Daniels bolsters Heisman case, walks off a winner for LSU

Published 7:16 pm Saturday, November 25, 2023

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Jayden Daniels momentarily dropped to one knee after taking what might have been his final snap in an LSU uniform. He tossed the ball to an official as he stood back up, raised both arms repeatedly to acknowledge the roaring crowd and hugged receiver Brian Thomas.

Then he walked into the tunnel behind Tiger Stadium’s north end zone believing he had “most definitely” done enough against one of the nation’s top defenses to bolster his Heisman Trophy resume.

Daniels passed for four touchdowns and accounted for 355 yards of total offense, helping No. 14 LSU beat Texas A&M 42-30 on Saturday.

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“He’s a dynamic player and he’s up for the Heisman for a reason,” Texas A&M interim coach Elijah Robinson said. “At any given point, he can make a play — and he did.”

Daniels completed 16 of 24 passes for 235 yards and ran 11 times for 120 yards — a fine day by most quarterbacks’ standards but somewhat short of his usual production this season.

“First of all, (Texas A&M) is a top-10 defense in the country and I think their defensive line is outstanding,” LSU coach Brian Kelly said. “You throw for four touchdown passes against that defense and put up 42 points, it sure as heck can’t hurt you. And obviously running the way he did, I just think he strengthened his case for the Heisman.”

Time will tell if Daniels did enough to win over Heisman voters, who’ll get an additional look at two other top candidates — Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. and Oregon QB Bo Nix — when their teams meet in the Pac-12 title game next Friday.

The finalists will be invited to New York for the trophy presentation on Dec. 9.

“We’ve got to see what the other guys do,” Daniels said. “But I think I made my case to get invited up there.”

Malik Nabers caught six passes for 122 yards and two TDs for LSU (9-3, 6-2 SEC). In the process, he became LSU’s career record holder in receptions with 186, eclipsing Wendell Davis’ mark of 183.

“It was an emotional game for me,” said Nabers, a projected first-round pick in the NFL draft. “I knew what I needed to come in here and do in my last game in Tiger Stadium.”

Nabers has 2,980 career receiving yards, 21 short of Josh Reed’s LSU record.

“I’m still going to break that one,” Nabers said, pledging to play in LSU’s bowl game.

The Aggies (7-5, 4-4) closed to 35-30 when Jaylen Henderson found tight end Max Wright for a 51-yard touchdown with 7:20 left.

Daniels quickly directed LSU back downfield with a 45-yard completion to Nabers that might have been a 75-yard TD if not for a holding call on Kyren Lacy at the A&M 30. Still, Daniels got the Tigers in the end zone with his 15-yard strike to Lacy for the final margin.

Daniels’ biggest play with his feet was a 49-yard scramble on fourth-and-4 to set up Josh Williams’ short TD run, cutting A&M’s lead to 24-21 in the third quarter.

Aggies kicker Randy Bond missed a 32-yard field goal and Henderson was intercepted by linebacker Greg Penn, allowing LSU to take a 28-24 lead on Daniels’ 23-yard fade to Brian Thomas in the corner of the end zone.

Nabers’ leaping touchdown catch along the sideline made it 35-24.

LSU took a 7-0 first-quarter lead on Logan Diggs’ short TD run, which was set up by Daniels’ 21-yard scramble.

The Aggies responded with 10 straight points on Le’Veon Moss’ 2-yard TD and Bond’s 48-yard field goal.

Daniels had scrambles of 13 and 23 yards to help set up his 6-yard TD pass to Nabers for a 14-10 lead. But the Aggies took a 17-14 halftime lead on Jake Johnson’s catch-and-run for a 14-yard score.