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LSU Tigers quarterback Jayden Daniels (5) sets up in the pocket against the Mississippi State Bulldogs in the fourth quarter of the SEC opener on Saturday, September 17, 2022 at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The LSU Tigers defeated Mississippi State Bulldogs 31-16.

Jayden Daniels pulled off his helmet after taking the lead against Mississippi State for the first time, and his teammates told him he was bleeding. Daniels dabbed the scrapes on his temple and near his left eye with a towel. He looked unbothered.

That’s the thing about LSU’s quarterback. Nothing rattles him. Not an early 13-0 deficit, a stagnant offense or a little blood. He always exudes calm. The only time he showed much emotion Saturday night was when he briefly stared down cornerback Emmanuel Forbes after scrambling for a touchdown.

The score gave LSU the lead early in the fourth quarter. The Tigers then scored on their next two possessions to finish off a 31-16 win and reward the defense for a dominant effort, especially in the second half.

As we do every week, we re-watched the television broadcast the day after the game. Let’s review the comeback win, starting with where it began.

How Daniels engineered the comeback

Early on, the ESPN crew said coach Brian Kelly told them Daniels performs best when the offense plays with urgency and tempo, a theme dating back to his Arizona State days. That became clear in the second half of the season opener, but more specifically, Kelly told them Daniels starts to overanalyze with less than 15 seconds on the play clock.

LSU finally used tempo at the end of the first half to score its first touchdown in the 2-minute drill, and Kelly said at halftime the offense needed to play faster. It did at first, quickly pushing into Mississippi State territory on its opening drive of the second half before Daniels threw three straight incompletions and LSU settled for a field goal.

LSU kept trying to use tempo in the third quarter. The approach helped in spurts. But the offense still hadn’t clicked when long snapper Slade Roy recovered a muffed punt at Mississippi State’s 9-yard line.

From there, LSU’s tempo actually slowed down. It snapped the ball with a few seconds on the play clock on Daniels’ go-ahead touchdown run, and he often let the play clock tick under 10 seconds the rest of the game.

In the fourth quarter before LSU intentionally drained time on its final possession, it ran four plays with more than 15 seconds on the clock and 16 plays with less than 15 seconds remaining.

Simply, the entire offense played better in the fourth quarter, starting with Daniels. He picked up yards with his legs. He delivered the ball quicker. Most importantly, he made a series of clutch throws to sophomore wide receiver Malik Nabers.

LSU entered the critical drive 1 for 8 on third down as it tried to protect a 17-16 lead. Daniels’ touchdown scamper marked its only conversion. But he and Nabers connected three times on third downs, and Daniels threw him a 27-yard jump ball on fourth-and-3 to set up a touchdown.

“Jayden did a really good job recognizing the man coverage and put the ball out there,” Kelly said.

LSU also helped Daniels with more seven-man protections as the offensive line began to control the line of scrimmage in the second half. LSU had abandoned max protections in favor of more routes to spread the field the last few years. At least in this game, using the tight end and running back in pass protection helped in certain moments.

It wasn’t a perfect night. Daniels missed open receivers downfield. He completed 59% of his passes. But the quarterback never lost his cool. He accounted for 303 of the 416 total yards and made plays when LSU needed them, leaving with the scrapes to prove he battled.

More applause for the defense

Defensive coordinator Matt House put together a game plan based on disguises. Usually whatever LSU showed pre-snap changed post-snap, causing confusion and disrupting the timing of Mississippi State’s offense.

Perhaps the best example came on a fourth-and-1 in the third quarter. LSU showed man coverage before Mississippi State called timeout. Then LSU dropped into zone. Quarterback Will Rogers had no one open. Senior defensive back Jay Ward broke up his pass with linebacker West Weeks close by.

Ward, who recently moved from safety to nickel, was everywhere. He consistently slipped past blocks to make tackles at the line of scrimmage on short throws and receiver screens. The plays helped create long third downs.

Within the scheme, House deployed multiple personnel packages. He often started in LSU’s base four-man front then rotated into a dime look with freshman Harold Perkins and senior Micah Baskerville at linebacker and redshirt freshman Sage Ryan as the sixth defensive back. The plan put more speed on the field.

Baskerville finished with eight tackles, and Perkins flourished as a pass rusher. He made 1.5 sacks and recorded a quarterback hurry as LSU found another way to use the athletic five-star.

"We needed to let him loose because we know he's really good at getting in the backfield and rushing the quarterback,” senior defensive end Ali Gaye said. “I'm really proud of him."

We’d be remiss not to mention the defensive front, which faced its first test without Maason Smith. House moved linemen inside and out, and Mississippi State struggled to run between the tackles. It tried twice on fourth down. Mekhi Wingo, Smith’s replacement, helped blow up both runs.

There was also a lot of pressure, led by junior edge rusher BJ Ojulari. He recorded 1.5 sacks and another tackle for loss, stats that didn’t capture how much he disrupted the game.

John Emery Jr.’s return

One of the main questions all week was how LSU would use senior running back John Emery Jr. in his first game since 2020.

Emery appeared for the first time on LSU’s second drive. He ended up on 25 plays, handling a third of LSU’s offensive snaps alongside sophomore Armoni Goodwin and redshirt junior Josh Williams. Penn State transfer Noah Cain did not play much.

Emery never had much room to run, but he made some quick cuts as he knocked off the rust, showing hints of his elusiveness. He finished with 11 carries for 32 yards and added two receptions for 15 yards, giving him the most touches amongst the running backs.

Kelly suspected Emery will need a few weeks to get back up to speed with his reaction and reads. This will remain a backfield committee, but he offered another element to LSU’s offense.

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