LSU football: Stock report after a mostly successful 2023 regular season
The 2023 LSU football season will be remembered as the Jayden Daniels season.
Maybe Daniels will win the Hesiman Trophy, maybe he won’t.
Maybe he’ll play in the Tigers bowl game, maybe he won’t.
But regardless of what happens in December, the regular season that ended with a 42-30 victory against Texas A&M on the last Saturday in November in Tiger Stadium was defined exclusively by Daniels’ exploits.
On Saturday he appeared headed for his lowest passing-yardage total of the season even after he had secured his fourth 100-yard rushing game through 3 quarters.
But after passing for just 72 yards entering the 4th quarter, Daniels passed for 163 yards and 3 of his 4 touchdowns as the Tigers (9-3, 6-2 SEC) pulled away in the final period.
He finished with 235 passing yards, 16 more than his season-low in the loss at Alabama, which he left early to enter concussion protocol.
Player of the Year: QB Jayden Daniels
This was easy.
Daniels leads the country in total offense and almost certainly will be heading to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist.
He has been one of the most productive and efficient passers in the country as well as one of the most dynamic runners regardless of position.
Additionally he has been a clutch performer. He led LSU to victory despite falling behind Arkansas (6-0 and 13-3), driving the Tigers to a winning field goal with 5 seconds left. He led LSU rallies from a 22-7 deficit to beat Missouri and from a 28-24 deficit to defeat Florida as well as a comeback from a 10-point third-quarter deficit Saturday.
Most improved player: Brian Thomas Jr.
This could have been Daniels too because he did improve significantly from last season, but he was already very good during the second half of 2022.
The improvement that Thomas showed from the end of 2022 until now was more dramatic. He nearly doubled his receptions total (from 31 to 60), tripled his receiving yards (361-1,079) and touchdowns (5-15) and increased his average per catch significantly (11.6-17.9) — becoming a premiere deep threat.
Freshman of the Year: LB Whit Weeks
Overall the Tigers’ freshman class didn’t have much of an impact as veteran players and transfers generally claimed job openings.
Running back Kaleb Jackson had a few moments and was the primary kickoff returner, and defensive end Da’Shawn Womack and his moments during the second half of the season.
But Weeks had a bigger impact and responded well when unexpectedly thrust into the starting lineup against Mississippi State, Arkansas and Missouri.
He finished with 41 total tackles, 3 for loss, and a half a sack, despite missing 2 games because of a foot injury of his own before returning Saturday.
Best win: LSU 49, Missouri 39 (Oct. 7)
The dominant win against Auburn was a candidate too, but that was against a weaker opponent. It could have been the memorable victory against Florida, but that game was defined more by Daniels’ individual brilliance.
The win against Missouri came against a higher-ranked team (No. 21 vs. LSU’s No. 23 ranking) on the road. Additionally, it came a week after the defensive disaster in a 55-49 loss at Ole Miss and featured a defensive turnaround in the second half – making it a team effort.
Worst loss: Ole Miss 55, LSU 49 (Sept. 30)
All 3 losses came against ranked teams, Florida State and Alabama being the others, but this 1 was defined by 1 of the worst defensive performances in LSU history.
Daniels had 513 yards of total offense and had a hand in 5 touchdowns. Daniels and Logan Diggs combined for 200 rushing yards and Thomas and Malik Nabers both had 100-yard receiving games.
The Tigers had 637 yards of total offense, but that was negated by 706 yards by the Rebels.
Ole Miss led by 2 touchdowns on 3 different occasions, but Daniels rallied LSU to 8- and 9-point leads. But the defense never could get the 1 decisive stop it needed to produce a victory.
Play of the Year: Daniels’ 85-yard TD run vs. Florida
Daniels had dozens of candidates for this distinction. He entered Saturday’s game leading the nation with 81 plays of 20-plus yards – 64 passing plays (25 of which went for touchdowns) and 17 runs.
But the 85-yarder against the Gators was the most explosive of the explosive.
Biggest surprise: Harold Perkins and the defense
The defense was expected to perform at a level consistent with the Tigers’ lofty preseason ranking (No. 5). Perkins was supposed to lead the way as one of the most dynamic defensive players in the country.
The defense prevented a team with the most prolific offense in the country from ever being a national factor. As for Perkins, the Tigers experimented by moving him around. He never found a groove, though he did periodically make impact plays and finished strong Saturday.
Developing trend: LSU is an offensive program
LSU has periodically had explosive offenses, but generally through the generations it has been most closely identified with very good defenses.
Sure the 2019 national champions were historically good offensively and nothing special defensively, but that seemed an aberration. Now, though, with Daniels and the 2023 offense having a season 2nd only to Joe Burrow and that 2019 offense, LSU can better be described as QBU or WRU than DBU.
The goal, of course, is to be good enough on offense and defense (as well as special teams) in order to compete annually for national championships.
Right now the Tigers are much farther along in that regard on offense than they are on defense.
Key stat: 6,573 yards of total offense
Daniels had numerous individual performances that included eye-opening individual statistics.
But as spectacular he has been, this season can best be quantified by the explosiveness of the offense as a whole with Nabers, Thomas, Diggs, Kyren Lacy and the offensive line all being important supporting players.