By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Closing out their 2022 home schedule, LSU throttled UAB 41-10 behind QB Jayden Daniels' 408 combined yards, a strong outing from Matt House's defense (48 total rushing yards allowed), Noah Cain's 3 rushing scores, and sophomore showstopper Malik Nabers' team-leading single game total of 129 yards, while Jack Bech, Mason Taylor, John Emery Jr & Brian Thomas Jr pitched in TDs or big plays.
Facing an inferior opponent, the story was always going to revolve around whether Daniels & Mike Denbrock's offense could rebound from their 86 passing yards & 13 points vs Arkansas.
Daniels hit the mark, throwing for 297 yards with 1 TD pass to Brian Thomas Jr, yet the bulk of LSU's end zone touch arrived at the feet of Frank Wilson's running back corps.
Signifying the Tigers' true 2022 identity of overpowering bully ball, LSU's ground attack became central focus.
Leading the way, quarterback Jayden Daniels rushed for 111 yards & another score, his third 100 yard game & 11th rushing TD.
Right behind him stood Noah Cain, earning 76 yards alongside a hat trick of touchdowns.
Riding in a backseat role behind Williams and John Emery Jr after a strong start to the year, Cain grabbed his next opportunity with both hands, slapping down 9 first downs for Denbrock's offense to keep rolling, averaging 5.8 yards per carry.
Continuing his sneaky good 2022, Cain's 7 touchdowns now ranks him only behind Jayden Daniels as LSU's leading scorer.
Next, John Emery Jr ran well, showing off his elite moves & pace as he scored his 4th overall TD on the season with a waltz (matching his career high from 2019), tacking on 43 yards & 9 attempts.
But John's 2 fumbles stripped the Tigers of really setting down a marker vs UAB.
Following John's 3rd and 4th fumbles of 2022, all lost, Emery Jr is fumbling the ball every 14.25 carries (57 carries, 4 fumbles....do the math).
Such a dynamic player at his apex or even in 1st gear (as he has been most of this year while still proving effective), after 4 gaffes, it may take quite a lot from their former 5 star to win back Kelly and Wilson's trust.
Heading into the game, we wanted to see 300 passing yards from Daniels, with some touchdowns to our receivers to boot, and though we didn't quite get our wish, off the mark by 3 yards and just 1 receiving touchdown, Daniels constantly found his targets downfield for big plays, often setting up Denbrock's offense around the goal-line.
Through the air, Malik Nabers accepted the #1 receiving role with a career performance, 129 yards & 7 catches in lieu of Kayshon Boutte, out with an illness.
Nabers' 129 yards was just 14 short of his career high, rising above defenders or making tough catches on errant throws look routine.
Malik continues to prove he is the complete package and the next great Tigers wide out, a playmaker who should prove pivotal if LSU are to overcome Georgia in the SEC Championship Game.
Nabers now has 657 yards on the season, catching 51 passes from 71 targets at a 12.9 average, earning 34 first downs while making 17 tacklers miss.
Elsewhere along LSU's receiving corps, finding his first targets since the Tennessee game, Jack Bech was back to his explosive self vs UAB, catching 3 passes for 61 yards, earning three first downs with gains of 19, 13 and 29 yards.
It was great to see one of LSU's key offensive players finally receive extended snaps and a few opportunities, Bech making the most out of his 4 targets from Daniels.....although LSU's quarterback missed or ignored numerous deep shots down the seam to a wide open #80.
Freshman tight end Mason Taylor made a few nice plays, catching 3 balls for 39 yards, yet he should feel some soreness this morning after fighting off a few low stingers, wincing in pain throughout the game.
On the other side of the ball, Matt House's freight train defensive unit continued their intimidating relentlessness, holding UAB under 50 yards rushing, their top rated running back DeWayne McBride to 34 yards from 19 attempts and UAB's only score on the night....continuing a theme where LSU hold opponents' #1 rushers well below their season average.
Defensively, linebacker Greg Penn III led the team in tackles for the second straight weekend, wrapping up 8 total, 5 as a solo artist and 1 tackle for loss, repeating his enveloping displays vs Alabama and Arkansas.
Harold Perkins was his usual posterizing self, bringing consistent pressure on UAB's Dylan Hopkins, delivering 4 pressures, 2 QB hits, 5 tackles, 1 PBU and 2 brilliantly executed tackles for loss on the perimeter, headlined by an instant classic against a receiver in coverage.
BJ Ojulari may not be credited with a tackle for loss officially, however he was a millimeter or a bad spot away from three tackles in the backfield, including 2 on the quarterback, just narrowly missing out on two sacks.
Don't be fooled by Ojulari's 2 pressures, 1 hit, 1 hurry and 2 tackles:
In what was likely his final game at Tigers Stadium, Ojulari produced another mountainous performance.
Saturday was definitely Ali Gaye's final outing at Death Valley, & the Gambian-American icon played like it, recording his 2nd sack on the season.
Week 11 was one of Gaye's best nights of the year, recording his second most pressures (3), 1 tackle for loss, 1 QB hit & 1 QB hurry before he pulled off his favorite past time at LSU: breaking up a pass with another swatted throw at the line.
At 73.5, Gaye graded out as LSU's 2nd overall ranked defender vs UAB.
Could Gaye potentially be coming into his own at his highest level of play...right as he embarks on the final games of his LSU career?
Overall, LSU's secondary played well, denying UAB anything of substance, despite some errant throws by Hopkins missing a wide open Shopshire on more than a few occasions.
Receivers dropping passes also plagued UAB and let LSU's secondary off the hook.
Regardless, Mekhi Garner and Sage Ryan both stood out, denying a single catch from 6 combined targets;
Jarrick Bernard-Converse was beaten on a few plays, allowing 3 catches from 6 targets for 49 total yards, but he also broke up a pass and battled well on deep shots;
Jay Ward only gave up 7 yards from 1 catch, broke up another pass (his 5th on the season) while marshaling Cooks / Steeples' DBU with intensity.
When looking at the game overall, I'm a bit stoic, though an optimistic stoic.
This was a 41-10 sleeper where LSU cruised to victory, perfectly capable of putting up 65 points on UAB had they been playing at full throttle for 4 quarters.
Week 11 became a night where Daniels missed 5 or 6 wide open deep shots to elite receivers, John Emery Jr coughed up the ball twice amid the rain-soaked conditions, while DBU could've given up more yards in the passing game against a better quarterback.
On special teams, Brian Polian's group remain clueless on their return coverage, surrendering a 66 yard kickoff return due to slapstick tackling & poor alignment...the returner only thwarted by senior WR Jaray Jenkins' hustle tackle.
At the same time, we watched an LSU team continue to build offensively:
Daniels repeatedly hit downfield passes for Nabers or Bech & ripped a solid TD bullet for Brian Thomas Jr.
It was great to see offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock find moments to reintroduce Jack Bech's dynamism back into the offensive structure, Frank Wilson found he can count on Noah Cain, LSU's offensive line made a 180 degree turn from their bad game last week (0 hurries, 0 hits, 0 sacks, 0 penalties compared to 7 sacks & 18 pressures vs Arkansas) and Malik Nabers continues to prove he's more than capable of taking Boutte's #1 receiver spot.
Plus, it never hurts when your starting quarterback is impossible to tackle in open space or in his own backfield, forcing 8 missed tackles while cobbling together 408 total yards.
Just one thought:
I can't stand to see the big hits on Daniels as he's going out of bounds, let alone an uncalled targeting helmet to helmet hit after he was held up by a defender.
The hit jarred Jayden's helmet nearly off his head, exposing his face as he went to the ground.
Bryce Young or CJ Stroud get that call.
Referees must protect Daniels more than they have:
On multiple occasions, defenders know they can get away with late, harmful shots on Daniels, rarely receiving a flag for their hits.
Another reason LSU's passing game is beyond integral....without an innovative passing game vs UGA, Daniels will absorb one blow too many.
Moving to 9-2, the exact win total this site predicted before the campaign, Kelly's Tigers now head into a regular season finale against Texas A&M, knowing two profound things are beginning to set up their potential championship run:
1. They are booked for 2022's SEC title game vs #1 UGA...only toxic, pisspoor, bowl-less A&M in their way.
2. #5 Tennessee, a team many claimed "deserved a CFP spot over LSU no matter what" (due to their head to head blowout win over LSU) just lost in devastating, season-altering fashion 63-38, Heisman-hopeful QB Hendon Hooker going down through non contact injury.
Last night's events, as well as if LSU can overcome #1 Georgia, would go a long way in sealing their return to the College Football Playoff in Brian Kelly's debut season.
Lastly, 17 LSU seniors were honored before the game, a list of Tigers including plenty of 2019 championship veterans, all aiming to come out & level their final opponent as Tigers inside Death Valley.
We celebrate, thank & acknowledge all of them:
-MIKE JONES JR
By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
©️ 2022 Uninterrupted Writings Inc