Updated: Aug 18, 2022
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Arriving in Baton Rouge this winter as a head-turning, eyebrow-raising transfer from Arizona State, junior QB Jayden Daniels is beginning to carve out a starting job at LSU, assuming control of first team reps during fall camp & sending veteran QB Myles Brennan packing in the process.
For Daniels, Brennan's absence now provides clarity; The settled nature of fall camp suits his chill demeanor perfectly. Sure, the intense, back and forth battle between himself and Garrett Nussmeier is nowhere near complete, yet for the former Pac 12 transfer & California-born slinger, things are beginning to look up for the first time in over a year.
Despite his Pac-12 pedigree, dual threat capabilities or experience, Daniels traveled a long road to get to this point:
At Arizona State for 3 seasons, starting off with a brilliant freshman campaign, things quickly unravelled over the past two years.
First off, Daniels' former team dealt with major recruiting scandals under Head Coach Herm Edwards, stemming from hosting recruits amid 2020's Covid 19 pandemic, actions which not only scoffed at NCAA regulations, but rather seriously defied state and federal law.
This led to forced resignations from Offensive Coordinator Zak Hill & NFL icon / Defensive Coordinator Antonio Pierce, plus the firing of three more assistants.
It didn't help matters when Daniels' own mother was named in further NCAA allegations against Arizona State (allegedly paying for players' airfare; assertions Mrs Daniels vehemently denies).
Due to these compounding incidents, Daniels' presence at Arizona State was now an untenable situation.
Daniels' problems at ASU weren't just occurring off the field, either:
His own performance levels took a major dip over 2020's truncated pandemic "season" as well as this past fall (10 TDs and 10 INTs).
Frustration took over as he couldn't trust his young receiving corps (only 2 ASU receivers totaled more than 400 yards: Equally concerning, no player caught more than 580 in 2021); It's worth noting, in the face of ASU's tumultuous adversity, Jayden still posted the Pac 12's best completion percentage of 2021 (65.4%).
However, once many ASU analysts and fans made it abundantly clear they didn't rely on Daniels anymore, pointing to his two year regression after 2019's electrifying debut, the California-native knew he had to leave Arizona State if he wanted to achieve ultimate success.
But his decision brought unthinkable consequences:
Feeling abandoned by their starting quarterback, Arizona State's players destroyed Jayden's locker in retaliation....branding him a "traitor" & even posting a live video of their locker trashing. At one point, the player holding the camers roars "he sucked anyways!"
Simultaneously, ASU's fanbase lit up social media with a storm of vitriol towards the young quarterback.
Now there was no turning back.....the only question: Where would Daniels land?
While other schools within the Pac 12 pursued him, Jayden set his sights on a more ambitious destination.
Once LSU's Brian Kelly and Joe Sloan made contact, things moved quickly until the San Bernardino-born QB would be moving far South....to the SEC.
“My decision to enter the transfer portal was probably the best decision for me and my future career for the goals I want to accomplish,” Daniels explained during LSU's media availability, “Those conversations with Coach Kelly; I showed interest in them and they showed interest back. (I) just had the opportunity to come play at the highest level.”
“I always enjoyed my time at Arizona State, love Coach Herm (Edwards) and those guys over there, but just for my career, my future, I decided to go somewhere else just so I can reach into that untapped potential. I get to showcase my talent on a national stage. Coming here and competing at the highest level with all these weapons here, all these resources, it’s very intriguing for me.
At the end of the day, I didn’t want anything handed to me, and I felt like (LSU) was the best spot for me.”
Daniels' arrival was shrouded in mystery and curiosity from the Tigers' fanbase, wondering if the magic of his freshman year could be duplicated, maybe even topped....or was it lost altogether?
Some were more dismissive of Daniels' chances from the outset:
For the majority of LSU's off-season, most Tiger fans believed Myles Brennan or Garrett Nussmeier would become their starting quarterback.
Their early previews of Daniels' abilities failed to impress, with many dismissing him as a "run first quarterback".
Throughout Spring, Jayden's mechanics were off....his footwork was all wrong, his passing became askew and he bailed on plays far too quickly, only seeming to trust in his legs.
But after Jayden Daniels worked alongside QB Guru Jordan Palmer all off-season, LSU's SoCal quarterback sharpened his game at the right time.
Then, Jayden made a high risk / high reward move which grabbed the full attention of his teammates and coaches:
Immediately after the climax of summer conditioning, Daniels made a major push for the trust of his teammates, inviting LSU's receiving corps and O-linemen on a trip back home to San Bernardino for next level training; Accordingly, Brian Kelly's impressed staff couldn't look away.
Taking such a strong work ethic initiative, during a time when his teammates were supposed to be resting up for fall camp, this was the leadership & desire Brian Kelly wanted to see out of his quarterback.
Because of this move, as well as his increased passing improvement, Daniels grabbed a hold of the QB lead early in fall camp, further developing a tight chemistry with his offensive teammates.
Now deep into fall camp, Daniels is progressing by the rep, connecting well with each of LSU's dominant receiving corps, hitting tight ends Kole or Mason Taylor for big gains, alongside nicely timed combinations to LSU running backs underneath.
Jayden continues to make quick decisions, accurate throws, repeatedly evades pressure for extra yards (his next level speed clocked in at 21 miles per hour at one point), but most of all, Daniels appears comfortable holding the reins.
Though red shirt freshman Garrett Nussmeier has every chance to turn the quarterback race on its head once again, or Brian Kelly could theoretically deploy both quarterbacks through LSU's first three games, all indications are pointing toward Jayden Daniels starting against Florida State on September 4th.
The past 12-16 months have been a long road for Daniels, yet he continued to persevere, improve or grow from each troubled detour along the jagged path, readying himself for this moment....this season....at this school...
By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
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