Absence of playmakers an LSU concern against SEC heavyweights

It sure didn’t feel like much of a win, but LSU football coach Brian Kelly framed it correctly when he addressed reporters after Saturday’s 21-17 victory at Auburn.

As he pointed out, there are no pictures on the scorecard after a round of golf, and there certainly weren’t any pictures on the scoreboard after the clock showed zeroes at Jordan-Hare Stadium. It was anything but photogenic.

However, a four-game winning streak is nothing to shake a stick at, especially with two of those wins coming against Southeastern Conference opponents.

But 80 passing yards from the starting quarterback should leave LSU fans worried. And 337 passing yards by the SEC’s most questionable opposing passing game should, too.

Give credit where credit is due: Quarterback Jayden Daniels has made strides in a system he had no experience in. He’s been efficient in moving the offense when needed, save for Saturday night.

But the patterns that Daniels has settled into are starting to show. There’s clearly a disconnect between Daniels and Kayshon Boutte, probably LSU’s most talented player, on the Biletnikoff Watch List for the nation’s best wide receiver. There’s an affinity for freshman tight end Mason Taylor, who’s played with all of the struggles a true freshman will go through at a Power 5 program.

On any given year, when LSU is loaded with the talent the world has come to expect, those preferences won’t be a pressing issue.

This year, however, there’s a noticeable lack of ancillary playmakers on the Tigers’ offense.

Boutte is tied for fourth on the team in receptions with 11. He hasn’t scored a touchdown this season. LSU’s other leading receiver from 2021, Jack Bech, has just nine catches and a single touchdown. His biggest contribution to the team has been on special teams, where he’s shown to be the Tigers’ best option at punt returner.

Boutte’s lack of involvement in the passing game has become a weekly talking point at Kelly’s press conferences, with the head coach noting a need to increase Boutte’s role in the passing game ahead of Week 3’s game with Mississippi State. He finished with three catches for 31 yards, but led the team in targets with eight.

Kelly did his part. Daniels’ lack of chemistry with Boutte has become more and more apparent with each passing week, and the issue will be magnified as LSU faces Tennessee, Florida, Ole Miss, Alabama and Arkansas in the next five games.

It’s a similar situation in the Tigers’ running back room, which was called upon to handle 33 of LSU’s 49 carries Saturday night.

LSU’s been blessed with surefire first-round running backs for nearly the last decade: Leonard Fournette and Clyde-Edwards Helaire were both first-rounders in their respective draft classes, while Derrius Guice slipped into the second due to off-field concerns that ultimately led to his exit from the NFL two seasons later.

The Tigers don’t have a Fournette, Guice, or Edwards-Helaire waiting in the wings this season. They have transfers, walk-ons, and veterans who never managed to separate themselves as the leader in the backfield.

Instead, the cupboard is filled with adequate to above-average rushers, such as Josh Williams, John Emery, Jr., and Noah Cain. Williams and Cain hovered around the four yards-per-carry mark against Auburn, while Emery eclipsed five yards a try.

Kelly’s built depth in the absence of top-tier talent, and that’s been enough through the easier part of LSU’s schedule.

But where’s the rhythmic offense going to come from when Daniels can’t pick apart a defense with his feet? 

Contact Ryne at rgberthelot@gmail.com