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Florida STate Opponent Preview Series: LSU

After having one of the most dominant teams in college football history that concluded with a national title in 2019, the Tigers have gone a disappointing 11-12 since. That drop off, as well as off the field issues, led LSU to part ways with former head coach and Louisiana legend Ed Orgeron. In a seemingly odd move LSU plucked Brian Kelly from Notre Dame to try and right the ship.

A southern accent wasn’t the only thing Brian Kelly inherited when he arrived in Baton Rouge; he also took over a depleted roster with as few as 39 scholarship players active in LSU’s bowl game last season. After quickly dropping the accent, Kelly went to work leaning heavily on the portal to fill the holes on this roster adding as many as 13 players. They are a wild card to predict with so many new aspects to consider for 2022.

There are always challenges in year one at a new program and success is never guaranteed. However, Brian Kelly has typically been a good coach in year one at new programs adding at least 1-2 wins to his new teams previous record. It is very possible he could do the same at LSU which is why I’m glad FSU gets them in game 1 when they might still be putting all the pieces together.

LSU Offense

LSU struggled on offense last season finishing 80th in scoring offense, 102nd in efficiency and 96th in explosive play rate. Their offense had a success rate of 40.7% and only returns 56.4% of their offensive production. For 2022, LSU must replace their leading passer, Max Johnson, who left to join Jimbo at Texas ATM…I mean A&M…via the portal. They also have the task of rebuilding their offensive line with only a few experienced pieces to build around. The unit finished 54th in pressure rate allowed, 111th in sacks allowed last season, and is probably the largest uncertainty of this team.

At the time of writing this update (8/29/22) the latest camp report I read has the following lineup that has been working together for the past week and appears to be the projected starters.

  • LT – Will Campbell: 6’6″ 325 –  Former 4 star true freshman early enrollee should be the starter. Obviously has 0 snaps of college experience.
  • LG – Miles Frazier: 6’6″ 325 – FIU transfer, Freshman All-American, lots of experience at G5 level. How will his game translate to P5 level?
  • C – Garrett Dellinger: 6’5″ – 320, has over 350 snaps of experience but not a single snap at the center position, Grades out just above average and individual games grades were inconsistent.
  • RG – Anthony Bradford: 6’5″ – 345, Little over 250 snaps of experience. Poorly graded in all games except two. Only has 45 snaps at RG position.
  • RT – Cameron Wire: 6’6″ – 295, Most experienced returning player and tackle with over 800 career snaps. Season grades for over 750 of those snaps were barely above average. All snaps last season at LT.

As you can see their offensive line has plenty of size as they are all over 6-foot-5 and almost 300-pounds or more. However, this group doesn’t have much experience together which is important for an offensive line. The projected backups from the same report also has concerns. One player is a rs-freshman with 0 snaps of experience. Three players have a combined 300 snaps, all graded out poorly and their pass blocking was especially bad. The last player in the group is an experienced transfer but from the FCS level at ETSU.

Presumed starter Jayden Daniels will have the luxury of one of the best receivers in the country in Kayshon Boutte. Boutte did miss spring after a season ending ankle injury in 2021 but is already being mentioned as a Biletnikoff contender. I haven’t personally watched his film but just going off the raw numbers, he has a catch rate of 74%, a drop rate of 7.5%, a contested catch rate of 37.5% and 5 of 16 career games with 100+ yards receiving.  I’m not saying he isn’t a dominant receiver, but maybe I need to go watch the film to see what all the hype is about. He is back in action but being brought along slowly as one would expect coming off such injury. The Tigers second leading receiver, Jack Bech, has also been limited at times in camp with shin splints, but recently returned to action. The rest of the Tiger receiver group is also pretty good and will challenge the FSU secondary if they get good quarterback play. They return almost all of their production from a year ago.

Brian Kelly had a 3-way quarterback battle on his hands when he brought in Arizona State transfer Jayden Daniels. However, with the announcement of Myles Brennan stepping away from football that eliminates Daniel’s main competition. Brennan was a 6th year senior who has battled injury throughout his career. While he wasn’t going to be the starter, his decision to walk away from football was a hit to the Tigers depth at the position.

Jayden Daniels would appear to be the presumed starter and certainly is the most experienced with over 700 career passing attempts. He’s also a dual-threat quarterback who rushed for 844 yards at ASU last season and could help hide the deficiencies on the offensive line. As a passer 2021 was not Daniel’s best season, he only had 10 passing touchdowns to 10 interceptions and threw for over 200 yards in only 5 of 13 games. In fact, his last game with 300+ passing yards came against Oregon in 2019 which was a much better season for him. Now we’re left wondering which version of Daniel’s will we see? 

Speaking of 2019, as most of you remember this will be the second time he has faced the Seminoles with the first coming in the 2019 Sun Bowl. In that game Daniels went 12 of 28 for 195 yards, 0 td’s, 0 int’s and added 36 yards on the ground. 

I’ll be interested to see how he performs as a passer with the LSU receiving core. Could we see a situation where those weapons aren’t fully utilized due to quarterback limitation? Or will Daniel’s have his best year yet with the added weapons? While he will have a better receiving core to work with the Pac-12 isn’t exactly known for their defense either which is something else to consider. The quality of defenses he’s going to be facing is far greater now.

If for some reason Daniel’s in not named starter, or is but misses any time, next on the depth chart for LSU is redshirt-freshman Garrett Nussmeier. Nussmeier played in limited action last season and only has 57 career attempts with a 50.9% completion rate. He was also sidelined earlier in fall camp with an ankle injury but is reportedly back at 100% now. He’s been spotted running with the ones at times in camp too but it’s still believed that Daniels is the guy. Some believe he was the best pure passer of the three man race, but for now it appears he’ll have to take a seat behind the transfer unless of course Brian Kelly makes the surprise announcement that he is the starter.

The Tigers rushing offense finished the season ranked 114th and 84th in EPA per run last year. In 2022, they have to replace their former leading rusher, Ty Davis-Price, who put up over 1,000 yards last season. Their second leading rusher from 2021 has also departed via the portal. LSU added Penn State transfer Noah Cain to the mix this off season. He has the potential to do some things with his size at 5-foot-11 226-pounds but I like to rely on the proof of production as well. During his time at Penn State Cain only saw limited action with 2021 providing him 132 snaps. Cain had 106 attempts for 350 yards and 4 touchdowns. That only only comes out to 3.3 YPC. He also only had 3 runs of 10+ yards and 6 missed tackles forced.

For reference (I know it was only Duquesne but PSU played some cupcakes too) Trey Benson had 16 missed tackles forced on 11 carries and 4 runs of 10+ yards last week. Behind Cain is Armoni Goodwin who had 65 yards on 16 carries for 4.1 YPC last season, and Josh Williams who had 107 yards on 23 attempts for 4.7 YPC. Losing Emory Jr was undoubtedly a big hit to the run game for LSU. Call me a homer if you want, but the LSU rushing attack outside of maybe Daniels doesn’t exactly scare me. Couple that with a questionable offensive line and FSU could have an advantage here.

The tight end position was unimpressive last season for the Tigers with barely over 100 yards of production and both returning players graded well below average on PFF and their blocking grades weren’t much better. FSU doesn’t exactly have impact tight ends either but have faced quite a few recently, this is not one of those times. They do have a 6-foot-7 freshman who could be tough to guard but here’s another instance where LSU may be relying on an inexperienced guy.

LSU Defense

As for defense, LSU’s front 7 looks to be their strength this season and a pretty good one at that. They return names to know such as Ali Gaye, Jaquelin Roy and B.J. Ojulari. Their ones should be pretty good and a load for FSU to block. They have some production numbers to back it up too. The three mentioned combined to create 106 total pressures last season and 13 sacks but while that group looks stout, depth could be a concern once they rotate out. 

At linebacker, LSU must replace their leading tackler, Damone Clark, who was a 100+ tackler at linebacker and leader of the defense. The group doesn’t exactly blow you away statistically. Micah Baskerville had a nice season last year but the other 2 projected starters were a different story. Clemson transfer Mike Jones Jr. had 33 total tackles and a PFF grade of 60.1. Another player who projected to contribute is sophomore Greg Penn III, last season he played 92 snaps but was the second worst graded defensive player on the team at just 36.3 per PFF. Not that PFF is the gospel or anything but their grades usually do correlate to who plays well and who doesn’t.

LSU will also be rebuilding their secondary as they only return 2 players with significant experience. The Tigers lost some important pieces from the secondary but were able to acquire some talented defensive backs through the portal to fill the holes. They got Mekhi Garner from UL Lafayette who has over 1,000 snaps of experience at the group of five level. He graded out pretty well last season but some of the individual game grades were inconsistent. His coverage grades were pretty good, where his grades got pulled down was his run defense which obviously plays well for FSU.

Next on the transfer list is Jarrick Bernard-Converse at corner who came to LSU from Oklahoma State. He actually graded out pretty well in a pass heavy conference so there’s not much bad to say other than he’s in a new defense. They also added an Arkansas transfer safety who struggles early in his career but put together a solid, but not stellar, season last year grading out at 68.1. Their was a few more transfers and returning players but none that have a ton of experience of blow you away statistically. 

The potential to be a good secondary is certainly there and they have quality depth at the position. However, they aren’t all impact players and they still have put it all together in a new defense too. The 2021 Tiger defense ranked 71st in scoring defense, 65th in total defense, 71st in efficiency, 98th in finishing drives, 46th in havoc rate and 87th in third down defense so there’s obviously room to improve. 

LSU still has some talented pieces and that side of the ball and should be much improved, but they still have a new staff with new systems to implement, lots of new players to get up to speed. LSU brought in new defensive coordinator Matt House to run the show and put all the pieces together. House has served as a DC before with his most recent college DC job being at Kentucky in 2017-2018 before becoming the linebackers coach for the Kansas City Chiefs. House did turn the defense around at Kentucky after a rough first year in 2017 finishing 91st ranked total defense and the 75th ranked scoring defense. In 2018 the defense was much improved finishing the season ranked 23rd in total defense and 6th in scoring defense. 

Wrapping up

As I keep mentioning, I think it greatly benefits Florida State to get LSU in game one. Especially considering FSU had a week zero game to help get in rhythm even if it was against Duquesne. I don’t expect FSU to just waltz into New Orleans and kick LSU’s teeth in by any means, but there’s a good chance they could bring a victory back home to Tallahassee. LSU will probably be fine in the long run and next year’s match up could be tougher than expected but they have a lot ot figure out right now and 0 experience in the new systems coming into this game.

This game may get a lot of attention as two dual threat quarterbacks battling it out, but I’d argue this one will likely be decided in the trenches. Both sides have questions on the offensive line and both sides have a defensive front seven that could expose those weakness. FSU performed well up front vs Duquesne rushing for over 400 yards and allowing only 5 pressures even with the backups in but LSU’s front is an entirely different animal. This game will be the first test to see just how much the FSU offensive line has improved, and to find out if the defensive line can make the impact we think they can. FSU will need to contain Daniel’s and make him beat them with his arm, the same thing could be said about their game plan for FSU. I like what I saw from the FSU linebackers in game one which should help accomplish that task.

If Florida State finds success running the ball again, they should stay with it until proven otherwise. Let the passing game open up and take advantage of some possible miscommunications in a new defense. I doubt we’ll see a lot of airing it out in this one, but I do see FSU taking some shots down field to open things up. This one is really a toss up to me, FSU should be the more polished program in year 3, but can they beat a talented Tiger team in what is essentially a home game for LSU? The Tigers typically play well in the Superdome so this stat may not matter, but they were 1-5 away from Tiger stadium last season.

We also have to take into account FSU took Brian Kelly’s top 10 Irish team from a year ago to overtime which gives you hope. While I’m sure the caliber of athletes he’ll have at LSU is greater than Notre Dame, that was a program Brian Kelly has been building for over a decade. If they do pull it off, it would be a huge win for Norvell and FSU. Even with both programs in a rebuild, getting a win on the national stage against a respected brand from the SEC west would do wonders for the state of morale and recruiting momentum at FSU. 

A lot of people think LSU could surprise this year, hence the top 10 and 20 power rankings coming off a losing season with a new staff. If this game were in November I’d probably have a different feeling about it. I have to say I wouldn’t put money on this one because of all the variables on both sidelines. However, assuming FSU shows up and brings their A-game with them, I like the Noles to pull the upset here in a close one. Also keep in mind, if this game is a close one or comes down to the wire LSU will be turning to a true freshman kicker this season which could be a factor. One thing is for sure though, it is going to a fun atmosphere in New Orleans! Thank you for reading and Go Nole!

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