BATON ROUGE – Arizona State is 1,483 miles from LSU. It’s all Interstate 10, so it’s a simple route. But you’re looking at 21 hours.
Former Arizona State quarterback Jayden Daniels is not going to travel all that way to be a backup to a career backup.
Daniels, the first freshman in Sun Devil history to start at quarterback in 2019, will start for LSU when they open the 2022 season in the Superdome in New Orleans against Florida State on Sunday, Sept. 4.
Daniels, 21, has started 28 more games since completing 15 of 29 passes for 284 yards and two touchdowns, including a 77-yard connection, in a 30-7 win over Kent State in Sun Devil Stadium in his debut on Aug. 29, 2019. He threw for 2,943 yards that season with a .607 completion percentage and 149.2 efficiency rating for 23rd in the nation. He also rushed for 355 yards.
He completed 22 of 32 passes for 408 yards and three touchdowns in a stunning, 31-28 upset of No. 6 Oregon as a freshman. He directed an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to win at No. 18 Michigan State, 10-7. He threw for 174 and rushed for 84 in a 24-17 win at No. 15 California.
After a four-game COVID season in 2020, Daniels threw for 2,381 yards and rushed for 710 last season. The most rushing yards by an LSU quarterback in history was 450 by Jordan Jefferson in 2010, but he threw for just 1,411 that season.
Amazingly, some in Baton Rouge expressed surprise at this move on Monday after news broke Sunday night.
But new coach Brian Kelly has always had a scholarship waiting for another quarterback, including after he got sixth-year senior, three-year backup Myles Brennan to reverse himself through the transfer portal after he received little or no interest and returned to LSU in December.
It was no surprise. Two weeks ago, new offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock’s sly smile said a new quarterback was on the way.
Asked point blank if they were going to sign one, he said, “Uhhh,” and paused. Then he said, “I don’t know,” with a grin, and added, “We’ll see.”
They had to find someone. Brennan has started three games in his career – all of which came early in the 2020 season before a freakish abdomen injury from a tackle at Missouri ended his season. He looked very good and was among the nation’s leaders in passing at the time with 1,112 yards and 11 touchdowns. But the opponents were Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Missouri, which finished a combined 9-21. And LSU lost two of the games.
Brennan may be a very good quarterback. But some people here ridiculously regard him as if he is an entrenched starter. He’s got a great arm, but he has barely played. He has had a lot of bad luck. Doubtful, but he may have beaten out Max Johnson last season to be the starter. Instead, he slipped and broke his arm on a fishing trip just before August practices were to start. Johnson transferred to Texas A&M amid the coaching change last December.
Brennan will have a chance to beat out Daniels. And backup Stetson Bennett did beat out former USC starter JT Daniels at Georgia, but that was an exception. Jayden Daniels’ experience and running ability will win out at LSU. Johnson’s running ability was going to beat out Brennan last year without the fishing trip.
Brennan, a true freshman in 2017 who red-shirted in 2018 and was injured for most of 2020 and all of 2021, has played in only four games in five years before they were decided – the Troy game that LSU lost in 2017 and the three in 2020.
Brennan, 23, committed to LSU on April 23, 2016 from Long Beach, Mississippi. Les Miles was LSU’s head coach at the time, and Joe Burrow was a redshirt freshman at Ohio State – more than two years away from coming to LSU.
When Burrow did come to LSU in May of 2018 as a graduate transfer, some said he wouldn’t beat out Brennan, who had shown flashes in six games as a backup to Danny Etling in 2017. Burrow had played in only four games at Ohio State in 2017 as a backup. But Burrow wasn’t coming almost 1,000 miles to be a backup’s backup.
The only other competition for Daniels will be sophomore Garrett Nussmeier, who played sporadically last season in four games, completing 29 of 57 passes for 329 yards, and true freshman Walker Howard, a five-star prospect from Lafayette, Louisiana. Howard will likely be LSU’s starting quarterback from 2023 through 2025 or ’26. Neither he nor Nussmeier will likely be ready to take over this season.
When Daniels does, look for Brennan to transfer after spring practice. He deserves to start a full season somewhere. Regardless of the level that may be, that is his best bet – get a season in and try the NFL.
Daniels is not the greatest. He has trouble with his accuracy, particularly on intermediate throws. He needs a quarterback whisperer. Kelly is no whisperer, but he has had moderate success with less than ideal quarterback prospects.
With better receivers and a defense that will finally have a major college coordinator this season, Daniels could be a temporary answer.
One thing is clear, LSU’s quarterback room got a lot better Sunday than it was Saturday.