The LSU Tigers handled their business the way they needed to this past Saturday night against New Mexico in a 38-0 victory. Like the Southern game, the New Mexico game was an opportunity for the Tigers to focus on themselves and to improve as a team heading into the SEC gauntlet starting this Saturday on the road against Auburn. Coming off three straight wins, the Tigers are riding a big wave into their second SEC matchup, and although the outcome of last week’s game did not come as a surprise, there are some positive takeaways from their last game that will help this team move forward.
1. The Tigers have found their punt returner in Jack Bech.
There are still a lot of questions in regards to the LSU Tigers’ special teams unit, but if there was a question that was answered, it would have to be that the Tigers have found their punt returner in Jack Bech. Bech, who returned punts back in high school at St. Thomas More High School, has the perfect mix of playmaking ability and dependability. Bech showed off what he could do with the ball in his hands as he returned a punt for a touchdown that was eventually called back due to a blindside block call. LSU head coach Brian Kelly was also impressed with the fearlessness that he showed returning punts.
” Fearless. Fearless. We’ll work on a couple of things where fearless shouldn’t be always the number one criteria for returning punts. We want some decision-making in that as well, but that’s how Jack plays, right?”
“He is at his best when he is not worried about any factors other than competing and getting the ball in his hands, and it’s fun to watch, right? That’s just the kind of player he is. You can see what kind of impact he can have in our punt return game.”
“Look, the trickle-down is the other ten guys, they want to block for him. That is an added incentive when you have a punt returner that can break it. It adds a great energy to the entire group.”Brian Kelly on Jack Bech’s performance at punt returner”
2. Both Jayden Daniels and Garrett Nussmeier take positive steps in running the offense.
For LSU starting quarterback Jayden Daniels, everybody knows what he can do escaping the pocket and running the football, but the goal for him against New Mexico was to go through his progressions and to stay in the pocket as much as possible. That’s what he was able to do until he left the game early in the third quarter. Daniels was efficient through the air completing 24 of 29 passes for 279 yards while running the ball nine times compared to when he ran the ball 16 times twice against Florida State and Mississippi State. When Daniels left the game with a strained back, it was an opportunity for Garrett Nussmeier to show that he has improved after throwing two interceptions against Southern, and he did take advantage of the opportunity. Throughout the rest of the game, Nussmeier made sure that he was not going to get broke when taking a profit taking what the defense gives him. He completed nine of ten passes for 137 yards and a touchdown. Both Daniels and Nussmeier were in control and did a great job of spreading the football to all their offensive weapons.
“There are a couple of things. Decisiveness is starting to be part of the vocabulary instead of being hesitant, and that comes with knowledge of the offense.”
“I think the other thing is that he has become a lot quicker in his setup. I think I mentioned this quick feet, but slowing down and not rushing through progressions.”
“I think one of the bigger plays in his development was the dig that he threw to Jaray Jenkins in the red zone. That was his fourth receiver through a progression.”
“Those are the kind of things you’re looking for in terms of development of a quarterback, and we’re starting to see that as well as the screen to Malik Nabers, how quickly that ball comes out. I think a little bit of everything was coming together, and the word I would use is just he is becoming more comfortable and more decisive.”Brian Kelly on Jayden Daniels’ growth as a quarterback
3. The offense will utilize all of the team’s playmakers.
It is hard to have all of these great wide receivers and skill players with only one football to spread amongst them, but Mike Denbrock and the offensive coaching staff did a great job in making sure that these great offensive weapons do indeed touch the football. There were plenty of targets to go around in the passing game as ten different receivers had a catch. Malik Nabers and Jack Bech had six catches. Jaray Jenkins had five catches. Kyren Lacy and Mason Taylor had four catches. Brian Thomas Jr. had three catches for a touchdown, and finally, Chris Hilton had a 51 yard reception. The Tigers have a lot of mouths to feed even with Kayshon Boutte being out. Still, when Boutte does return to the lineup, this offense will still not feature just one guy as the number of offensive weapons will keep every opposing defense honest.
4. The running back rotation is finding its groove.
After struggling to get anything going in the run game against Florida State, the running game outside of Jayden Daniels’ legs is starting to come together. Armoni Goodwin had two touchdowns in the first half. John Emery Jr. is finding his rhythm playing in his second game after coming off the year long suspension. Noah Cain showed off his ability with a 49 yard touchdown run while also having another touchdown run in the game. Then, finally, Josh Williams was versatile in the game showing off his ability to not only run, but catch too. Now, Goodwin did leave the game in the second half because of a hamstring injury, and his status is uncertain for the Auburn game, but the running back rotation has shown to be complimentary these last couple of weeks.
5. The defense continues to shine even without starters in the lineup.
Despite BJ Ojulari, Jay Ward, and Major Burns not being in the starting lineup, the LSU defense continued to build on its strong performance against Mississippi State. It was tough sledding for the New Mexico Lobos all night long as the LSU defense only gave up 88 total yards and two first downs in the shutout victory. With backups and starters playing at different positions including Harold Perkins at Jack and Jarrick Bernard-Converse at safety, the Tigers defense showed no signs of slowing down and is continuing to build confidence going into the Auburn game.