The LSU Tigers had a nice bounce back game against the Southern Jaguars after losing to the Florida State Seminoles in the season opener. Although it was expected for the Tigers to take care of business against their neighbors in north Baton Rouge, the Tigers looked extremely sharp putting up a school record 37 points in the first quarter. Through two weeks, it has been a mixed bag of both good and bad when it comes to this new LSU football team.
As of now, there are still a lot of questions on how the Tigers will fare once SEC play starts. One thing is for certain, and that is the Tigers used last week’s game as an opportunity to work on themselves and improve on some of the issues that plagued them in the Florida State loss. Even though it was an impressive victory, the Tigers overmatched the Jaguars at every angle so there is only so much one can really learn from the 65-17 victory last Saturday night. The answers will certainly be answered this Saturday night against the Mississippi State Bulldogs, but for now, the Tigers can at least know that they have made the necessary strides to put themselves in a position to succeed entering conference play. Here are some positive takeaways from the Southern victory that can help them down this treacherous road.
1. Jayden Daniels showed why he was named the starter.
Through two games, Jayden Daniels is the SEC’s most efficient quarterback completing 77% of his passes for 346 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions. He was also nearly perfect in the win against Southern completing ten of eleven passes for 137 yards and three touchdowns plus an 18 yard rushing touchdown. Also, his ability to extend plays and use his legs as a runner has also helped him win the job.
Still, a lot of people wanted to see what Garrett Nussmeier can do as the talented gunslinger was right there neck and neck with Daniels throughout the majority of fall camp. After coming in the second quarter of the Southern game, Nussmeier showed why he was in the thick of the race making impressive throws including a 60 yard completion in stride to Malik Nabers, but he also showed why Daniels ended up winning the job as Nussmeier’s “never give up on a play” attitude cost him throwing two interceptions. In the SEC Teleconference on Wednesday, Kelly was asked why Daniels got the starting nod over Nussmeier and in the end, it was poise and experience that the Arizona State transfer showed.
“I think it was very close. Jayden’s experience maybe edged out Garrett at the end in terms of his poise. Garrett is a guy that has a lot of skills but maybe a little less experience, but that wasn’t his fault. At times that showed. You could see the poise and confidence that 3 years of starting gives you. Maybe that was the edge he had.”Brian Kelly on how Jayden Daniels won the starting quarterback job
2. Mike Denbrock, Joe Sloan, and the offensive coaching staff made sure to give their playmakers the football.
A big disappointment in the first game of the season was that Kayshon Boutte was a non-factor in the Florida State game. Well, the offensive coaching staff led by offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock and quarterback coach Joe Sloan made sure that number seven was going to touch the football. That’s exactly what they did. By whatever means necessary, Boutte had the football in his hands whether it was on short passes or even on reverses and jet sweeps. The preseason All-American had five catches for 42 yards plus a 41 yard run on a reverse.
The deepest position on this LSU football team is the wide receiver position, and it showed. Along with Boutte, Chris Hilton Jr. also had five catches in the contest. Brian Thomas Jr., Malik Nabers, and Jack Bech all had touchdown grabs of their own during the game too. Kyren Lacy and Evan Francioni had catches in the ball game. Then, of course, the tight ends got involved as Mason Taylor, Jack Mashburn, and Kole Taylor each had a reception too.
Jayden Daniels showed some improvement on keeping his eyes down the field while escaping from the pocket when he threw the touchdown pass to Bech. If he can keep improving on that aspect of his game with all of these weapons at receiver, then this will be a scary offense to watch for the rest of the SEC.
3. The new look offensive line looked comfortable.
In the first game of the season, Coach Kelly wanted the biggest and most physically imposing starting five rotation, but it did not work against Florida State. Playing against Southern allowed the coaching staff the opportunity to shuffle the starting five even more. Garrett Dellinger moved from center to left guard with Charles Turner stepping up at center. Also, Miles Frazier moved from left guard to right tackle, which put Cam Wire on the bench. Both Will Campbell and Anthony Bradford stayed in their roles at left tackle and right guard respectively.
This arrangement looked a lot more comfortable with players in their natural roles as Dellinger can now just focus on being a guard while Turner, who has more familiar experience at center, can call the shots there. The Tigers ran for 230 yards and five touchdowns as a group so the offensive line was able to build on some confidence moving forward after having trouble creating holes in the run game during the Florida State game.
This new version of the Tigers’ starting five may not be settled, but it looks like that this group is taking steps in the right direction to finding the right pieces to the puzzle.
4. The defensive line showed some depth.
Entering the Southern game, the Tigers’ defensive front would only have one starter available in Jaquelin Roy for the first half as Maason Smith is out for the season, Ali Gaye had to sit out the first half due to the targeting penalty he made against Florida State, and BJ Ojulari was sitting out in order to get healthy for the SEC opener the following week. With that being said, it allowed a lot of new faces to get some starting action this past Saturday.
Mekhi Wingo got the start on the inside after making a great first impression against Florida State filling in for Maason Smith. On the edges, Saivion Jones and Desmond Little got their first starts of their careers. Wingo had three tackles and a half sack. Jones had six tackles and a half sack. Little had six tackles and a fumble recovery. Also, Harold Perkins showed his versatility and played a lot of the Jack role, which was previously occupied by Ojulari. Although the defensive front is not at its absolute best, this version of the starting defensive line still looked really good.
“Saivion Jones has been consistent and from a job assignment as good as we have doing his job play in and play out. Des hasn’t played a lot. It’s good to get him out there. There’s some things that he needs to clean up in his game, but he is athletic and active. You are also looking at guys that haven’t played a lot of football so it was good to get him out there, and Harold Perkins is playing in our nickel package. Quite frankly, he didn’t have much time to get ready for that role, but he is such a great kid, accepted it, and used his athleticism to really help us when we were pinched for personnel at that position.”LSU Head Coach Brian Kelly on defensive end play
5. The defense showed that it can become a playmaking defense.
The LSU defense played a huge role in scoring the most points in the first quarter in program history by giving its offense short fields by forcing five turnovers and even scoring a touchdown on a Micah Baskerville interception return. The linebackers were active as Perkins had seven tackles and West Weeks had six tackles. The defense still needs to work on tackling and the secondary did not get tested as Southern quarterback BeSean McCray only attempted 16 passes throughout the game, but there are some positives defensively that this side of the football has the ability to make plays and cause turnovers, which could be effective when going against a team like Mississippi State that will throw the football for the majority of the game.
6. Special teams had a bounce-back game.
This was a much needed get well team for the special teams, and they got it right from the opening kickoff when the Tigers recovered a Jaguars fumble. Then, Micah Baskerville blocked a punt, which led to two Tigers points. There were also no blocked kicks or muffed punts throughout the contest, which obviously played a huge role in the Tigers’ loss. Greg Clayton was the Tigers’ new punt returner and looked comfortable catching the punts. He also showed some ability as a returner with an 18 yard punt return early in the game. There were no field goal attempts, but kickers Damian Ramos and Trey Finison made all of their extra points. After a disastrous effort on special teams against Florida State, it was good medicine for this unit to bounce back with a good performance.
Once again, I reiterate that LSU won’t learn much by defeating Southern, but it was an opportunity for them to work on themselves. The Tigers did that and now moving forward, everybody will see if those positive answers from the Southern win will translate to Mississippi State this Saturday night.
For the rest of the week, it is all about LSU and Mississippi State as I will have a preview of everything that you need to know about the Tigers’ SEC opener against the Bulldogs. Also, after the game, make sure to check back here as I will publish a postgame recap between the Tigers and the Bulldogs.