In their first year under Brian Kelly, many expected the LSU Tigers to be a bit of a dud as Kelly tried to churn out the dysfunction from the end of the Ed Orgeron era. Instead, Kelly brought in OC Mike Denbrock from Cincinnati and pulled Arizona State grad transfer QB Jayden Daniels, combined the pair with the latent skill position talent in the Bayou, and has created a top-25 offense that is scoring 35 points per game.
Denbrock’s offense is one that’s been honed in north-central football area as he’s spent time with Kelly at ND and then years in Cincinnatti with Luke Fickell, who brought a lot of concepts from Urban Meyer’s Ohio State offense.
In his 5th year at Cincinnati, head coach Luke Fickell has put together a team with a spread offense built on running the ball, and he’s scoring darn near 40 points per game doing it. Fickell is a Big 10 guy as longtime defensive coordinator for Ohio State, and the offense he took to Cincinnati is very much inspired by the Ohio State offenses of the mid 2010s.
The entire gameplan is based around the read option, with QB Desmond Ridder being a threat to run, throw on the run, or hand it off on any given play. Ridder has 100 attempts on the year, and while he’s not a terrifyingly dynamic runner, he’s got good enough speed to beat defensive linemen to the edge and will pick up strings of first downs with his legs.
To top things off, QB Jayden Daniels looks a LOT like Desmond Ridder with a little better scramble ability. He’s adept at the zone read, is patient going through his progressions, can make defenders miss in the backfield, and will captain checkdown a defense to death if they let him.
He also has the same random misfires and wounded duck of deep ball that Ridder displayed at Cincinnati.
Daniels leads the team in passing and rushing and has 12 TDS to only 1 interception while completing 70% of his passes. The 7.7 yards per attempt isn’t anything to write home about, but he’s efficient, safe with the ball, and, oh yeah, has 524 rushing yards and 9 more TDs on the ground.
As the foil to Daniels’ read option keepers, RB Josh Williams is a short, stout junior RB who kind of burst into the starting role out of nowhere. He’s one of those Mark Ingram-lite style backs that excels up the middle and making cuts behind the butt of a blocker and then squirming his way for a 6-7 yard gain. He’s not a big play threat, but he’s small, tough, and slippery in short yardage.
Behind him is the similarly diminutive Armoni Goodwin and the senior, John Emery Jr. Emery was a major part of the Tiger’s rushing attack back in 2020, but was academically suspended all of 2021 and for the first two games of 2022. The talented senior is still working his way back into a rotational role, but is an experienced, starting caliber SEC runner.
The receivers for LSU feature a collection of talented playmakers. Kayshonn Boutte is back and, maybe not better than ever... but he’s definitely back! Boutte may have his lapses, but he’s always dangerous with the ball in his hands.
Malik Nabers has improved from his backup role as a freshman last year to the Tiger’s leading receiver. He’s an average-sized, average-speed wideout with extremely consistent hands and a powerful, gritty style of play that makes covering him and/or tackling him a task of endurance on any given play for any defender.
TE hybrid Jack Bech also returns from his dynamic freshman season, but has seen his production dip as he’s played as a pure wideout for much of the year. The bigger Brian Thomas, the speedy transfer Kyren Lacy, and former starter/5th year senior Jaray Jenkins round out the group. Finally, freshman TE Mason Taylor has displayed a knack for getting open and some dangerous straight line speed as a 6’6” target in the open field.
The Tiger offensive line has been a pleasant surprise as well. They’re starting two freshman tackles and have been generally solid-to-outstanding in both pass protection and run blocking.
In short, LSU’s offense is an efficient one. You’re not going to get too many negative plays on them, and they’re going to chip away at each set of downs like John Henry in a tunnel with a sledgehammer. With that, though, is the fact that they just lack much of anything explosive. Daniels has no downfield passing game, and the running backs aren’t the speedy sort. Any explosive plays are likely going to come from a QB contain bust or a WR that gets open on a long crossing route.
Unfortunately for LSU, Saban and Pete Golding just schemed up against this exact offense in the semifinal vs Cincinnati last year... And basically shut out the Bearcats. Golding’s defense can be susceptible to deep shots at times, but he absolutely feasts on QBs who throw a lot of shorter routes. And Brian Branch and Will Anderson are two of the best mesh point defenders on read options in all of college football.
It’s just not a great matchup for the Tigers. I expect this one to be low scoring. Say somewhere in the range of 17-21 points for LSU.