Brian Kelly allows Jayden Daniels to create more memories, extend Heisman race
Georgia State did Jayden Daniels a favor.
Daniels led LSU to touchdowns on all 5 of its first-half possessions as the Tigers built a 35-14 lead against the Panthers on Saturday night in Tiger Stadium.
LSU was comfortably ahead, but not fully assured of victory.
Earlier in the season, head coach Brian Kelly pulled Daniels at halftime of lopsided victories against Grambling and Army.
But Georgia State hung just close enough and exploited the Tigers’ defense just enough by gaining 245 yards in the first half to convince Kelly that this victory wasn’t secured at the halfway point the way those against Grambling and Army were.
In the 72-10 victory against Grambling, LSU had taken command with a 28-0 second quarter that produced a 42-10 halftime lead, so Daniels didn’t get an opportunity to add to his halftime stats – 269 passing yards, 5 touchdown passes and 32 rushing yards.
In the 62-0 victory against Army, LSU had taken command with a 38-0 halftime lead, so Daniels didn’t get an opportunity to add to his halftime stats – 279 passing yards, 3 touchdown passes and a rushing touchdown.
Though Georgia State wasn’t likely to come back and win, it had moved the ball well enough – and the Tigers defense has been shaky enough – that Kelly understandably wanted to make sure before he pulled Daniels.
So Daniels went back out for the third quarter and added a 5th touchdown pass – a 3-yarder to Mac Markway – to the 4 that he threw in the first half and wound up with 413 passing yards, 96 rushing yards and 2 rushing touchdowns.
Kelly should have been comfortable of victory after the 1st drive of the 3rd quarter, but he kept sending Daniels onto the field.
On the Tigers’ 2nd possession of the 3rd quarter, Daniels went over 1,000 rushing yards for the season before sneaking 1 yard for a touchdown and a 49-14 lead early in the 4th quarter.
Still, Kelly wasn’t satisfied – and Daniels wasn’t finished.
Daniels threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to Malik Nabers to complete the scoring midway through the final period.
Finally, Kelly sent in Garrett Nussmeier after Daniels had tied Joe Burrow’s school record of 8 touchdowns in 1 game. Those 8 touchdowns came on 8 possessions.
It’s unlikely that many Heisman voters were glued to the TV to see exactly what else Daniels could do against an outmanned opponent in a game whose outcome wasn’t in doubt.
But the experience Saturday night was less about swaying undecided voters than it was about allowing Daniels to add to his legacy, to his college experience and to the enjoyment of the Tigers fans watching in the stands and on TV.
Ultimately Daniels’ season stats – second only to Burrow’s historic numbers in 2019 – will comprise a big part of his legacy. Those numbers continued to grow throughout the second half Saturday night, until Nussmeier finally came out of the bullpen.
Daniels was able to continue feeding his elite receiving corps.
Nabers finished with 140 yards and 2 touchdowns on 8 catches, Brian Thomas Jr. finished with 103 yards and a touchdown on 4 catches and Kyren Lacy finished with 101 yards and 2 touchdowns on 5 catches.
The final score of the Tigers’ 8th victory in 11 games will soon be forgotten. Any discussion of whether Kelly was disrespectful to the Panthers by leaving Daniels in as long as he did will dissipate by the time Texas A&M arrive in Tigers Stadium next Saturday morning for the regular-season finale.
Whether Daniels receives a piece of hardware or merely congratulates the player that does on his visit to New York City on the 2nd Saturday in December will have little to do with the details of what happened Saturday night in Tiger Stadium.
But the experience and memories of what transpired – along with what preceded Saturday night and that which remains – will be long-lasting.
Daniels’ 2nd and final season at his 2nd school is the 2nd best in LSU history, behind only the historic 1 that Burrow had in his 2nd and final season at his 2nd school.
The final numbers Saturday were merely another brick in the wall for Daniels, but they were significant as he builds toward the climax of 1 of the best seasons ever for a quarterback at LSU – or anywhere else for that matter.