College News & Analysis

College Football Week 1: Previewing the epic Florida State-LSU rematch

2K5PK5D Baton Rouge, United States. 08th Oct, 2022. LSU Tigers quarterback Jayden Daniels (5) looks to pass against the Tennessee Volunteers, Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Tennessee defeats LSU 40-13. (Kirk Meche/Image of Sport) Photo via Credit: Newscom/Alamy Live News

• Everything a football fan could ask for: Heisman-candidate quarterbacks, breakout stars, dynamic pass-rushers and extremely high stakes.

Jayden Daniels still poses a threat on the ground: Daniels was an absolute nightmare on the ground all year, leading all quarterbacks in rush yards, yards after contact and missed tackles forced. Florida State witnessed firsthand how Daniels’ legs could keep the Tigers in games, as he ran for 133 yards on 13 carries in their clash last season.

• Jordan Travis looks to take another step: A season ago, Travis' 95.1 passing grade on 20-plus-yard throws ranked second in the Power Five behind Drake Maye among qualified passers. And LSU was among the first to witness his improvement in this area.

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

The college football season is upon us, and with it comes the first matchup with major playoff implications, as No. 5 LSU will meet No. 8 Florida State in Orlando in a rematch of an incredible 24-23 battle last year that ended in favor of the Seminoles.

This showdown has everything a football fan could ask for. Heisman-candidate quarterbacks, breakout stars, dynamic pass-rushers and extremely high stakes.

In preparation, we’ll break down some of the impact players and highlight what may carry over from last year’s matchup.

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Jordan Travis vs. Jayden Daniels: A contrast in style

This contest will feature two of college football’s breakout quarterbacks from 2022. They figure to be at the forefront of the Heisman Trophy conversation, but they go about their business in very different ways.

Florida State’s Jordan Travis came into 2022 as an athletic passer who held the ball longer than almost anyone and finished the year with just 11 big-time throws.

His improvement was immediately evident in those two areas, as he cut his average time to throw from 3.25 seconds, the fourth-longest in the FBS in 2021, to 2.84 seconds, a mark just inside the top 50 in the nation.

Travis also showed tremendous improvement throwing the deep ball, as his 95.1 passing grade on 20-plus-yard throws ranked second in the Power Five behind Drake Maye among qualified passers. LSU was among the first to witness this improvement.

Travis’ quick decision-making (88.5 passing grade on throws under 2.5 seconds) and newfound penchant for big-time throws (27 in 2022) make him the perfect complement for a Seminoles team that ranked inside the top 15 nationally in rushing yards per game.

While Travis slung deep balls downfield all year, Jayden Daniels became college football’s premier scrambler.

Jayden Daniels' rushing metrics (2022)
Metric Total Rank (out of 101 QBs)
Rush yards 1,079 1st
Rushing grade 81.4 12th
Rush TDs 11 T-6th
Scramble yards 668 1st
Yards after contact 682 1st
Missed tackles forced 54 1st

Daniels was an absolute nightmare on the ground all year, leading all quarterbacks in rush yards, yards after contact and missed tackles forced.

Florida State witnessed firsthand how Daniels’ legs could keep the Tigers in games, as he ran for 133 yards on 13 carries in their clash last season.

Coupled with Daniels’ scrambling ability is his ability to avoid turnovers. He committed just three turnover-worthy plays in 2022, with a turnover-worthy play percentage of 0.6% that led the nation. He simply doesn’t give the football away.

In fact, Daniel’s career 1.6% turnover-worthy play percentage leads all FBS quarterbacks with at least 300 dropbacks since 2016. He has an elite ability to take care of the football. In a sense, he is very much like the college version of Jalen Hurts. Though Daniels doesn’t make a ton of big-time throws (12 in 2022), his ball security, accuracy and scrambling ability are among the most dangerous weapons in the country.

Star Wide Receivers

Where there are prime-time quarterbacks, there are usually elite receivers raking in production.

Coinciding with Jordan Travis’ deep ball improvement was Pokey Wilson (99.9 deep pass receiving grade) and Johnny Wilson (98.5) dominating downfield.

Pokey Wilson, the dominant player against LSU last year, is gone, but the 6-foot-7 Johnny Wilson remains one of the most tantalizing talents in the country.

Wilson is a unicorn who could vault himself into first-round conversations in the 2024 NFL Draft. He was also one of the most efficient receivers in the country last year, leading all Power Five receivers (min. 50 targets) with 20.9 yards per catch and 3.36 yards per route run.

Wilson also has a new running mate in Michigan State transfer Keon Coleman. While Coleman’s 76.1 overall grade doesn’t jump off the page, he was the highest-graded receiver at Michigan State and battled while the rest of the Spartans offense struggled.

The interesting thing about Coleman is that he may fit very well with Travis’ newfound vertical passing ability. Coleman’s 97.9 deep receiving grade ranked second in the Big Ten behind Marvin Harrison Jr. If he can fill the void left by Pokey Wilson’s graduation, the Seminoles’ passing game will continue to be incredibly dangerous.

Leading the way for the Tigers is junior Malik Nabers. He posted a team-best 77.6 receiving grade that ranked seventh in the SEC, while his 1,017 receiving yards was bested in the conference only by Tennessee's Jalin Hyatt.

Nabers is easily the Tigers’ best returning threat and a tackle-breaking machine. His 21 forced missed tackles ranked eighth in the FBS last season despite barely ranking inside the top 50 in targets.

Nabers had a relatively quiet game against Florida State last year, finishing with five catches for 42 yards. He heated up toward the end of the season, leading the nation with 513 yards from week 11 onward. With LSU not returning another player with 40 catches or 500 yards from last season, the team will need Nabers to have a big game on Sunday.

Dominant pass-rushers

There are several future NFL defensive linemen on these two teams, and nobody was better in last year’s matchup than Florida State’s Jared Verse. Verse was unblockable, coming away with two sacks, seven total pressures, three other pass-rush wins and a field-goal block that was crucial in an eventual one-point game.

In just his second game as a transfer from Albany, Verse put up an 87.6 overall grade and 88.9 pass-rush grade that stood as his best of the season against an FBS opponent. He was the primary reason Jayden Daniels was running for his life, and he was dominant from both sides of the defensive front.

Verse was the best player on the field last season. Consequently, LSU’s team pass-blocking grade of 42.0 was their worst of the season. Their top priority will be finding any way possible to keep Verse from dominating them again.

LSU will miss Maason Smith in this year’s game, but they’ll gain their best defensive player in edge rusher/linebacker hybrid Harold Perkins. Perkins didn’t play any defensive snaps in last year’s matchup, and it’s possible that he could have made a huge difference. His talent as a Micah Parsons-esque playmaker is undeniable.

He’s an elite rusher off the edge:

And he can cause major issues from a traditional linebacker position:

Perkins led the Tigers with 10 sacks and finished second on the team with 41 pressures despite rushing the quarterback just 163 times. His 90.9 pass-rush grade ranked 10th among all players with at least 150 pass-rush snaps, and he led the Power Five in pass-rush productivity. That pass-rush grade is a historic mark. The only freshman with 50 pass-rush snaps and a better grade was Myles Garrett in 2014.

It is possible that we’ll be watching the first pass-rusher eventually taken in the 2024 and 2025 drafts in this game. Pass protection will be paramount, but both teams finished outside the top 50 in pass protection last year. The pressure will be on both quarterbacks — especially Jordan Travis, now that Perkins will be starting — to make plays under pressure.

Could the ground game be the difference?

It’s always difficult to predict what will make the difference when two teams of equal talent square off. Last season, it was two blocked kicks from the Seminoles that won them the game.

One guess is that one of these teams will perform better on the ground, likely out of necessity. Florida State racked up 132 yards last year, but it wasn’t efficient, as they needed 36 carries to get there. Meanwhile, LSU couldn’t get anything going outside of Daniels’ scrambling, as they gained just 63 yards on 18 designed carries.

Daniels was the only player on either side to put up at least 50 yards on the ground. His presence as an option threat is what makes LSU’s inside zone scheme so effective.

LSU 2022 inside zone rankings
Metric Total Power Five Rank (out of 69)
Rushing grade 87.6 7th
Yards 1,167 6th
TDs 26 1st
Explosive Runs 29 T-7th

Successfully running bread-and-butter zone plays is essential to LSU’s success. Against the Seminoles last season, the Tigers ran inside zone just eight times for 40 yards and no explosive plays. That yardage total was their second-lowest in any game all year.

They’ll need more plays like this in order to turn things around this weekend:

Conversely, Florida State had most of its success against the Tigers when running counter. This allows them to create numbers by pulling linemen and tight ends across the formation.

This was the only avenue of success for the Seminoles, as they gained 102 of their 132 rushing yards on counter plays. The difficult part of defending it is that they have so many layers in which they can deploy the same scheme.

It could be a traditional handoff:

A quarterback keep:

Or even something tricky:

The Seminoles rode this strategy to massive success all year. In fact, no team in the Power Five was better.

Florida State 2022 Counter Rankings
Metric Total Power Five Rank (out of 69)
Rushing grade 89.6 1st
Yards 1,067 1st
TDs 12 1st
Explosive Runs 37 1st

Florida State was the best team across the board when running counter last season. Tulane was the only FBS team with a higher rushing grade on such plays, and they ran it less than half as often. LSU will have to stop this package of plays to slow the Seminoles on the ground.

The rematch between these two teams has everything a college football fan could ask for. With so much on the line in the first game of the year for both teams, there are bound to be some unexpected happenings that hopefully make it as epic as last year’s matchup.

If it lives up to the hype, the 2023 college football season will be off to a brilliant start.

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