Florida State will kick off one of its most anticipated seasons in just a few short days. One of the reasons for being a blockbuster matchup against LSU to start the season. The rematch between these two teams comes after one of the most thrilling games of the 2022 season. In just a year’s time, this game has gone from a battle of two big names that had lost their way in recent years to a battle of Top 10 teams with potential playoff hopes on the line.
Looking at LSU, Brian Kelly got off to a great start in year one and brought home the SEC West title. (Even though everyone said this team wasn’t any good after they lost to FSU) Despite LSU only being two years removed from going 15-0 and winning a national title, Kelly inherited a program that had talent but had come off the rails towards the end of the Ed Orgeron tenure.
Facing the challenge of restocking a roster that only had 39 scholarship players when taking over, like Norvell, Kelly leaned heavily on the portal to patch the holes. LSU took a total of 19 transfers ahead of last season, which paid off. LSU lost some important players from the 2022 team and once again went to the portal, taking 14 players in 2023. LSU has a 60% Blue-Chip ratio in 2023, so they have plenty of talent to work with on the roster. They should also be better in year two of the new staff. But will it be enough to beat out a Florida State team that has done a few upgrades as well and has a lot of experience to rely on?
At QB, Jayden Daniels (87.8 PFF) transferred in from Arizona State last year and had a better season than most expected, myself included. Daniels was already a proven runner but had ups and downs as a passer throughout his time at ASU. However, with LSU having an offensive line with questions of its own, it made sense to bring in a mobile QB.
Daniels continued his track record of rushing success by putting up 885 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground. He is one of the best scrambling quarterbacks in the country, which we saw personally as he rushed for over 100 yards against FSU in the opener. According to Pro Football Focus, Daniels had 1,079 rushing yards (sack adjusted). Of those yards, 668 (61.9%) came from scrambles, whereas 411 (38.1) came from designed runs. His scrambling ability is a big part of what makes this offense dangerous and is a key to stopping LSU. We saw FSU control the game for three quarters last season until Daniels started running around and making plays to get LSU back in it. However, as good of a scrambler as he is, he was also sacked 45 times, which was 124th of 131 teams.
Daniels also had a decent season passing as he benefited from a more talented receiving core. Last year, he went 266/388 (68.6%) for 2,913 yards with 17 TDS and only 3 INTs. His QBR was 79.2, which was 15th best overall. I’m not denying those numbers are solid, but let’s dig a little deeper. Daniels thrives more in the short, quick passing game. In fact, 63.1% of his pass attempts were under 10 yards last season. His Big Time Throw Rate was only 2.9%, which was 132nd out of 172 QBs with at least 100 dropbacks. Jordan Travis was at 7.1%, which was tied for 3rd among Power 5 quarterbacks with that same 100 dropback minimum.
Against Auburn (60th Pass D), Daniels only threw for 80 yards and no touchdowns. Brian Kelly urged Daniels to let it rip more often, and he followed that game with 300 passing yards against Tennessee and 349 against Florida. However, Tennessee had the 127th-ranked pass defense last year, and Florida’s was 83rd. Two games later, he threw for just 86 yards against Arkansas, who had the worst pass defense in all of college football last year.
In 2022, Daniels faced three P5 teams that finished top 25 in pass defense (A&M, FSU & Bama), and in those games, his average dropped to below 200 yards per game (193). I’m not saying Daniels isn’t a good quarterback. He’s just inconsistent at times and certainly not unstoppable through the air.
Jayden Daniels is good at protecting the ball and not taking many chances downfield shows, with only three interceptions and a Turnover Worthy Play Rate of just 0.6% which was number one in the country last season. Jordan Travis was 11th among Power 5 quarterbacks at 1.9%
Behind Jayden Daniels is Garrett Nussmeier, who I thought would be the starter this season until Daniels announced he was returning. Nussmeier has the better arm which we saw on display when he torched the UGA secondary for 294 yards and 2 TDs in the SEC championship game. After seeing that, I’m glad Daniels is the starter instead of Nussmeier, but Kelly also knows he has a gunslinger in his back pocket now, which could be something to watch for if FSU jumps out to an early lead.
At WR, they do lose three talented players: Kayshon Boutte (#2 WR), Jaray Jenkins (#4 WR and led in TDS), and Jack Bech (#7 WR). Those three were one, two, and three in production in 2021. However, they do return 2nd team All-SEC WR Malik Nabers, who led the team in receiving with 1,017 yards. They also brought back breakout freshman TE Mason Taylor (#3 WR) and added Alabama transfer Aaron Anderson, a freshman last year who has yet to produce a stat in college. This group took a hit but returns 4 of their top 6 and has plenty of talent to work with.
The issue with LSU’s receiving core is there has been a lack of a clear number 2 threat for 2023. That is why it was so impactful for FSU to land Keon Coleman. Teams cannot do to Johnny Wilson what they may be able to against Nabers unless a WR2 steps up. Circling back to the short passing game, when you look at Nabers as a deep threat (20+ yards), he was 76th in targets over 20 yards of receivers with at least 10 targets. No other LSU receiver was listed out of the 190 players who met the criteria. His receiving grade on deep targets came in at 144th, and the other LSU receivers on the list are no longer on the team. LSU has admitted they need to push the ball down the field more in 2023, but they do not have a track record of being able to do it successfully when looking at last season.
Running back at LSU will likely be running back by committee again this year as they return four players from last season and added Notre Dame transfer Logan Diggs, who put up over 800 yards on the ground last year. Last season, Daniels led with 885, while the running backs only put up 1,564 yards combined. For reference, FSU running backs put up 2,283 yards last season, with Jordan Travis adding another 417 yards. (LSU also had an additional game) They are deep, and Diggs put up over 1,000 all-purpose yards last season. However, there doesn’t appear to be any game-changers in the backfield unless Diggs turns out to be one. Offensive line play should be improved this year, so we’ll have to wait and see.
Speaking of the OL, they lose OG Anthony Bradford, who started 12 games last year, and a handful of depth players. However, all the other starters are back, including OT Will Campbell, a Freshman All-American and All-SEC player last season. They jumped from 41 career starts up front a year ago to 102 this season, so the OL should no longer be a weakness.
However, as mentioned before, they were 124th in sacks allowed, even with a mobile quarterback. LSU has another freshman sensation on the offensive line this year, 5-star Zalance Heard. It’s been said in camp reports that Heard has been pushing for a starting spot. While impressive for a freshman, even one with an NFL ceiling and incredible size, my mind started asking what that says about the more veteran players potentially getting passed up by a freshman at a position freshmen do not typically start at.
LSU media talked about how they shuffled the lineup around at the beginning of the season before settling on a starting five they felt good about. One thing I noticed is they still allowed a lot of sacks, even late in the season. Jayden Daniels was sacked 4 times against Ole Miss, 6 times against Alabama, and 7 times in the Arkansas game, so how much better did they get?
Either way, the FSU DL vs. the LSU OL will be a battle of grown men!
Flipping sides but staying in the trenches, LSU lost some key pieces from last season. First-team All-SEC DE BJ Ojulari departs along with DE Ali Gay and DT Jaquelin Roy, who both started 12 games for the Tigers in 2022.
They get former 5-star Maason Smith back from a season-ending injury, but he will be serving a 1-game suspension by the NCAA against FSU. Smith being out is a big deal for both teams. He is their top defensive tackle and such a vital part of the defense that LSU even looked into scheduling a week 0 game so he would be available against FSU. One underrated aspect of last year’s game was LSU losing Smith to injury and Ali Gaye to a targeting penalty, both in the first quarter. The Tigers will once again be down an impact defensive lineman. You could argue an eye for an eye here with Darrell Jackson’s waiver getting denied. Either way, while I don’t think this will determine the outcome of the game, it will have an impact, but that’s football, and you have to be ready for the next man up at all times.
Harold Perkins, who we’ll discuss in a minute, was great at pass rushing as a freshman last season. With Perkins and Smith, there would be multiple impact players FSU has to gameplan for getting to the quarterback. Without Smith, LSU may need to use Perkins in the rush more often to get pressure or use him to spy Jordan Travis. That can create mismatches by leaving other players to cover someone like Jaheim Bell, who is a mismatch for most linebackers. FSU can dedicate more resources to stopping Perkins on the rush. Long story short, Smith is a big loss for LSU.
Mehki Wingo also returns up front after finishing as a 4th team All-American in 2022. LSU also added five Power 5 transfers up front to solidify the line. While I wouldn’t consider all of them big-time impact players, three of them are solid additions, most notably Jordan Jefferson from WVU, where he led the team in TFLs last season. The LSU defensive line is still talented, but I’m not sure it’s better than last year’s unit after losing three impact guys, especially without Smith in the fold.
The linebacker group at LSU could potentially be one of the best in the country. They lose Micah Baskerville, who started 30 games throughout his career and led the team in tackles and PBU’s last year. Mike Jones Jr., who started 9 games and played in 13 more during his two years at LSU, also departs with three other linebackers who entered the portal.
While some key pieces are leaving, it’s about who is still on the roster that makes this group special. LSU will return Greg Penn III and Harold Perkins, who were two of their top three tacklers from 2022. Perkins had an exceptional season for a true freshman. He was LSU’s highest-graded LB per PFF (50 snap min), tied the school record with four sacks in a game, and was an All-American and All-SEC player. He’s the type of player you must game plan for, although I would like to point out something I found interesting when looking a little deeper into the numbers. The four-sack game came against Arkansas who did not have KJ Jefferson and was using their third string quarterback. In the four games after that, Perkins only had one sack, which came against Purdue, who was also using their backup quarterback.
I’m not downplaying the player that Perkins is, and I do understand he was only a true freshman, but I found that stat interesting because we’ve been told how he is going to single-handedly wreck the FSU offense all off-season.
They also added 1st team All-Pac12 LB Omar Speights from Oregon State, who led the team in tackles last year and is a big addition to a linebacker unit that was already really talented.
This will be one of the best linebacker units FSU has to face this fall outside of Clemson, who has a really talented duo. However, with how the game is played nowadays, it is usually more beneficial to have a dominant defensive line and/or secondary. As I said in the FSU preview, if I had to have a weakness on my defense, it would probably be at linebacker.
The same principal applies to the opposition. If I had to choose one position group to be a strength for the other team, it would probably be at linebacker. That is why you see a lot of teams run a 4-2-5 defense (like LSU does) because the impact just isn’t the same as it used to be, especially against a team like FSU that can spread you out and create mismatches on linebackers. I’d prefer a team to have good linebackers rather than a dominant defensive line or shutdown secondary, which is the situation LSU is in.
On the back end, LSU is losing 39 combined starts from the secondary. Safety Greg Brooks Jr. is the only starter who comes back. However, they added five transfers to fill the holes that are arguably as good or more talented than the ones leaving.
Andre Sam (S) comes in after one season at Marshall and four seasons at McNeese. He brings over 2,000 snaps of experience and has had a 70+ PFF grade for three years. Zy Alexander also comes in as an FCS All-American with almost 1,500 snaps of experience at SE Louisiana, but how will he perform at the P5 level?
Denver Harris had a nice season at Texas A&M before getting released from the team. While he’s only played 211 snaps, he was rated as a 5-star transfer. However, Harris has already had some issues at LSU and required some time away from the team. While he is back, reports have said he has been running with the second and third teams, so the addition may not have panned out as planned.
JK Johnson transferred in from Ohio State and was rated as a 4-star transfer. However, Brian Kelly told the media that he suffered a lower leg injury in camp and will be out for an extended amount of time.
The last addition to the secondary was Duce Chestnut from Syracuse. He’s a solid player who made 3rd team All-ACC in 2021. In 2022, when he faced FSU, he allowed an 83.3% completion percentage for 28 yards and 2 touchdowns. There have been reports from the LSU camp that the secondary is a work in progress that has seen some struggles, especially at corner. This could be a big factor against a team like FSU that is loaded at receiver.
If LSU struggles to pressure the quarterback without Maason Smith and has a suspect secondary, the FSU offense could be in for a big game. LSU did give up 30+ points in 5 of their final 8 games against Power 5 teams last year.
The LSU special teams unit had a rough year in 2022, finishing outside the top 100. They muffed four kicks, averaged under 5 yards per punt return, and only hit 71.4% of FGs.
LSU had a better year than most expected in year one under Brian Kelly. The Tigers went 10-3, beat rival Alabama, and won the SEC West. They say teams make the most significant jump from year one to year two, and LSU has talent. However, I want to dig deeper into their 2022 season because it paints an interesting picture.
Outside of the loss to FSU that we all know about, they also lost by 27 at home to Tennessee, by 15 to a 5-7 Texas A&M, and by 20 to UGA (but who didn’t…). They also trailed Auburn (5-7) by 17, Miss St (9-4) by 13, and Ole Miss (8-5) by 17 but managed to come back and win all three. They beat Arkansas by only 3 points with starting QB KJ Jefferson out. Three of their ten wins came against FCS Southern (7-5), New Mexico (2-10), and UAB (7-6). They dominated Purdue 63-7 in the bowl, but the Boilermakers were without their starting QB, All-American WR, two starting defensive linemen, and Drew Brees was the interim head coach.
My point is that when you dig into the details, it was far from a dominant season for LSU. Beating Alabama at home by one point in overtime, coming off a bye week, got them a lot of credit. (Admittedly a huge win) Now, I’m not too proud to admit that the ACC isn’t exactly murderers’ row regarding scheduling. However, I want to point out that FSU’s three losses were by a combined 18 points to teams that were all ranked at the time. They also beat 4 ACC teams by a combined score of 168-36 and finished the season on a 6-game winning streak, whereas LSU finished the season 1-2 in their last three games.
LSU played a tough schedule and did about as good as you can ask for a team in year one under a new staff. I only bring it up because there seems to be this narrative that FSU only won because it was game one for LSU, and this time around, it won’t be nearly as close, which I disagree with. LSU should be better in year two, but FSU should be a better team too. CFB expert Phil Steele puts out position group rankings each year, and FSU tops LSU 6-2 in those rankings.
Both teams will begin the season ranked in the top 10 with conference championship and playoff aspirations. Last year’s win in the Superdome was huge for giving FSU the confidence they can beat a team like LSU. I know that sounds crazy to say at a place like FSU, but after the past few years, I’m sure you get my point. Even though it ended up being a 1-point difference, FSU controlled that game for three quarters, and it should have been about 35-17.
The game is in Orlando this year, and while I expect LSU fans to travel, FSU should have a crowd advantage, and the team doesn’t have to travel as far. FSU doesn’t get a tune-up game this year but isn’t flying blind with no film to go off of, like in 2022. Considering all this, I don’t see why FSU can’t beat LSU again this year. I said last season that I thought FSU would win because they were catching LSU at a good time, being it was game one under a new coach, with a new QB and lots of new transfers to get up to speed.
However, this year, it’s more that LSU is catching FSU at a bad time. FSU is the most experienced team in all of CFB. They added high-end weapons to both sides of the ball from the portal and don’t have play in LSU’s backyard.
I think LSU will be better as a team in 2023, being in year two, but they also lost some key pieces from last year’s team. I like the way FSU matches up in this one with a high-powered passing offense versus a questionable secondary. FSU knows they have to try to keep Daniels bottled up this year, and they should have a better defensive line to do it with. They performed well in this game last year with Fabien Lovett playing, and Verse was a menace in the backfield. At the end of the day, it comes down to the FSU offense just being too much and the defense doing enough to get the win. I hope FSU comes out swinging like they did last year and takes a few early shots to open things up.
While this one truly feels like a toss-up that either team could win, for all the reasons I just mentioned, I’m taking FSU again in round two! I think it will be higher scoring this year, and I have the Noles winning around 34-27.
The interesting thing about this game is it would be a massive win for either team, but at the same time, both teams could lose and still end up winning their conference. They could even potentially have a rematch in the playoffs if both were to win out and be the ACC and SEC Champs. Although FSU probably needs the win more because they don’t get the benefit that LSU does for playing in the SEC and probably won’t have as many ranked games on the remaining schedule. Either way, this was one of the best games of the season in 2022 (Top 10 in viewership too) and should be another Blockbuster match-up this season.
Thanks for reading! Go Noles!
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