LSU depth at quarterback, running back comes through
It looks as if LSU won’t have to play without Jayden Daniels next week.
It hopes it doesn’t have to play without Armoni Goodwin.
But suddenly, the Tigers seem better able to withstand the absence of either or both if need be.
Daniels sustained a lower back injury, and Goodwin sustained a leg injury in the 3rd quarter. Neither returned to the Tigers’ 38-0 thrashing of New Mexico on Saturday night at Tiger Stadium.
Head coach Brian Kelly said afterward that doctors cleared Daniels to return, but it wasn’t necessary because the Tigers (3-1) had control of the game. So the quarterback should be ready to go at Auburn next Saturday.
Nonetheless, Garrett Nussmeier’s 2nd performance of the season was far more encouraging for the Tigers than his 1st one was.
Daniels left the game against Southern 2 weeks ago after LSU took a 44-0 lead early in the 2nd quarter. Nussmeier struggled, suggesting the absence of Daniels in a meaningful situation could be disastrous.
Against the outmanned Jaguars, Nussmeier completed 13-of-23 for 183 yards and 2 interceptions, 1 of which was returned for a touchdown.
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But when Nussmeier entered the game Saturday against a better defense — though not a great one — the Tigers held a 17-0 3rd-quarter lead, and Daniels’ run on his final play, a 16-yard gain on 4th and 4, put the ball at the New Mexico 29.
Nussmeier immediately hit a 5-yard pass to Jack Bech and a 17-yarder to Malik Nabers.
Then he handed to Noah Cain for a 6-yard gain and a 1-yard touchdown run. Cain became the featured back after Goodwin was injured on the Tigers’ possession prior to the one on which Daniels was injured.
Cain added a 49-yard touchdown run and finished with 94 yards on 11 carries. Goodwin had just 24 yards on 8 carries, though he scored on runs of 5 yards and 1 yard in the 1st half.
Overall, LSU rushed for 219 yards on 41 carries.
Cain had a breakout game Saturday after being a bit player during the first 3 weeks. John Emery Jr. now has 2 games under his belt after being ineligible for the first 2 games.
So the game Saturday demonstrated that the Tigers can run the ball effectively with a group of running backs and without being too dependent on Daniels, whose carries (9) and yards (37) were the fewest he has had except for the game against Southern, when he barely played a quarter.
Nussmeier, meanwhile, threw a 57-yard touchdown to Brian Thomas Jr. to complete the scoring in the 4th quarter. He wound up completing 9 of 10 passes for 135 yards. His decision-making was much improved compared to the game against Southern.
As a team, the Tigers completed 33 of 39 passes for 414 yards. LSU finished with 633 total yards.
Kelly praised Nussmeier for his decisiveness.
“Obviously, he made some high-level throws,” Kelly said. “You’ve got another really fine quarterback there.”
It appears Daniels will be fine for the game at Auburn, and perhaps Goodwin will also be available. Kelly didn’t address the running back’s status afterward.
But if LSU finds itself having to test its depth at quarterback or running back — next week or further down the road — it appears the Tigers might be able to pass that test, at least compared to what it appeared prior to Saturday.
And another reason why the game against New Mexico was encouraging is that if the defense plays like it did against the Lobos — 88 yards and 2 first downs allowed — the offense might not have to do a whole lot, regardless of who might be absent.
The Tigers’ dominance was further reflected in the fact that they possessed the ball for more than 37 minutes and didn’t punt.
Now, Damian Ramos did miss a 38-yard field goal, Emery did lose a fumble and penalties did wipe out 2 touchdowns.
But that sloppiness qualifies as simple nitpicking compared to the overall dominance, the demonstration of depth and the overwhelming play of the defense.