By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
While much of the focus of conversation centers around LSU's absences or transitional era under historic Interim Head Coach Brad Davis, we countdown 10 Tigers we're excited to watch during the 2022 Texas Bowl this Tuesday:
QUINTON "PIG" CAGE (DB)
Nicknamed "Pig Cage", the former Nicholls State & Rummel High Raider DB mostly plays nickel, and now as Cordale Flott is likely about to head for the NFL, Cage could be given the starting job covering K-State's slot receiver.
We know Cage has the abilities to play against top level wide outs....on the Houston Texans' home field, the Rummel High Raider teammate of Ja'marr Chase and Koy Moore will likely receive chances to make big plays in coverage, potentially at CB if needed, too.
Allowing 1 catch from 4 total targets, Cage hasn't seen much of the field in 2021, yet he possesses ambition, desire and a never ending quest for brilliance.
His mentality is a conglomeration of LSU's most ambitious and successful players, now, will he back it up on the field?
I believe so.
GREG PENN III (LB)
I feel freshman LB Greg Penn III is about to ignite his reputation as the next legitimately great linebacker at LSU.
Endorsed by Damone Clark, the nation's #1 LB in 2021, lauded by every coach from Orgeron to Olson, Baker, Daronte or Osbourne, all agreeing on the former DeMatha powerhouse's high ceiling, Penn also commands the wow factor through his high football IQ and relentless nature.
Recruited out of Maryland, Penn III arrived at LSU with a lot of excitement and anticipation, though it soon faded amidst the turbulence of LSU's 2021 campaign.
Now, after veteran starting LBs Micah Baskerville & Damone Clark won't appear for the final game, Clark exiting the team with an opt out and a nod of approval toward Penn, the East Coast Tiger is about to rack up a plethora of tackles during the Texas Bowl vs Kansas State....
Any time Penn played this season, he's been elite, and I feel now may be his time.
I believe Penn will be massive for LSU over the next two seasons as the Tigers transition away from the last remaining LBs of our 2019-era.
SAGE RYAN (DB)
Who knows what, where or if we'll see 5 star freshman DB Sage Ryan, a young Tiger marked for greatness by his own fever dream performances, championship pedigree & Faulk bloodline....I am told we have a great chance of seeing Sage though, and with him out there any number of positives can happen for LSU.
Boasting high octane skills in the secondary, able to shore up either nickel or safety, Sage appeared stoic when facing #15 Florida on his debut, breaking up the first career target which was thrown his way.
Breaking up a pass during each of his two outings, starting vs Florida and @ Ole Miss, Ryan is exactly the player LSU need right now....this is the reason the Tigers recruited Lafayette's own DBU prodigy: to help replace the outgoing vets of LSU's 2019 era, such as Cordale Flott, Todd Harris, Derek Stingley Jr or Cam Lewis.
Ryan was brought in to restore that 5 star level, and if health is permitting, I guarantee Sage won't disappoint under NRG Stadium's bright lights....he just may blow the roof off.
MAASON SMITH (DT)
Coming back from a long injury layoff since the Ole Miss defeat, Smith will be hungry to terrorize Kansas State's back field from his favored defensive tackle spot.
Moving back inside after a spell at DE, Maason should form a brutal axis of power along the Tigers' DL with Roy, Guillory or young stunner Bryce Langston;
I'm looking for Maason to forge a strong partnership next to Jaquelin Roy....previewing their future tandem on the field tomorrow.
Grabbing 3 sacks vs McNeese and adding another vs #15 Florida in limited reps or when deployed out of position, Smith is another critically lauded figure of LSU's present and future defensive line.
Fully healthy right as DT Neil Farrell Jr opts out for the NFL Draft, LSU will rely heavily on Maason's diabolical presence up front vs K-State.
MIKE JONES JR (LB)
Without Damone Clark or Micah Baskerville leading LSU's linebacker room, former Clemson transfer Mike Jones Jr will surely start and play a leading role for LSU's defense, offering Tiger fans a rare, extended viewing session of his versatile attributes.
Jones performed at a high level as a pass rusher when he received supporting role reps vs Alabama, sacking Bryce Young in venomous fashion.
Sadly it must be said, he barely took the field throughout his LSU debut season...and why still remains mystifying.
Regardless, Mike Jones Jr is a 2018 National Champion who appeared in 3 straight CFP Playoff tournaments, intercepting Justin Fields in a semifinal....he knows what it takes to overcome the odds.
In little bits of reps, Jones Jr somehow racked up 31 tackles, 1 Sack and a broken up pass, 4 apps. of 4+ tackles.....
Even during a season where we watched the former Clemson transfer standing on the sidelines for weeks on end, the young linebacker cleaned up at the backend of the year, coinciding with LSU's rise on defense.
If Jones Jr is given a chance to start vs K-State, playing extensive snaps from the jump to triple zeroes, the NFL bloodliner will take full advantage of the opportunity to lead LSU's defense as their most experienced linebacker.
JAY WARD (SAFETY)
Still deciding whether to return for one more season at LSU or declare for the Draft, January 4th's Texas Bowl in Houston will be a major game for Jay Ward's future & present.
Playing a more one dimensional offensive opponent in Kansas State, with little success through the air (just 11 touchdown passes between their 3 quarterbacks), Ward could add a few more turnovers to his trio on the season (team-leading 2 INTs & 1 FF).
Hauling in 3 picks last year, including 2 on Ole Miss QB Matt Corral headlined by a pick six return, another miraculous interception on his knees at Florida, as well as an episode where he punched the ball out of Alabama WR Slade Bolden's grasp, Jay Ward has a nose for the brightest lights and biggest games.
Whatever his future holds, Ward will play on Tuesday with a hellbent fury.....do not forget his cannibalistic hit on Bryce Young or how against ULM, a quarter of a centimeter separated him from another interception returned for a touchdown.
MALIK NABERS (WR)
Nabers suffered an injury spell right before the first game week practice of the year, knocking LSU's highly promising freshman WR out of contention to play vs UCLA and McNeese State....but since his return, Malik gradually built a reputation that earned him an SEC Freshman All-American nod.
Malik is cut from the same hard nosed, elite Louisiana high school cloth as legends Ja'marr Chase, Justin Jefferson, OBJ, Jarvis Landry, Josh Reed, among a host of others, palpable greatness just around the bend.
LSU's Lafayette native displayed quick agility, turn of pace & explosive playmaking qualities vs Kentucky, Malik snagged an eyepopping TD at Ole Miss, and who could forget his 143 yard night against ULM, averaging a sickening 35.8 yards per catch from just 4 receptions, capping it off by way of 3 TDs in just a few starts.
Can he keep up his escape artist ways in Houston???
B.J OJULARI (DE)
While Ojulari made our Best XI TIGERS of 2021 countdown, the Nigerian Prince will be annoyed at going without a sack since the Florida game.
Big #8 will have Kansas State's QB Skylar Thompson right in his sights all game long, chomping at the bit for a way into the backfield. Ojulari is aiming to collect multiple sacks on the day for the 3rd time in 2 seasons, maybe even topping his career high "sack-trick" from 2020 (3 sacks vs South Carolina).
Ojulari offers far more than mere pass rushing prowess, as he's displayed across each game in his versatile sophomore campaign:
Ojulari is comfortable dropping deep or bending outside, pulling off athletically stunning solo stops, clogging & flogging opponents' ground attack, here is an elite, all world Tiger who wants to play in this game, an elite talent who is ready to represent the University, and continues to climb even greater heights on the cusp of his junior year....
....first detour: Houston....
COREY KINER (RB)
With QB uncertainty as well as starting running back Ty Davis-Price's exodus to the NFL Draft, LSU's backfield has been turned upside down:
The Tigers now hold just a pair of active running backs on roster, walk-on impresser Josh Williams & freshman wunderkind Corey Kiner, with LB Nick Demas likely switching over to add depth, or walk on RB Corren Norman could also be available.
Now, when I'm presented with this scenario, what do I think?
I feel Corey Kiner will make the Texas Bowl a memorable breakout performance, setting himself up to be LSU's next great running back, following directly in the path of Faulk, Fournette, Edwards-Helaire, and now NFL Draft-bound single season record breaker TDP.
While Kiner will definitely have competition for reps next year, sensing attrition from both John Emery Jr's "gotta have it in 2022" mentality and fellow freshman star Armoni Goodwin, both supremely talented backs capable of becoming NFL stars, I believe Kiner could show the world exactly what he can do on Tuesday, looking to produce an all-world display full of his aggressive stiff arms, violent misdirection, breathtaking spin moves, globetrotting hurdles over the heads of defenders....this is a ripe moment for Corey to really send a message to LSU's new staff under Brian Kelly.
As LSU's offensive line appear mostly intact for the game, potentially minus SEC freshman All-American tackle Garrett Dellinger, with QB Garrett Nussmeier's eligibility hangs in the balance, there's every chance Jake Peetz's offensive playcalling swan song at LSU could feature a bunch of white flag ground game plays....opportunities for Kiner to show just how agile and quick he is off the snap.
A steady dose of running in Houston may not be a bad thing if Kiner receives plenty of carries & our veteran OL block with everything they're made of...
Playing in their final game as Tigers, Austin Deculus, Ed Ingram, Chasen Hines, Cam Wire, and center Liam Shanahan have a responsibility...SET COREY FREE IN HOUSTON...
JACK BECH (WR/TE)
I was feeling Nussmeier, the possible starting quarterback, should be the #1 overall Tiger to watch out for, and I suppose with his eligibility being in the balance, I suppose he still should be considered #1...but on this list, I only want to analyze Tigers I know will 100% play in this game....and Jack Bech has to be at the top of my list.
Able to play at both TE or WR, constantly picking up yards after the catch, and proving to be far more versatile than many predicted, Bech must be LSU's #1 offensive target throughout the Texas Bowl.
Scoring just 3 touchdowns, simultaneously still becoming the team's leading receiver since Kayshon Boutte's season-ending injury, all as he was targeted with less than stellar passes his way or not targeted at all, Bech is due to explode for a big breakout performance, and I'm picking Kansas State to be his latest victims.
The Tigers won't have to look long to find Bech either: with the right outside blocking schemes, Jack can take a simple check down or screen and turn it into a home run....will Peetz's offense or LSU's quarterback finally be able to unleash #80's boundless dynamism?
On crossing routes, Jack is unstoppable....unguardable...if we don't see LSU run at least 8-10 of these favored routes, we're missing easy opportunities to wear down and expose a defense.
Bech is one of LSU's most popular players, just one season into his LSU career....and it's no mystery why:
Whenever Jack is around, great things happen.
Give him the damn ball.
If Nussmeier plays, Bech could go for 200 on Tuesday.
OTHER TIGERS TO WATCH:
CHRIS HILTON JR
BRIAN THOMAS JR
NOW...GIMME YOUR TEN
By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Copyright 2022 Uninterrupted Writings Inc
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