To tempo or not tempo, that is Brian Kelly's question
It’s obvious by now LSU’s offense with Jayden Daniels as starting quarterback is an efficient machine playing at a faster tempo.
The Tigers (2-1 overall, 1-0 SEC West), who host New Mexico (2-1) at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in Tiger Stadium, have outscored Florida State and Mississippi State 41-7 in the last 1½ quarters after being outscored 33-13 in the first 2½ quarters.
When the plays are being signaled in faster and the pace quickens, LSU becomes an offensive monster..
“When we get that tempo, that urgency, we can score points with the best of them,” said Daniels, a junior transfer from Arizona State where he started 29 games.
So if LSU is burning down the house as third quarters become fourth quarters, why can’t the quicker tempo fuse be lit early in games?
“It's not as simple as just saying `Hey, let's go tempo’ and all of our problems have been erased,” LSU coach Brian Kelly said Monday at his weekly in-season press conference.
“Having three different (starting) offensive line combinations (in the first three games) require a lot of communication. We had eight penalties (vs. MSU). Six of them were unforced, five were communication errors. We've got to clean up communication, cadence, rhythm.
“Tempo takes some of that out of the mix. We can just go fast and not have to worry about it. We've been a little bit maybe too detailed. We just got to play and then when you play a faster pace, there are some things you just can't account for. And I think maybe we've overcoached a little bit.
"We're trying to find our sweet spot as to the things we just have to live with and really do a good job of getting the ball out of our hands.”
Though Daniels now has 32 starts as a college quarterback, he continues to be a work in progress as far as knowing when to pass and to scramble.
While it’s good that Daniels is eighth in the SEC in rushing with 225 yards and two TDs on 35 carries, the flip side is LSU has no receivers ranked among the league’s top 10 pass-catchers in receptions or yardage. Such an imbalance doesn’t seem sustainable in the long run since six of LSU’s remaining seven SEC opponents are currently ranked in top 25 in both the AP and Coaches poll.
Daniels’ decision to stay in the pocket and look for open receivers vs. bailing quickly is being dissected by Kelly, offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock and quarterbacks coach Joe Sloan.
“When we evaluate his runs,” Kelly said of Daniels, “we want to see that if it was within the progression or was it really good coverage. Or maybe that play wasn't great against this coverage or we got beat at a particular position and he got flushed vs. he turned down a potential high-low (passing) read and he took off.
“It really is a little bit of both. There's still growth there where he can stay a little bit more patient and a little bit more locked in on the progression. And then, there are times there was just nothing there and he made something happen.
“You want to be careful where you go, `Hey, you're running too much’ and then when he needs to be dynamic he's not. We have to be very careful and along the way keep coaching him to really do a great job of getting through his progressions and seeing the things necessary that allows us to be balanced.”
Here's Kelly on other subjects:
On the return of running back John Emery Jr. vs. Mississippi State after missing 15 games due to academic suspension
“He was elated after the game that he actually played football for the first time in a long time. He was sore, he was tired and I think he had all the feelings that he'd remembered in playing. He was really nervous going in (before the game). But I thought he afforded himself very well. He ran with with pretty good vision for the guy that hadn't played in a while. I talked about rust, there was some. But again, I think all in all he caught the football, played with low pads and he'll get better. So, I thought it was a good first game for him.”
On assessing freshman offensive tackle Emery Jones’ first start
“I would say that he exceeded expectations. Look, you know, he's not gonna be perfect. But he's active. He's got great feet. And he is a great open field tackler."
On doing things strategically to get wide receiver Kayshon Boutte more involved
“This is not one-sided, right? It's never all on the player. It's never all on the coach at this level. I think you'd have to look at both. We’ve got to look at how we can move him around and and utilize his talents. And then, he's got to continue to work hard and work on his skill set. Working together as a team is how you get better.”
On a possible expanded role for freshman linebacker Harold Perkins as an edge rusher
“I think there's a role for him. Certainly, he adds something to our pass rush and certainly we saw why he got the opportunity to play out on the edge a little bit and you saw him inside with some blitzing. I think we found a niche for him in terms of where he can help us.”
On his team maintaining peak physical condition during the season
“I think it's how you practice. We don't condition during practice or after practice. So, it's a matter of managing the practice structure itself that you are getting your team to a workload that the game becomes easier. Then you start to see that in the third or fourth quarter where you can wear down your opponents.
“We're weight training during the season. And it's not a maintenance program. It's a program that we're not putting our guys in a compromising position where they've got too much weight on the bar. But we're being powerful with our weight training and intentional about trying to get our guys stronger during the season.
“So, we want to continue to add strength. We want to continue to condition our players, but also with an eye towards making sure that their workload is such that they can be their best on Saturday.”
On LSU’s special team problems such as allowing long kickoff returns and questionable punt return decisions by Javen Nichols when he fair-caught at punt at the MSU 3 and late in the game dove on a punt as it rolled dead
“The kickoffs (coverage) are a direct result of the kicks. The kicks that have been returned have been line drives down the middle of the field. That is going to compromise your coverage. We don't have a chance to get off blocks and get properly covered. Now, can we get off some blocks and make some plays? Absolutely. And we've got to be better there. So, this is not all on the kicker. However, it does expose you with those types of kicks.
“As it relates to the fielding of the punts, we've got to coach better. I've got to be involved and make sure that those guys are absolutely clear in terms of they cannot move their heels past the 10-yard line. Greg obviously lost track of where he was as a young player.
“The one he tried to field, he felt like it hit one of our players. As he came off (the field), my first reaction is `What are you doing?’ He explained his position on it. You really can't come back with anything else other than `OK, let's take a look at it on film. Maybe we can help you with that decision-making in the future.’ But he's trying to make the right play.”
On an improved rushing attack
“Our run efficiency was much better when we needed to run the football. We were able to do that to close out the football game. I'm pleased with the efficiency of being able to run the ball and short-yardage situations to close out games. Inside the 10-yard line, we've been effective running the football.
“Our backs are kind of what we expected. They're all going to contribute in some fashion and I think they all did. I think they all lended themselves what we're doing from an offensive perspective. Getting Emery back you saw him catch the ball out of the backfield. He was really good in pass protection. I think he'll get better as he continues to get reps and he'll add to the depth of that position.”
On receiver Malik Nabers bouncing back from his two muffed punt returns in the Florida State opener to become LSU’s primary pass-catcher
"He has been able to focus and refocus. He has been able to move on to the next play. And that is a great quality to have, especially in the game of football. You're going to have some adversity and he's had it. He's dealt with it and he's moved on and he's stronger for it. He's been really good. We've seen his ability to make dynamic plays for us on the offensive side of the ball. I just think from that perspective, he's really grown.”