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LSU FRESHMEN & SOPHOMORES TAKEOVER: BEHIND THE YOUTH MOVEMENT CARRYING KELLY'S TIGERS

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By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN

@LonnPhillips


Realistic LSU fans always understood the unique challenges of this season.

Introducing a new coach and overhauled staff, instituting a different culture, adding 16 new transfer players (most from the state of Louisiana), suffering the departure of NFL pedigree talents at key positions, whether through the Draft or transfer portal, all as the Tigers' fanbase bemoaned missing out on in-state 2022 recruiting talents Jacoby Mathews, Aaron Anderson, Kendrick Law or Shazz Preston....anyone could tell Brian Kelly's debut year would be a time of transition.

But what those fans took for granted???

At that time, only a month and change into his tenure as LSU Head Coach, Brian Kelly and his staff secured key local prospects as well as current & future pillars on LSU's 2022 roster, newly minted Tigers who are making an immense, immediate and indelible impact upon the team right now.


I wrote extensively for the past year and a half about how LSU's 2022 local class would become a major factor in turning the page from the program's post-Burrow era malaise.....but even I'm finding myself either startled by Kelly's willingness to rely on youth or stunned by their readiness.

True freshmen offensive line tandem Will Campbell and Emery Jones Jr just enjoyed an unbelievable debut outing together as bookend tackles, shutting down lauded defensive coordinator Zach Arnett's front for 0 pressures and 0 sacks vs Mississippi State.

Their individual or combined performances were special, playing beyond their years in their SEC debut. According to Pro Football Focus, Jones Jr & Campbell placed inside the SEC's top 5 highest graded offensive linemen, showcasing a very bright future for the next few seasons.

Without question, both Jones Jr and Campbell are two players dripping with NFL sauce.

Meanwhile, linebacker Harold Perkins is putting offenses under siege, standing apart as a merciless, speedy, uber athletic destroyer, hunting and filleting opponents as if he was just starting his sophomore season rather than a butterflies-induced SEC debut.


Leading Matt House's defense in tackles during his first start vs Southern, before grabbing a sack and a half against Mississippi State in another first string outing, Perkins currently ranks as LSU's 4th leading tackler, also tied alongside BJ Ojulari and Saivion Jones as Jamar Cain's leading sack artists (1.5 each).

At tight end, Mason Taylor fits in well, appears beyond his years mentally & physically, making heads up plays (his dive out of bounds to preserve one final play on the clock during his collegiate debut), chewing up ground with each opportunity (58 yards, 6 catches, averaging 9.7 per catch).

No doubt Mason Taylor is a player we'll see lining up as LSU's starting tight end for the next few years. Sure enough, as he carves out his own path, the apple doesn't fall far from the genetic tree:


Taylor already possesses some of his Hall of Fame father's physical tools, combined with plenty of his own hybrid tight end pass-catching abilities.

There's also 5 star Louisiana powerhouse QB Walker Howard, elite DE prospect Quency Wiggins, center / defensive tackle Fitz West Jr as well as DBs Laterrance Welch & Jordan Allen, all freshmen who could come on late in the season or who's ultimate time may not be here just yet (Howard looks set for a red shirt).

Outside of these hungry freshmen, a crop of LSU sophomores are continuing to announce themselves for a second consecutive season, or introduce their names to the national spotlight for the first time.

Banishing the Superdome demons, Malik Nabers is now leading the Tigers in receiving at 199 yards while producing an impressive 87% catch completion rate, rarely targeted despite his strong, consistent route running.


LSU's 2021 All-SEC Freshman selection responded masterfully to his pair of game-changing fumbles inside the Superdome two weeks ago. Without Nabers hauling in four catches on 3rd & 4th down during the Tigers' penultimate drive, LSU may not have come out on top vs Mississippi State.

Trading Missouri for Louisiana via the transfer portal, sophomore Mekhi Wingo followed up his own All-SEC Freshman nod in 2021 with a superb outing over his first three games as a Tiger.

Recovering a last minute fumble vs Florida State to supply Jayden Daniels with an incredible comeback opportunity, Wingo can also be seen sacking quarterbacks, breaking up plays in the backfield or at the line, even pressuring quarterbacks from side to side due to his unrelenting, underrated athletic ability;

Overall, Wingo has been an utter revelation....and he may just be in line for more awards this fall.

The sophomore already posted an 86.9 run stop rating (10th highest defensive tackle in America) and a 77.2 grade all together as a defender for Jamar Cain's defensive line.


Armoni Goodwin is also rebounding after a tough, injury prone debut season as a Tiger.

After dealing with ankle issues throughout 2021, it still doesn't surprise me:

Nearly a quarter into the campaign, Goodwin is LSU's leading running back rusher at 175 yards (averaging 6.7 per carry).

Bursting off a 47 yard headlining finisher vs Miss State, Goodwin laid claim to his team-leading 3 touchdown runs, also assisting Josh Williams' opening tap-in score vs Southern after another full throttle gash down the sidelines.


Then there's the curious cases of Jack Bech and Brian Thomas Jr, both holding a touchdown catch to their name through 3 games while being miserably under-utilized.

Thomas Jr is averaging 13.4 per grab from just 9 receptions while Bech's senseless absence on the part of Kelly's offensive staff limited last year's leading Tigers receiver to just 4 targets, 2 catches, 22 yards and the score vs Southern.

Both are due to erupt at any possible moment....New Mexico outlined as ground zero.

Defensive back Sage Ryan shares the national lead regarding fumble recoveries and made a brilliant pass break up on 4th and goal vs Florida State.

No question we should be seeing Ryan take to the field more than he has, but with veteran senior Jay Ward now taking over at nickel, I wonder whether Cooks & Steeples could move the versatile Faulk relative to corner or safety.

Linebacker Greg Penn III may receive some criticism over his first three appearances of 2022, however the second year Tiger is still contributing as he finds his way.

Starting for these first three games as Coach House's third ranked tackler (14 tackles, 11 solo, 3 pressures, 1 QB Hit), Penn added a few plays via one batted pass and fumble recovery vs Southern.

Due to a susceptibility in coverage, the De Matha High prospect's place is under direct threat by another sophomore, a transfer...

West Weeks hasn't played perfectly, yet he's delivered tenacity, drive and always maximum effort on every play. The former Oconee High teammate of Max & Jake Johnson also made his share of plays, stripping the ball alongside Ali Gaye, grabbing tackles for loss and batting down a pass with Jay Ward vs Miss State.

On Brad Davis' offensive line, trusted second year OL Garrett Dellinger is a major asset, his versatility and motor along the interior allows freshmen Will Campbell and Emery Jones Jr to hone in on their craft.

Elsewhere, you also must keep an eye on track speed DB Matthew Langlois, potential star WR Chris Hilton Jr, skilled edge rusher Zavier Carter, among a slew of other names.


Despite its limitations, Kelly's debut roster is layered with bombastic young talent, forged in the fires of Louisiana's work ethic and ultimate Tiger desire.

The rise of these young players isn't anything new to LSU, a program accustomed to their fair share of superstar youth over the course of its history.

But for a school that turned out first year prodigies such as Leonard Fournette, LaRon Landry, Booger McFarland, Justin Vincent, Marcus Spears, Derek Stingley Jr, Devin White etc upon etc, this year's freshmen have been called upon to help Brian Kelly's LSU straight out of the gates.

And though this year will be anything but easy, LSU's 2022 freshman class, shown the way by 2021's sophomores, are responding to the challenge brilliantly....as if they're building towards something special just over the horizon.


By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN

@LonnPhillips

©️ 2022 Uninterrupted Writings Inc


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