Life after Jayden Daniels: How LSU’s run game will be the ‘biggest difference’ on offense

By Admin Mar6,2024 #Jayden Daniels #NFL
Jayden Daniels
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Over the last two years, LSU molded its offense around Jayden Daniels. It used routes that made him and the receivers comfortable. It operated from the shotgun because he saw the field better that way. Play calls highlighted his strengths, and its running game featured someone who scampered like no one else in college football.

Daniels rushed for 2,019 yards and 21 touchdowns, the most by a Football Bowl Subdivision quarterback during that span. He was LSU’s leading rusher both seasons, and now that he’s headed to the NFL, the Tigers have to change how they generate their rushing attack with redshirt junior Garrett Nussmeier at quarterback. “It’ll be the biggest difference that you see within the offensive structure,” LSU coach Brian Kelly told The Advocate.

“The passing game, you’ll have to look really hard to go, ‘Well, that’s kind of different.’ But the running game will jump out at you as being different.” With Daniels, LSU relied on zone read and inside zone concepts. It did not have to do much else. Zone reads gave Daniels a choice with an unblocked edge defender, and LSU often layered short routes for a third option. It became a staple of the offense.

Inside handoffs looked similar at the snap, often making defenders hesitate on traditional runs. LSU used runs on either side of the center 103 times for 729 yards, an average of 7.1 yards per carry, according to Pro Football Focus. The only other way the team generated more than 240 yards rushing was through Daniels’ scrambles and runs off the left edge, in large part because Daniels scored an 85-yard touchdown on a zone read in that direction against Florida. As spring practice starts Tuesday, LSU will begin implementing new schemes.

Inside zone will remain part of the playbook, but there will be more to the run game. Kelly said LSU will use outside zone, pulling offensive linemen, counters, tosses and more. It plans to put Nussmeier under center at times, which it tried sparingly with Daniels in short-yardage situations. “You’ll see a big variety of offense when it comes to the running game,” Kelly said. Where runs come from also will change. Nussmeier has seven career carries, while Daniels ran 321 times over the last two years. While Nussmeier can move outside the pocket, he usually does so to extend plays. He did not have a rushing attempt in his first career start. Instead, Nussmeier threw the ball 45 times in the ReliaQuest Bowl, something Daniels did once during his five-year career.

“The running game is going to have a totally different look because we were a zone read team,” Kelly said. “That was centered around the quarterback. He was our leading rusher. Garrett will not be our leading rusher.” Last year, LSU got 280 carries from its running backs while Daniels led the team with 135 attempts. Kelly said the running backs are going to need around 375 carries next season as LSU tries to replace Daniels’ production. After having eight scholarship running backs last year, the position room has thinned out.

Logan Diggs transferred to Ole Miss after rushing for 653 yards and seven touchdowns. LSU also lost senior Noah Cain, senior John Emery, junior Armoni Goodwin and redshirt sophomore Tre Bradford. They combined for 69 touches and 422 total yards. LSU now has four scholarship running backs going into spring practice, but they won’t all be available.

Redshirt freshman Trey Holly remains indefinitely suspended after being arrested for his alleged involvement in a shooting, and freshman Caden Durham enrolls this summer. In the meantime, LSU will get through the spring with sixth-year senior Josh Williams, sophomore Kaleb Jackson and walk-ons. Kelly said the team will be “careful” with Williams because of wear and tear on his knee.

It also doesn’t want to overload Jackson. Going into his second season, Jackson is a potential starter after rushing for 165 yards and four touchdowns on 31 carries last season. He flashed as a true freshman, displaying his speed and physicality with limited touches. As the running game now changes to fill a void, LSU needs him to handle more.

“What we’re doing with Kaleb right now is getting him ready for a much more expanded role,” Kelly said. “He came in his first semester, his head’s spinning. He doesn’t know where the bookstore is. Now it’s like, ‘Look, you’re going to be a centerpiece to what we’re doing.’ “So taking care of his classroom, taking care of things on campus, making sure that he’s on time to everything, his detail and just kind of getting him to grow up. It’s not that he’s not, it’s just that we have to accelerate that process because he’s going to be a major piece of what we’re doing.”

By Admin

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