BATON ROUGE – There were bruises and blood on his left temple and just above his left eye.
But he didn’t care. Arizona State transfer quarterback Jayden Daniels had just become 1-0 in the Southeastern Conference for LSU with a dynamic, dual performance, in the Tigers’ 31-16 win over Mississippi State in front of 98,520 at Tiger Stadium Saturday night.
“I couldn’t even tell you,” he said when asked how it happened. “I came off to the sideline, and it was bleeding. Other than that, that’s football.”
Welcome to the SEC!
“It is what it is – a battle scar,” Daniels said. “It’s going to swell up a little bit. But that’s football.” In the SEC, which arrived as advertised for Daniels.
Impressive Start In SEC Play
“They told me it was going to be more physical, and they were right,” he said after completing 22 of 37 passes for 210 yards and a touchdown around three sacks. Daniels also rushed for a game-high 93 yards on 16 rushes and a 3-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter for LSU’s first lead at 17-16.
“They love football here,” said Daniels, a native of the Los Angeles area who is a junior at LSU after starting for three seasons at Arizona State. “The environment was different – being able to hear the crowd. When the defense was on the field on third downs, that place was rocking. To feel the energy, everybody loves football. They love LSU.”
But after that 13-0 LSU deficit late in the first half, that love was beginning to be hate for first-year LSU coach Brian Kelly. His Tigers (2-1, 1-0 SEC) came back to outscore 2.5-point favorite Mississippi State (2-1, 0-1 SEC), 21-0, in the fourth quarter for the win.
Daniels could have stayed at Arizona State before transferring to LSU last season, but his coach there – Herm Edwards – just got fired Sunday after an upset loss to Eastern Michigan.
At LSU Saturday, Daniels turned it on late, completing 5 of 10 passes for 58 yards while rushing four times for 26 yards with the 3-yard TD in the fourth quarter. He also converted three third downs and a fourth-and-three pass of 27 yards to wide receiver Malik Nabers to the State 7-yard line. That was part of a dominating, 85-yard drive over 14 plays that put the Tigers up 24-16 wiht 6:53 to go.
“I had the option to take a shot and give Malik a chance to make a play. I knew he was going to make the play,” Daniels said.
Nabers beat State defensive back Collin Duncan.
“When Jayden saw I was in man coverage, he gave me the look,” Nabers said. “So I just went deep. It was a great call. We took control of the game. They had the confidence in me to make the play. This is a great first win in the SEC to get under our belt.”
Had LSU failed on the fourth down, State would have taken over with decent field position at its 34-yard line with a 17-16 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
“We had a man-to-man beater,” Kelly said. “It was one-on-one with Malik with a lot of field to work with. So, Jayden did a really good job recognizing the man coverage and putting the ball out there.”
And he put the pass right there after some early misfires.
“I had told him he was loosening up his shoulder too much,” Kelly said. “So he tightened that up, and threw a great ball. That was a huge play, obviously.”
Afther three straight incompletions by State junior quarterback Will Rogers, who was sacked four times and had one of his worst games because of LSU’s pressure, the Tigers put the game away on their next possession. Tailback Armoni Goodwin scored on a 47-yard run for the 31-16 lead with 4:50 left.
LSU’s Tale Of Two Halves
The Tigers gained 271 of their 416 total yards in the second half after putting up just 145 in the first half with 75 of those coming on a touchdown drive late in the second quarter to cut State’s lead to 13-7 at half. Daniels was 13-of-24 passing for 146 yards in the second half.
After going 0-for-8 on third down conversions to start, LSU converted 6-of-7 to finish.
“Paralysis by analysis,” Kelly said. “We went faster in the second half, simplified it. Maybe got a little too cute early on. We got the ball out quicker.”
Daniels enjoyed the quicker approach – blood and all.
“When we’re playing slow, we let the defense do a lot of exotic things,” he said. “Like Coach Kelly said, you can’t think too much.”
Not in this league.
LSU is no longer thinking much about its season opening loss to Florida State either.
“Sometimes it takes someone hitting you in the mouth to wake you up,” defensive end Ali Gaye said.
LSU hosts New Mexico Saturday before returning to SEC play at Auburn on Oct. 1. Mississippi State hosts Bowling Green, then hosts Texas A&M on Oct. 1.