That’s what Heismans feel like. This week was my annual trip to Baton Rouge, and I got treated to the best individual sports performance I’ve ever seen in person. I’ve seen Madison Bumgarner pitch a shutout to win a wild-card game, I’ve seen Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier dominate their way to National Titles by themselves, I went to the Garden for all of Henrik Lundqvist’s first ballot Hall of Fame career. I have never, ever seen anything like that. When Joe Burrow left LSU, I hadn’t seen him play in person. I was determined to not repeat that mistake with Daniels because I knew we’d be telling our grandchildren about him. Of my 4 visits to Tiger Stadium so far, this was by far the most special. The hospitality was unbelievable, taking shots from the Ice Luge ruled, Shaq at Fred’s was electric, Big Cheesy has me rethinking my commitment to healthy eating. This is a core memory to me, Baton Rouge I love you with all my heart.
You all know the stats, 606 yards of total offense, 372 passing, 234 rushing, 5 total TDs, but the feeling of inevitability was what will stick with me. The defense played terribly again but I never cared, I never cared when they screwed up a couple of 4th downs or blew a kickoff return because I knew that when he touched the ball there wasn’t a thing Florida could do to resist him. I had never felt that until Joe Burrow, and I had obviously never felt it since. That’s what Heisman winners feel like, and I think the nation feels it too.
Daniels’ biggest leap this year has been his accuracy, and he took it to “Fuck You” levels on Saturday. Because Daniels has a bit of a tendency to drop his eyes and abandon reads when pockets get dirty, Florida’s game plan was to rush 5 and 6 and play a ton of man coverage. As I’ve written a bunch this year, the slot-fade is LSU’s automatic answer to man coverage. LSU spread Florida out and allowed Daniels to pick his matchups, knowing he could make the tight throws and knowing his WRs would win. Here they take a page from Tennessee’s book, getting into 4 wide with a stack into the boundary, pairing the frontside slot-fade with a “now” screen into the stack depending on the structure of the secondary. They get into single high so he just takes the fade and drops it in the bucket.
One of LSU’s core pass concepts this year has been the Sean Payton staple called “Shock”
Shock is a concept to a 3-WR side (ignore the 2 WR side in this image) that usually pairs a choice route by number 3 (the Y in this case), a slot-fade to number 2, and an outside hitch by number 1. This gives you answers against any coverage depending on what you pair it with on the backside. Against press-man you can take the slot-fade, against cover-3 you can take the hitch, against quarters you can take the choice route (or in the case of Shock X Lucy above, you can read off the Mike to see if you’re taking the Y or the X choice but that’s neither here nor there).
What LSU has done is pair Shock front-side with something different tagged for the back-side X depending on what coverage or pressure they think they’re gonna get. On this one, LSU tags a glance route backside by the X to beat blitz. One could call this “Y Shock X Glance.” Daniels quickly sees the Will and the Down Safety blitz and sees the Mike stick with the Y, so he snaps his eyes off the frontside concept and hits the glance into the voided space.
Here, Florida only rushes 5, so there’s not the same void in the underneath middle that a full blitz creates. However, they still play man coverage, so LSU decides to conflict the Free Safety by tagging a go route to the backside. Daniels likes the matchup for Thomas, so he holds the FS with his eyes and drops another one into the bucket.
Here, LSU expects Cover-2 or a loose Quarters so they tag a “basic” route (15 yard quick in-breaker) backside to get underneath the Weak Safety. However, Florida wisened up to this concept and played brackets on the slot and X here, while remaining tight to the Y shock and outside hitch, so the concept is taken away. However, they’re rushing 4 with an additional spy on the QB so they don’t account for the RB on his check release. Daniels doesn’t panic, sniffs it out, and hits the back late for a huge gain. This LB doesn’t even think about accounting for the back. That’s how afraid they were of his legs......
With good reason, we’ve seen very, very few QBs with this kind of athletic ability, elusivity, and long speed, joining a list with legends like Lamar Jackson, Michael Vick, Kyler Murray, and Justin Fields. The way he makes guys miss in tight spaces, erases angles, and weaves through space looks more like an elite kick returner than a Quarterback. They’re playing a similar structure to the last clip, but this time the LB takes the back and loses Daniels. Not that he’d be able to catch him anyway.
His scrambling ability is a huge floor-raiser. Even when he screws up his read a bit, he can get into creation mode and manufacture explosives out of mistakes. He could have thrown the comeback here but double-clutched it. Even from there, he could have worked backside to the seam bender to Nabers and hit it underneath the S when he saw them rotate to single-high (depending on how they teach this read). Misreads like this have been rare on his tape this year, but they’ll happen sometimes to anyone, and regardless, it’s an explosive play.
It’s not just scrambles of course, LSU breaks out a wrinkle, OUTSIDE zone read. There’s full flow to the frontside including the backside DE so he just takes it out the back. Great blocking on the perimeter by 8 as well. This run topped out at 21.8 MPH, which would have registered as the third fastest top speed of any NFL player to this point in the season, behind only Tyreek Hill and Devon Achane.
Lamar Jackson won the Heisman with 3 regular season losses. One of those losses was a 28-point beatdown to a 3-loss GROUP OF 5 team in which his offense scored 10 points, another of those losses was a meltdown at home to KENTUCKY in which his side entered a 23.5-point favorite. In that game, Lamar Jackson racked up plenty of rushing and passing yards, but he also turned the ball over 4 times and choked the game away. Lamar Jackson won the Heisman anyway because anyone with eyes could see clearly that he was the most outstanding player in the sport that year. Jayden Daniels has 3 losses, but none of them are his fault, he balled out in each of them, including the one he left with an injury while the game was competitive. None of these losses are on him, none are as bad as Jackson’s 2 bad losses, and there is no Deshaun Watson-level challenger (who beat Jackson that year head-to-head, by the way). QB wins are not real, and in the same way the writers discarded pitcher wins to rightfully hand Jacob deGrom his first Cy-Young, the Heisman voters have a massive responsibility to award the Heisman in accordance with what it’s actually for:
The most outstanding PLAYER in college football, Jayden Daniels.