Brian Kelly chose wisely.
The LSU head coach didn’t select a starting quarterback until a week before the season opener.
He didn’t reveal his choice until opening day.
Finally, we learned that Arizona State transfer Jayden Daniels had won the job over redshirt freshman Garrett Nussmeier in what was described as a very close competition.
After 2 games, it’s clear that Kelly made the right choice. The only thing questionable is why was the competition so close?
Or was it, in reality?
After Daniels scrambled and scrambled and scrambled to keep the Tigers alive to the final second of a 24-23 opening loss to Florida State, we got to see both quarterbacks in the same game Saturday night.
Both played, and Nussmeier actually played a lot more than Daniels did in LSU’s 65-17 victory over Southern at Tiger Stadium.
After Daniels led the Tigers to touchdowns o
n each of their first 5 possessions and a 44-0 lead in less than 16 minutes, Nussmeier got his chance.
To be fair, Nussmeier didn’t have the same opportunity that Daniels had.
Daniels was surrounded by starters, and Nussmeier was just 1 of many backups to enter the game early in the 2nd quarter.
The starters were eager to get on the field from the get-go and take out their frustrations over the opening loss on the outmanned Jaguars.
By the time Nussmeier got in the game, the outcome was already decided, and the Tigers didn’t have the same edge they had at the beginning.
So it’s tricky to read too much into the numbers. Nonetheless, the manner in which the 2 quarterbacks performed demonstrated that Kelly clearly made the right choice.
Daniels was poised. He built on his gutsy opening performance in the opener. He ran for 114 yards in the opener and dashed 18 yards for a touchdown on the 1st possession Saturday.
In the opener, Daniels was under almost constant duress, and he still managed to complete 26 of 35 passes for 209 yards with 2 touchdowns and 0 interceptions.
On Saturday night, he was nearly perfect, completing 10 of 11 for 137 yards with 3 touchdowns and 0 interceptions against Southern.
But more importantly, he showed a degree of poise that he developed over the course of the opener. He was under pressure so fast against the Seminoles that he had a hair trigger at times when deciding to take off.
As time went along, he became a bit more patient, giving pass plays a split second longer to develop. Sometimes, that led to him getting a pass away; other times, he wound up having to run anyway.
But, as Kelly pointed out in his weekly news conference, Daniels gained an acute feel for when to take off. He gave himself an opportunity to make the play with his arm, turning to his legs only when it became obvious the designed play wasn’t go to work.
Daniels continued to build on that against Southern, though obviously he was under far less duress.
As for Nussmeier, in his 1st game action of 2022 he demonstrated the same shortcomings he had as Max Johnson’s backup in 2021 — erratic decision-making, shaky ball security and overall inconsistency.
After Daniels’ 5 touchdowns in 5 possessions contribution, the offense grinded to a halt as soon as Nussmeier took over.
Not only did he fail to produce points on his 1st possession, the Tigers went 3 and out. Then Nussmeier threw an interception to end his 2nd possession.
He settled down on his 3rd possession and drove LSU to Noah Cain’s 2-yard touchdown run.
On the 1st possession of the 3rd quarter, the Tigers went 3 and out before Nussmeier led the team to Armoni Goodwin’s touchdown run.
Then came the worst play of Nussmeier’s night, if not his young career. The Tigers were in scoring range when he was chased to the sideline and recklessly tossed the ball upfield — right to Southern’s Benny McCray, who grabbed the gift and ran 94 yards for a touchdown.
Nussmeier salvaged a touchdown on his final possession before true freshman Walker Howard made his debut on LSU’s final possession.
It’s a long season. Two games in, there are 10 more to play beginning, with the SEC opener against Mississippi State next Saturday.
Events could develop that give Nussmeier a chance to play meaningful snaps. And maybe he’ll do better next time.
But at this point, Daniels is the clear-cut starter — and with good reason.