By RON HIGGINS, Journal Sports
BATON ROUGE – Make no mistake about it.
With individual awards such as the Heisman Trophy and the Biletnikoff Award the only glory left on the table this season for No. 15 LSU, Tigers’ head coach Brian Kelly unapologetically is going for the gusto.
Saturday night in Tiger Stadium against 31-point non-conference underdog Georgia State, Kelly turned loose Heisman Trophy contender Jayden Daniels for almost 3½ quarters. It was enough time for Daniels to throw six TD passes and run for two more, tying 2019 Heisman-winning QB Joe Burrow’s school single-game record for TD responsibility in the Tigers’ expected 56-14 blowout of the Panthers.
“Everybody knew what was at stake,” Daniels said. who led LSU (8-3 overall) to TDs on the Tigers’ first eight possessions before he turned the controls over to backup QB Garrett Nussmeier for LSU’s last possession. “We just kept flowing. We had eight possessions and eight touchdowns. Once I tied the (Burrow) record (on a 40-yard TD pass to Biletnikoff candidate Malik Nabers with 8:59 left), I was trying to go (in the game) again. But I got shut down.”
Kelly, Georgia State and hopefully Heisman voters saw another brilliant dominating performance that has become the norm for Daniels. The senior second-year transfer from Arizona State leads the nation in four statistical categories including averaging 408.2 total offense yards.
Daniels torched the Panthers for 509 yards. He completed 25 of 30 passes for 413 yards with TD strikes of 18 and 40 yards to Nabers, 27 and 13 yards to Kyren Lacy, 70 yards to Brian Thomas Jr. and 3 yards to Mac Markway. He also ran for 96 yards on 10 carries, scoring on a 14-yard dodge-and-dash and a 1-yard sneak.
“We’re down to one game left in the (regular) season (next Saturday at home vs. Texas A&M),” Kelly said. “It’s our job to continue to put a young man in a positive situation and an opportunity to show his skills to everybody.”
Another reason Daniels stayed in the game longer than usual in a blowout was the Panthers limited LSU to just five first-half possessions.
Georgia State, which scored 14 points in each in a pair of identical 42-14 losses to James Madison and Appalachian State, played the Tigers to a 14-14 tie through the game’s first 17:15.
The Panthers’ TDs weren’t flukes. They culminated in scoring drives of 75 and 79 yards on GSU’s first and third possessions.
Quarterback Darren Grainger surgically carved up LSU’s notoriously weak secondary, completing his first 12 of 14 passes for 113 yards, including a 6-yard TD pass to Talique Williams for a 7-0 lead just 3:07 into the first quarter.
After LSU scored on its first two possessions on a Daniels TD pass and TD run, Georgia State running back Marcus Carroll roared for a 44-yard TD to tie the game with 12:45 left in the first half.
“LSU is a tough team,” said Grainger, who finished completing 23 of 29 passes for 179 yards though the Tigers outgained GSU 582 to 365 in total offense yardage. “Despite having only 14 points tonight, we feel like we moved the ball pretty well.”
Georgia State head coach Shawn Elliot believed his team had to score on every possession to have a chance to win.
“We knew they were going to take advantage of the secondary problems we have,” Elliot said. “That quarterback (Daniels) is a really good football player and they can catch the football over the top. We just can’t contain that.”
LSU scored 21 points in the last 10 minutes of the first half, including two TDs in the final 2½ minutes highlighted by Daniels’ 70-yard bomb to Thomas.
Nabers, who leads the nation in receiving yards, had 8 catches for 140 yards. Thomas, the national leader in TD receptions, added two more to his total as he had four catches for 101 yards. Lacy had five grabs for 101.
“We aren’t focused on who goes in and gets touchdowns every game,” Nabers said. “It might look like Brian will have a good game, then Kyren has two TDs and a 100-yard game. Week in and week out you don’t know who it might be.”
But vs. the overmatched Panthers, it seemed like every LSU receiver exploded.
Daniels referred to it as his “chasing greatness every week . . .I understand you can’t take games off.”
Kelly believes Daniels just isn’t the best player in college football, but he’s the best player Kelly has had in his 34 seasons as a college head coach.
“There’s this sense of whatever (play) you call, it’s going to be executed,” Kelly said. “It’s not like when the (play) call comes in you’re thinking `What’s the defense going to do?’
“Because they (the defense) have no chance unless they come up with something new. That’s a quarterback that has complete control over what’s going on out there. And that’s kind of fun.”
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