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JAYDEN DANIELS...EYE OF THE ๐Ÿ…: BEHIND THE SCENES W/ LSU'S 2023 HEISMAN FRONTRUNNER

Updated: Nov 22

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BY LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN

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He always wanted to be one of these kinds of quarterbacks....the brand of signal caller that reminds us all why we fell in love with football, the level of quarterback that revolutionizes the game because of their unique skill set, the sort of slinger who forces defensive coordinators to get a prescription for Xanax, the caliber of quarterback that almost transcends the team framework itself...purely due to their overwhelming value, bending the game to their will.....and win or lose, they're the kind of character every adult male wishes they were and every young kid dreams about being.....

Once upon a time, he was also one of those same kids, watching YouTube highlights of John Elway, Joe Montana, Warren Moon, picking apart their game, absorbing the traits he identified with most from each quarterback....talking to his father Jay about Montana's legendary stoicism under pressure, Elway's heart during adversity or triumph, and Moon's unbridled skill & revolutionary presence....

He always wanted this....and most who know him aren't surprised in the least that he's at this point....maybe just how long it took him to get here.

....15 years later into the future & Jayden Daniels isn't a wanna-be quarterback....he isn't a run-first quarterback....he isn't a "college-only QB".....he is a transcendental quarterback....doing it his own way, on his own time, and becoming an LSU legend following gutty, memorable performances vs Florida, Mizzou, Alabama, and Ole Miss (among others).

On the same path as his heroes, Daniels is now a prime contender for 2023's Heisman Trophy, an award many pundits or talking heads felt was beyond the LSU starter this offseason.

Possessed by an incredible old school toughness, tectonic modern age athletic prowess, and a chill charisma so stoic, so unaffected you'd wonder if he even cared about what was happening around him, Daniels has all the minerals built for greatness.....however, very little has gone Jayden's way since his red hot 2019 freshman season at Arizona State:

First, as LSU won a National Championship led by the greatest QB college football had ever seen, the pandemic's effects took away 2 of the people closest to Jayden, his grandfather and self-proclaimed "best friend", followed by his grandmother.

Their deaths deeply impacted Daniels, devastating the young quarterback entering his sophomore season.

Then, all at once, more calamities came knocking;

As the pandemic raged on throughout 2020 & 2021, like most of us, Jayden didn't have the best of times:

Still dealing from grief over the passing of his grandparents, Daniels & Arizona St were forced to play a 4 game Pac 12 schedule in 2020, that makes the word truncated appear long;

Due to a cavalcade of absences, opt outs, or positive Covid tests within Arizona State's team, the former Sun Devil played the least inspired football of his college career during those 2 seasons.

Still, more than anything above, what really cast a pall over Arizona State's locker room during his last 2 years was then-Head Coach Herm Edwards' neverending, program-deflating recruiting saga that put Jayden and his family right in the crossshairs of the NCAA.

Even after leading Arizona State to 10 wins over the debacle of 2020 & 2021, when Daniels found a new lease on his football life by entering the transfer portal, heading for a second chance at LSU, his teammates....now former teammates, became unhinged.

Trashing his locker, destroying some of Jayden's sentimental possessions as they called him a "traitor", with one teammate filming the vandalism as he said, "n***a sucked anyways...."

Once the San Bernadino-born QB arrived at LSU, things didn't fall into place immediately, either.

First, the minute Daniels was dropped off on campus, he was already embroiled in an overhyped, media-spun quarterback battle vs supposed main challenger Myles Brennan, the young and inexperienced Garrett Nussmeier, plus freshman 5 star / LSU legacy Walker Howard....

In the view of many within the Tiger fanbase clamoring for a pro-style, pocket passing Burrow clone, Daniels was deemed the "run-first outsider", an "unnecessary senseless transfer by Head Coach Brian Kelly".

Able to field three highly-rated quarterbacks any LSU fan was excited about during that prior off-season, with factions supporting Brennan, Nussmeier or even true freshman Howard as the next starter and heir to Burrow's throne, Head Coach Brian Kelly knew he needed more at quarterback or his team would be in trouble.

Wthin 2 days of fall camp, Brennan shockingly retired from football, sensing the writing on the wall as Daniels pulled ahead; Almost immediately, Daniels and Nussmeier were in a media-helmed race for top spot.

Once again, it became glaringly obvious who the coaching staff trusted as Daniels continued to separate himself.

As an experienced weapon in a season where LSU needed a well traveled QB who could supply play extension, as well as escape-ability behind a very young offensive line, Daniels locked up the starting job before fall camp had even kicked off.

Riding JD5's legs all the way to Atlanta in Head Coach Brian Kelly's debut season, hitting double digit victories, beating Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Arkansas, and Ole Miss during a wild, grinding season, which is proving to be just a preamble to a far more stunning 2023, there is a cosmic feeling that Brian Kelly and Jayden Daniels will now forever be linked.
Arriving together in Baton Rouge as "outsiders" who never played or coached within the high stakes Camelot of the SEC, each aiming to make a serious impact under waves of widespread scrutiny, criticism, and doubt from national analysts or even their own fanbase, both QB and Head Coach are forever bound by history.

Against calls for backup Garrett Nussmeier to start at one point or another, Kelly always backed Daniels, despite criticism or his quarterback's own limited passing abilities during 2022.

There were early accusations of "hero ball" due to Jayden's propensity to run instead of hitting wide open receivers downfield, some alleging JD5 was stat padding, trying to do it all himself....with time, the truth is now obvious to all:

Absorbing a ridiculous number of sacks (45), pummeled from all sides (forced to scramble 70 times), as high profile receivers dropped more than 20 passes (or lacked chemistry with JD5), the San Bernadino-born QB had to take matters into his own hands for LSU to win 10 games.

Plus, taking snaps in a conservative, run-first offense was all JD5 had known in his football life up to that point....he needed time and reps to develop an all-around game.

Still, many were skeptical, saying, "this is who he is....", a 'limited-skill quarterback possessing ultimate athletic potential....with little downfield passing success to be expected'.

We'd 'seen his ceiling'....right????

But after three consecutive wins over Florida, Ole Miss, and Alabama where LSU's starter showcased his steely determination under extreme pressure, plus developing an ability to throw the ball as well as punishing defenders on the ground, many began to believe.

All throughout the offseason, Jayden Daniels was the outsider on many top QB lists; Regardless, any outright JD5-Heisman talk was often dismissed.

The consensus among the national college football elite? A narrative where Daniels would surely only be successful if the team around him constantly elevated his game.

Instead, these talking heads failed to realize just how badly LSU depended on Daniels in year 1.....meanwhile, we all couldn't anticipate just how much the Tigers would rely on his every play through the first half of 2023:

Catching 2 bad losses over their first 7 games, plus a 3rd vs Alabama which cut the cord on their College Football Playoff opportunities, LSU's defense allowed record numbers of yards & points, languishing as the 106th worst defensive unit in America.

There was the nightmarish Week 1 blowout loss vs Florida State, a rib injury, swollen hand alongside a 17 point deficit during a tooth-pulling win @ Missouri, a disappointing first half from Daniels & the offense vs Arkansas turned into another 500 yards on offense & a 3 point victory, plus his latest & greatest: becoming the first player in SEC history to record over 600 yards as he racked up 372 passing & 234 rushing (alongside 5 total TDs) vs Florida.....as far as what he could control, JD5 was able to overcome all challenges in his way, even as his defense became a quasi-2nd opponent.


For example, against Ole Miss, JD5 recorded over 500 total yards, including a career high of 414 passing the ball, LSU scored 49 points, and still lost......the Tigers' quarterback even gave his receiver a chance on the final play when he threw a beautifully accurate Hail Mary....only to watch the pass clap in and out of wide open hands.

Daniels has had to play near perfect all season for LSU to win games, supplying infinitely efficient football for LSU's history-making offense.

And here we are now....from that kid studying legends of his position, who became a heralded Arizona State quarterback up against enough adversity to break a weaker man, before transferring & transforming into a fire-breathing leader and complete signal caller at LSU, continuing to ascend by the game across 2 seasons as a critics-defying passer & otherworldly rusher........finally, after Jayden Daniels broke their collective minds vs Florida, continuing with video game numbers vs Georgia St, the national & local media have been forced to take notice:

Playing with unrivaled brilliance, making the football field his own personal playground, Jayden Daniels isn't just the best quarterback in America, he's the most valuable overall player in college football.

Leading Mike Denbrock's offense to the program's first ever 7 game streak eclipsing 500 yards (snapped after Daniels was knocked out vs Alabama), ranking 1st in the nation regarding total yards (4,082 from 427 plays....over 800 more yards than 2nd place QB & current Heisman favorite, Michael Penix), #1 for total QBR (an FBS record at 208), 1st in passing TDs at 36, 3rd concerning passing yards (3,577), 1st in plays in excess of 20 yards (81, more than USC's 59 total as a team), all as he orchestrates a historic offense that has already scored 40+ points on 8 different occasions across 11 games, currently ranking 2nd for total first down conversions, 1st in yards per game (averaging 560.2, more than 20 yards on top of Oregon), 2nd in offensive TDs & 3rd down percentage, 1st in yards per play (8.61), all while JD5 has thrown for 300 yards or more against 7 opponents, becoming only the 2nd LSU Tiger to ever account for 5 TDs in a half (Grambling), tying Joe Burrow's record for most TDs in a single game (8), producing 8 games with 3 or more passing TDs, 6 performances completing 20+ passes, 6 appearances at or above 71.4 % completion rating, 7 games generating over 400 total yards of offense, rushing for 90+ yards through 6 games, already at 1,000 overall rushing yards, ranking 1st in the country regarding yards per carry (8 yards on average), already topping his 2022 passing and rushing output with 2 games remaining, making 54 would-be tacklers miss when rushing, destroying those who doubted his passing ability by completing 33/51 passes from over 20 yards for 1,166 Yards, 20 TDs and 0 INTs, setting up Malik Nabers as the country's leading receiver (1st in yards & yards per game), with #2 WR Brian Thomas Jr ranking #1 for TD catches, leading LSU to 5 comeback victories down double digits (2 in 2023), toughing through injuries, near murderous hits or blindside sacks with an iron eye of the Tiger toughness usually only seen in the greats, all as he faced rabid fan & analyst criticism for a season and a half straight....I ask you:
What can't Jayden Daniels do?
More than a list of stats, Jayden Daniels has transformed the way LSU play offense in 2023, and, if you look at the next QBs in line (Nussmeier, Collins Jr, Hurley), he is undoubtedly changing the scope of the Tigers' quarterback position in the years beyond his era in Baton Rouge:

The Tiger slingers of the future are all chosen because they fit the Daniels blueprint:

Dual threat, uber-athletes possessing high character & the intangibles JD5 exhibited since he first walked through the doors at LSU Ops.

It wasn't long ago when LSU were looking for the next Joe Burrow on the recruiting trail, hoping Myles Brennan (recruited before Joe's arrival, but developed during and after Joe), Max Johnson, TJ Finley, Walker Howard or Garrett Nussmeier would be "the next Joe".

Now that Brian Kelly, Joe Sloan & Mike Denbrock have taken over LSU's quest for the next great one, they stopped pipe-dreaming on 17 year olds being "the next Joe";

Now, Kelly, Denbrock and Sloan pursue their love of true dual threat athletes who fit their system, rather than live in the shaow of 2019.....meanwhile, it turned out LSU's coaching staff already had "the next Joe" on roster, as well:
Once JD5 married his relentless rushing abilities alongside a newfound passing touch, the results were always expected to be special, but what we're witnessing is unequivocally the greatest LSU QB display alongside Joe Burrow's epochal 2019; You could even make a great argument that JD5's unbridled rushing pace, power, vision & stamina make him even more problematic to stop than Joe.

Although JD5 has made it look easy time and time again, capping it all off with his recent transcendental briliance over Florida, LSU's 3 defeats point to the adversity this team has faced, almost completely on defense, or at times on special teams.

Quite simply, without Jayden Daniels, LSU might have 6 losses in 2023....

.....with The So Cal Kid wearing purple & gold, Brian Kelly's Tigers were in every game, against any opponent....but due to the disastrous defense, there's only one real major goal that's still on the table: finishing both LSU seasons with 10 wins, facing a revenge date against A&M two days after Thanksgiving.

The biggest shame of LSU's 2023 season will always revolve around how Head Coach Brian Kelly & his staff allowed their defense to be so bad that they even ruined a potential championship-contending season.

Against Alabama, Ole Miss and Florida State, the entire country witnessed Matt House's historically poor defensive unit take wins directly out of Daniels' hands.....taking a College Football Playoff run, SEC Championship Game return, and even more right out of the equation, regardless of Daniels' excellence.

Now, with two games remaining, wrongs must be righted:

Following the massive Heisman buzz JD5 received from national talking heads following his indescribably brilliant 606 yards and 5 total TDs vs Florida, Daniels could still win the award, if not receive a consulatory nomination & New York City invite.

But now, you can see it in his eyes, can't you???

During his last 2 games, led by a testy battle vs A&M this weekend, all college football fans should buckle up & get ready:

Daniels is going to continue to show Tiger fans and college football fiends all over the world repeated, consistent and remarkably efficient dual threat wonderment of the likes we've never seen before on a football field...


By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN

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