LSU QB Daniels knows more aggressive approach is needed in passing attack
Jayden Daniels is ready for the big stage and the bright spotlight – on this Saturday’s case, sunlight – that will be focused on the LSU starting quarterback and his teammates when the No. 8 Tennessee Vols come to town.
The Tigers have jumped to the No. 25 spot in the Associted Press poll but the undefeated visitors are the 2.5-point favorites.
“This is why I came here,” Daniels declared. “When I put my name in the transfer portal, I thanked God for putting me in this position, to go out and play Auburn in a hostile environment, then have ranked opponent come into Death Valley. I have a chance to go out and showcase my talents, to go out with my buddies and have fun.”
The Arizona State transfer helped LSU escape oon the road with a 21-17 victory over Auburn in the SEC opener last week. Neither he or the offense as a whole was close to their best. Playing better is a must this week versus the potent Vols.
“They’re is ranked for a reason, as good as our defense is, it has been keeping us in football games. We’ve had our struggles. We’re going to have to score more than 21 points.”
Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel is in his second season but the transformation of the Vols attack into an elite one didn’t take long. Averaging 559 yards per contest and producing 48.5 points, Tennessee plays fast and usually jumps on opponents quickly in 2022.
The game will feature a pair of quarterbacks who have yet to throw an interception this year. Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker has tossed for 1,193 yards and nine touchdowns, completing 71.6% of his throws Daniels has 913 yards and six scores passing with a 68% completiont rate.
“I pride myself in no turnovers,” Daniels explained. “Don’t give opponents extra possessions. You have to trust your receivers and give them those 50/50 balls. Just let them make plays. I need to be more decisive and know where to go with the football, pre-snap and post snap.”
LSU head coach Brian Kelly reiterated this week that his quarterback and the offense must be more assertive. To be successful, you have to take chances sometimes.
“It’s a mindset,” Daniels said, “I know that I can make every throw on the field. It’s just going out there and doing it. That’s what (Kelly) has been harping on, being aggressive, giving receivers a chance. Let them make the one-on-one plays. Put the ball in the air where they can catch it and there’s a good chance they’re going to come down with the ball.”
Finding the middle ground between not taking unnecessary chances and finding the right matchups to exploit is still a work in progress for Daniels in Purple and Gold.
“We have talented receivers who can make plays. We are going to have to win those one-on-one matchups. Go out there and take shots. If you want to win, we are going to have to be more decisive.”
Daniels is the LSU’s leading ground gainer with 321 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 5.35 yards per carry. Collectively, running backs Noah Cain, Josh Williams and John Emery, Jr. have totaled 421 yards and seven scores while averaging 4.7 yards per tote. Armoni Goodwin, sporting a tema-best 5.9 yards per carry with five touchdowns, will not be available for a few weeks with a hamstring injury.
The LSU offense has suffered 16 sacks; by comparison, the Vols only have given up eight sacks. The Tigers have a young but improving offensive line so it’s up the fourth-year quarterback to make quicker decisions when looking to throw the ball.
“If there is something available, we don’t want to take a sack. The coaches give me the freedom to go out and make plays, when they know that I need to. If something is there, take it. If the defense has everything covered, I can go out there and make something happen. In critical moments the coaches are not going to say ‘don’t run.’ It’s just a part of my game.”
Daniels suffered a minor knee injury in the second half against Auburn, leading Kelly to hand the quarterback duties over to redshirt freshman Garrett Nussmeier to finish the game. Daniels ende dup just 8-of-20 passing for 80 yards and was sacked three times. To exacerbate the passing woes, six catchable throws were dropped.
“We are moving on from last week and onto Tennessee. Maybe five or six plays, if I put the ball just a little more in front of the receivers, maybe they make the catch. That’s on me,” Daniels stated. “I want to be the top QB in the country. I want to make those type of throws. Ball placement is everything. Even if the defender has the coverage, give our guys a chance to make a catch. I’m going to keep playing the way that I play. I have a mindset. Go out and be more aggressive. Go out and have fun.”
IF Tennessee comes close to matching their nation’s best total yardage output in Tiger Stadium, Daniels and company will have to step up their games significantly.
One newcomer who has garnered a great deal of attention on offense is freshman tight end Mason Taylor. The 6-foot-5 target has snared 13 passes for 106 yards thus far. He was targeted a dozen times at Auburn but managed just three catches. However, Taylor and Daniels obviously share a good chemistry.
“I wish I had some of those throws back,” Daniels explained referring to his accuracy. “Mason does a great job getting open. The coaches do a great job putting him in a position to be open. He has football savvy. He’s still learning being a true freshman. He’s going to have a great career when it’s all said and done.”
There has been a metamorphosis along th LSU offensive line this season. Injuries and experimentation has dictated lineup changes on a weekly basis. It’s leading to improvement despite change and adversity.
Garrett Dellenger began the season at center, but he has found a new home at left guard. A hand injury knocked him out of the lineup but he is expected back this week following last week’s hand surgery. Charles Turner has solidified the center position since taking over in week two.
True freshmen bookend tackles, Will Campbell and Emery Jones, provide a bright future up front. Both are showing progress at light speed.
“They’ve has been doing a great job,” Daniels said. “They are jelling. Coach (Brad) Davis does a great job with those guys. They enjoy being around each other. They hang out with each other outside the football field. You want guys that want to be around each other. That camaraderie, it shows on the field.”
Excuses don’t fly in SEC play. It’s a day game but it’s homefield advantage. Improved passing and special teams play are required to beat a Top 10 opponent. Early lapses in pass defense against a mobile quarterback helped LSU dig a hole last week that they must avoid against a more dangerous opponent like Hooker and the Vols present.
This contest could be decided on a key play or two.
The Tigers hope their emerging identity as a strong second half team is fortified under the Baton Rouge October sun.
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Rene Nadeau has been involved in sports ever since his earliest memories. Rene played basketball, wrestled, ran track, and was an All-District running back in football at John F. Kennedy High School. He went on to be a member of the LSU football program, developing a passion for the game in even…