson, who did his best Leonard Fournette impersonation and made waves across the country with him trucking a Mississippi State defender.
As it was shown last season, Brian Kelly is not afraid to play freshmen early on, and that still continues to be his mindset in his second season leading the Tigers.
5. LSU’s performance is validation how good this team could potentially be:
When LSU got dominated in the fourth quarter against Florida State, there were questions if LSU was as good as they were projected to be as they were ranked number five in the Preseason AP Poll. After exceeding expectations and winning the SEC West in year one, there were certainly a lot of high expectations approaching into 2023 of a potential SEC championship and a run at the College Football Playoff. When LSU lost to Florida State and got off to a shaky start on defense against Grambling, there were certainly a lot of concerns, but everything that LSU fans were hoping for in this football team showed up on Saturday. Jayden Daniels had his most efficient game as a passer, Malik Nabers continues to progress as one of the SEC’s best wide receivers, the front seven play was dominant on defense, and Harold Perkins was back making plays all over the field. Everything that the fans and coaches thought they had before the beginning of the season showed up in LSU’s domination of Mississippi State. For Brian Kelly, this win was huge because it was not only on the road and the SEC opener, but it was the fashion that they won on both sides of the football that unlocks the potential for the nation’s highest ranked one loss team.
“What I thought that our team needed to do was play four quarters against a SEC opponent and play the right way. We knew we had a better, talented team than Grambling. We respect our opponent, but we needed this game. It wasn’t the need of confidence. It was the need to validate who we were. The guys feel good about themselves because they knew what they have, but they needed to go out there and prove it based on the bad taste in their mouth and the way they played against Florida State.”LSU HC Brian Kelly on what the Mississippi State win means