Daniels delivers: Razorbacks dialed in on Tigers QB

University of Arkansas defensive end Trajan Jeffcoat, shown celebrating after tackling BYU quarterback Kedon Slovis last Saturday in Fayetteville, knows the Razorbacks will have a tough task trying to contain LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels. “I feel like he’s a very quick, very athletic, very, very good quarterback,” Jeffcoat said. “He’s very fast, very shifty. He can throw. He can do it all.” (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)

FAYETTEVILLE -- With temperatures just above freezing and University of Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson sidelined by a shoulder issue, the LSU Tigers played it safe offensively last Nov. 12 at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

Tigers quarterback Jayden Daniels was sacked seven times, lost a strip-sack at his own 10-yard line, rushed for a net of 10 yards and passed for a paltry 86 yards in LSU's 13-10 escape.

A much different tableau is set for Saturday's annual Battle for the Golden Boot at 6 p.m. Central in Baton Rouge, the first game between the Razorbacks (2-1, 0-0 SEC) and the No. 12 Tigers (2-1, 1-0) in September.

The temperature is expected to be in the high 80s for kickoff at Tiger Stadium and Daniels is off to a rip-roaring start that has the 6-4, 210-pound quarterback among the top 10 betting favorites for the Heisman Trophy.

Daniels has completed 73.7% of his passes (70 of 95 with 1 interception) for 976 yards and 8 touchdowns through 3 games, and he's also LSU's leading rusher with 157 yards and 2 touchdowns.

"He's been outstanding," LSU Coach Brian Kelly said. "Obviously, we've won a lot of football games. Certainly, his ability to win the game ... throwing the football and running the ball, he was as good as anybody in the country.

"We've seen a development now that we're through Week 3. We've seen incredible development at the position."

Daniels torched Mississippi State on 30-of-34 passing for 361 yards and 2 touchdowns, plus 2 rushing touchdowns in a little over a half during a 41-14 road win last week.

"I think they're throwing the long ball extremely well right now," Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman said. "So I think we're definitely going to see that. Some of it was stop-and-gos, out-and-ups, things of that nature.

"Mississippi State tried to man-coverage them quite a bit and then Daniels was on. I think we'll see a lot of what they did last week versus probably what they did last year."

Arkansas defenders are gearing up for the tough assignment of trying to contain Daniels.

"I feel like he's a very quick, very athletic, very, very good quarterback," defensive end and captain Trajan Jeffcoat said. "He's very fast, very shifty. He can throw. He can do it all. So he's a really good guy, really good athlete."

Daniels' scrambling is as big of a threat as his arm because of his ability to extend plays against good coverage. The Tigers are converting 57.5% of their third-down plays, tied for fifth in the FBS, largely due to Daniels' creativity.

"They have a great quarterback, so we've got to keep contain of the quarterback," Arkansas safety Al Walcott said. "They have great receivers that can go attack the ball and get in and out of their routes, so I'd say really just keeping the top on the coverage and then keeping the quarterback in the pocket as much as possible, knowing that he's a good scrambler, and he can run and use his legs pretty well."

Daniels' top target has been Malik Nabers, who has 24 receptions for 393 yards and 5 touchdowns. The 6-0, 200-pounder leads the SEC and ranks third in the FBS with 131 receiving yards per game. Nabers also averages 16.4 yards per catch.

Nabers is joined by a strong receiving corps that includes Brian Thomas Jr. (20 catches, 280 yards, 3 TDs) and Kyren Lacy (6-98, 1) and Chris Hilton Jr. (4-62, 1).

"They're doing basically the same thing that they did last year, except their receivers," Pittman said. "[There's] just a difference in their offense with Nabers and Thomas and Lacy.

"I think they're incredibly talented at wide receiver, and I think Daniels ... he was a good thrower last year, but he's putting it on them and they're winning 50-50 balls. They've got a lot of speed."

Notre Dame transfer Logan Diggs (24 carries, 156 yards, 1 TD) has paired with Josh Williams (14-104, 1) and Noah Cain (14-52, 2) to provide run-game balance behind a massive line coached by former Razorback assistant Brad Davis.

The Tigers, who average 192.7 rushing yards per game, will be up against one of the nation's top run-stop defenses. Arkansas leads the SEC and is fifth in the country, allowing 55.7 rushing yards per game.

"Our D-line coach Deke Adams emphasizes physicality, so we've really been getting after it," Jeffcoat said. "The linebackers have been coming downhill as well."

Added Walcott, "Even if I wanted to come from 10 yards back to make a tackle, the D-line and linebackers are already there fitting the gaps and fitting the runs."

The Tigers have been impressed by the tape on Arkansas.

"Their front seven is really good, super talented," Diggs said. "They play a lot of man. They're going to challenge us and we want to embrace that challenge."

Said LSU center Charles Turner, "They're definitely scrappier than any other D-line we've faced this year. It will be a good challenge. ... The thing I noticed is they play with penetration very, very well."

The Hogs will face their toughest task yet against Daniels and the Tigers, who sport the nation's sixth-ranked offense with 537 yards per game.