Daniels is gunning for LSU record book

STOCK SOARING:  Jayden Daniels has hit his stride in his first season at LSU, giving the Tigers explosive quarterback play, particularly in the last month. (Photo by PETER FOREST, Journal Sports)

By RYNE BERTHELOT, Journal Sports

BATON ROUGE – Transfer quarterback Jayden Daniels hasn’t done much in his first half-season with the LSU Tigers, aside from rewriting the record books a few times over.

Daniels found himself in elite company after the season-opening loss to Florida State, when he established himself as one of only two passers in LSU history to throw for 200 yards and rush for 100 yards in a game. Joe Burrow did it once, in the infamous seven-overtime game against Texas A&M in 2018. Daniels has already done it twice.

With his 121-yard performance on the ground against Ole Miss in Week 8, Daniels eclipsed the season rushing yards mark by a QB, held by Jordan Jefferson since 2010. He also bested Burrow’s season rushing touchdowns by a quarterback, with nine.

Daniels, extremely productive in three seasons as a starter at Arizona State before coming to LSU this spring, is a breath of fresh air at a position LSU has struggled to fill since Burrow dazzled the nation with his Heisman Trophy-winning 2019 campaign.

The Tigers seemed destined to fall back into the quarterback limbo that plagued them throughout the 2010s, as the Tigers started five different quarterbacks in the three seasons since Burrow’s departure.

There were Max Johnson and TJ Finley, a pair of freshmen who struggled their way onto other SEC programs since. There was Myles Brennan, the heir apparent to Burrow before a pair of season-ending injuries ended Brennan’s chances of carrying the torch. There was even a stopgap start by wide receiver Jontre Kirklin against Kansas State in the 2022 Texas Bowl, after Johnson had entered the transfer portal following the termination of Ed Orgeron’s contract.

Then Brian Kelly took the reigns, and a quarterback battle ensued: Daniels, Brennan, and Garrett Nussmeier all competed for the starting job in August before this season.

Now, a little more than two months later, it’s clear why Daniels won.

Daniels has outplayed Burrow among their first eight games in the purple and gold in every major statistical passing category. Daniels has thrown for 1,812 yards to Burrow’s 1,544 at this point in 2018. Daniels has 12 passing touchdowns to Burrow’s six. Daniels has one interception to Burrow’s three. That doesn’t include the additional nine touchdowns he’s scored on the ground, or the 524 yards he’s picked up.

It’s also clear that Daniels is likely the most mobile quarterback that’s started a game for LSU, but his passing stats suggest he’s settled into the Tigers’ offense even better than Burrow did in his first season in Baton Rouge.

It’s easy to forget that before Burrow was an all-world selection after his senior year, he was just a slightly-above average passer in his first season at LSU. In fact, there were some downright pedestrian performances on his ledger, including a 140-yard game on a 45.8 percent completion percentage against Miami in Week 1.

It’s unfair to expect the same level of performance out of Jayden Daniels that Tiger fans saw in 2019 Joe Burrow. It can be argued that Burrow had a lack of weapons surrounding him, with a freshman receiver in Ja’marr Chase and an unproven sophomore in Justin Jefferson, both of whom were a year away from achieving the first-round status they enjoyed in the NFL Draft.

The same can be said for Daniels, too: Star wide receiver Kayshon Boutte has only recently broken out of his season-long slump, and the litany of running backs LSU has deployed have all played second fiddle to Daniels’ rushing ability.

This week, along with being the SEC Offensive Player of the Week, Daniels was tabbed to share the National Quarterback of the Week honor (with Oregon’s Bo Nix, the former Auburn quarterback) chosen by the Davey O’Brien Foundation.

That argument may never go away, but Daniels is much more than a placeholder for the next big thing.

He is the next big thing.

Contact Ryne at rgberthelot@gmail.com