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2023 Football Opponent Previews: LSU Tigers

In one year Brian Kelly took the worst LSU team of the millennium and transformed them into a 10-win team. What’s next?

SEC Championship - LSU v Georgia Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Welcome back to Rock M Nation’s annual opponent preview series of the upcoming season. Each week we will break down one opponent from the schedule in chronological order. Given that rosters are ever fluid - and this is done by a hobbyist rather than a pro - there could be some errors in history and current roster makeup. All mistakes are done on purpose and with ill intent because I don’t like you or your team.

Catch up on previous 2023 opponent previews!

South Dakota

Middle Tennessee

Kansas State



Prepare yourself: Brian Kelly is going to win a national championship at LSU.

How do I know this? Simple: since 2000 - which is about as far back as I’d go to cite the “modern era of college football” - every LSU football coach hired has won a national championship. And only one was a good coach!

Nick Saban won his natty in 2003. Les Miles’ Cro-Magnon teams, chock full of NFL talent and 1950s-style tactics, won a national title in the magical ‘07 year and then made a reappearance in ‘11. Even recruiter extraordinaire/walking caricature Ed Orgeron won a title in his brief four-year stint.

So if Miles and Orgeron can win one at LSU, Brian Kelly absolutely can as well.

Look at LSU’s SP+ history:

LSU’s Historical SP+ Performance

LSU has consistently been 20ish points better than the average college football team since 2005, and will rocket up in choice special years to 31 or 33 points better. Its one of those rare schools that has easy access to talent, a treasure trove of gold to spend, and the reputation/history to reel in elite classes and field excellent teams regularly, regardless of the man in charge. They do lose games, of course, but have consistently been one of the best teams year-to-year.

Remember Missouri’s win over them in the 2020 season? That was the second-worst LSU team since 2000. I’m super happy that Joshuah Bledsoe read that pass and swatted it away in the end zone because I’m not sure how frequently LSU will be that bad and have Missouri on their schedule.

The 2021 squad that featured a lame-duck staff halfway through the year was the worst product that LSU has put on the field in the modern era...and Brian Kelly took those remnants plus a few transfers and turned it into the 13th best team of last year:

2022 LSU Schedule Results

The Florida State loss in Week 1 remains baffling, as does the weird trip-up against a woeful A&M team on the road. And, yes, Tennessee and Georgia boat raced LSU off the field but this was still an excellent team and it was Brian Kelly’s first year on the job, taking a 6-7 team and turning them into a 10-4 team.

Must be nice to only stumble and never fall.

Coaching Staff

SEC Championship - LSU v Georgia Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Brian Kelly - 2nd Year - 10-4 (6-2)

The two-faced carpetbagger from Notre Dame might not be as funny as he thinks he is, forces a terrible southern accent, and - oh yeah - was responsible for the death of a student videographer, but damn if he can’t coach a football team.

Coach Kelly’s Resume

Kelly has been a head coach since 1991, starting at Grand Valley State. With the Lakers he won six conference titles and two national championships before getting called up to Central Michigan. It was there that he turned a guy named Dan LeFevour into a Heisman contender, the second player ever to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a single season, and helped generate the name “Baby Tebow”. That led to a transcendent run at Cincinnati where he won 10+ games in all three years before landing the Notre Dame job. There Kelly was able to max out recruiting and wins at a restrictive institution with difficult barriers put in place to craft an effective modern college football team. The fact that he got Notre Dame in a BCS championship and the Playoff is a miracle, and Kelly realized that it was going to take more than what he was currently doing in South Bend to climb that final hurdle. So he went down to Baton Rouge and has woken up the LSU monster after a single year. Yes, it’s only one year and, yes, there could be regression. But he has been a proven winner at every stop with a career record of 273-100 and it would be shocking to see him not succeed at one of the best football schools in the nation.

Assistant Staff

Mike Denbrock - Offensive Coordinator: Coach Denbrock is a good offensive coordinator. He previously worked with Kelly as his OC at Grand Valley State for six years, then bounced around five jobs in a ten-year span before reuniting with Kelly as his OC at Notre Dame. Denbrock then was hired away from South Bend to join Luke Fickell’s Cincinnati squads before reuniting with Kelly last year. His offense relies on the run - including an active quarterback in the run game - and having a quarterback make safe decisions in the passing game. It works really well at the college level and his offenses consistently rank highly, especially when he has the personnel he wants.

Matt House - Defensive Coordinator: You might remember Matt House from his excellent work at Kentucky in 2017 and 2018. Or maybe you remember him as the linebackers coach for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2019-2021. In either case, the dude is young and very good at what he does, crafting defenses that rely on four-man pressure from the line and linebackers that can do a little bit of everything in front of a shell secondary that swallows up routes and limits damage through the air. House is yet another name of excellent defensive minds to pass through the halls of LSU football.

John Jancek - Special Teams Coordinator

Joe Sloan - Quarterbacks

Frank Wilson - Running Backs

Cortez Hankton - Wide Receivers

Brad Davis - Offensive Line: You probably remember this guy from his tenure as Missouri’s offensive line coach from 2018-2019, or when he followed Barry Odom to Arkansas in 2020, or perhaps as his time as LSU’s interim head coach after Ed Orgeron was fired in 2021. His ‘22 offensive line might be his greatest yet and he’s a damn good recruiter to boot.

Jimmy Lindsey - Defensive Line

Robert Steeples - Cornerbacks: Steeples played corner for Missouri for three years before transferring to Memphis to finish out his career. After graduating he played for the St. Louis Rams, Minnesota Vikings, Kansas City Chiefs, and Dallas Cowboys over a three-year frame before heading to the coaching ranks. He was De Smet’s head football coach from 2016-2020 before briefly working as a special teams coach for the Minnesota Vikings. He’s now at LSU and, apparently, was the main reason former Missouri defensive lineman Mekhi Wingo transferred to LSU, as well as the catalyst for LSU’s increased recruiting presence in the 314. While I am happy this former Tiger is doing well he’s also, currently, a detriment to my favorite college football team and so I boo this man. Booooooooo.

Kerry Cooks - Safeties


Mike Denbrock likes to run the ball, and he really likes it when he has an athletic quarterback to contribute to the ground game as well. Think of Everett Golson, DeShone Kizer, and Malik Zaire at Notre Dame, or Desmond Ritter at Cincinnati. All of those dudes were equal threats through the air and the ground and that was Denbrock’s happy place where his offense could really cook. Luckily for him, Arizona State transfer Jayden Daniels had the arm and athleticism that fit the bill and Denbrock was able to ride him to nearly 3,000 yards through the air and almost 900 yards on the ground. Behind an elite offensive line LSU’s offense was able to do nearly whatever they wanted, finishing 3rd in rushing success rate, 14th in passing success rate, and 4th in standard downs execution. While ranking a healthy 60th in pace, LSU managed almost 72 plays per game on a near-national low 11 average possessions per game. The Bayou Bengals valued efficiency over explosiveness, made smart reads, always grinded out at least 4-yards, and had the 3rd-best 3-and-out percentage in the country (16%) thanks to the best offensive line in terms of stuff rate (1st) and opportunity rate (6th). Even with starting two true freshmen at both tackle spots, the LSU line was young and one of the best in the nation and returns everyone. Expect another year of stellar offensive play.

LSU v Arkansas Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Quarterback - Jayden Daniels - Senior

Jayden Daniels Stats

The one-time Mizzou transfer portal target, Jayden Daniels saw that he could either be a dude that could play in a regressive offense that featured outside zone and a few bubble screens to Luther Burden OR be the focal point of an efficiency-based offense that featured a mobile quarterback and a huge collection of NFL talent. For his career, I’d say Daniels chose correctly. He finished the year with the 10th-best completion percentage in the country while only tossing three interceptions. He also lead the team in carries (186, counting sacks) and yardage (885, counting sacks) with 11 touchdowns. He gained a 1st-down on 37% of his rushes and managed 3.7 yards after contact despite getting hit after 1.1 yards gained. His ANY/A of 6.8 was slightly higher than the national average but that’s because the receivers were some of the least-explosive threats in the nation. The real issue, however - as it is with most mobile quarterbacks - is that he got sacked a lot, 10% of the time, to be exact. Which is wild since his offensive line - again, with two freshman tackles - allowed a quarterback pressure on 19% of passing plays, 3rd-best in the country. If Daniels learns to not run into sacks and his receivers learn to break a few plays, he could see himself playing in a Heisman-contending season.

LSU v Arkansas Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Running Back - Josh Williams - Graduate Student

LSU’s ground game featured Jayden Daniels the most but also provided a steady, three-headed attack from the backfield, starring Josh Williams at 97 carries, followed by Penn State transfer Noah Cain and 4th-year John Emery, Jr. both at 76 carries on the year. The three combined for 249 carries, 1,316 yards, and 22 touchdowns on the ground and, frankly, can probably do just as well this year with the excellent offensive line in front of them. LSU’s rushing attack was the 3rd-best in the country, gaining at least 4-yards on 55% of their carries and being the lone explosive spark for the offense. Expect the ground game - and, therefore, the offense - to effectively rely on these three running backs (plus Daniels) once again.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 03 SEC Championship - LSU vs Georgia Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Wide Receiver - Malik Nabers - Junior

First off, Malik Nabers rocks: 100 targets, 72 catches, 1,017 yards, 10.2 yards per target and only a 2% drop rate is awesome, no matter how you quantify it. Everyone else though....meh? Kayshoun Boutte had a terrible 10% drop rate, tight end Mason Taylor was a 7.4%, and Brian Thomas, Jr. was at 9.6%. That’s your top four receivers dropping the ball nearly 8% of the time...not great! Boutte is gone but the other three return so that’s a good thing. However, every receiver on this team had a short-route target percentage over 40%. Think about that...their most common routes were shorter than 5-yards. LSU! With freak athletes all over the field! Whether that was by choice (Daniels) or design (Denbrock) is unclear, but with no intermediate routes and a handful of deep tosses it feels like the passing attack was hamstrung all year. It’ll be interesting to see if a more experienced receiving-corps helps open up the playbook a bit.


LSU’s offense might wax and wane through the years but the one thing that stays consistent is their elite defense. Thanks to their ability to recruit swamp monsters that can do anything and everything, LSU’s defenses have ranked between 2nd and 20th in SP+ every year except for 2015 (34th) and 2020-2021 (69th, 57th). Last year’s squad rebounded from that two-year doldrum to finish 26th in 2022 and now return 60% of last year’s production. True, they weren’t the immovable object of yesteryear, and allowed a few too many easy gains or big plays, but were stout in the red zone, limited points once teams got into scoring position, and were Top 25 against the pass. And with a handful of returning stars plus the blue-chip replacement machine to fill in the gaps, I’d predict this defense to be pretty great once again.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 02 Cheez-It Citrus Bowl Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Defensive Line - Mekhi Wingo - Junior


The former St. Louis star and Missouri Tiger transferred to LSU and broke my heart and has forced me to not like him. What a stinker.

Other than him LSU loses three of their starting defensive linemen. Sai’vion Jones and Jacobian Guillory have depth experience but LSU brought in six transfers - Paris Shand (Arizona), Jalen Lee (Florida), Jordan Jefferson (West Virginia), Preston Hickey (Oklahoma State), Bradyn Swinson (Oregon), and Ovie Oghoufo (Texas) - to fill in the gaps. As a Missouri fan who witnessed the defensive line transformation from ‘21-’22, I feel confident in saying at least two of those six will absolutely hit and work out great.

LSU Tigers v Georgia Bulldogs Photo by Steve Limentani/ISI Photos/Getty Images

Linebacker - Harold Perkins, Jr. - Sophomore

Say hello to one of the most dynamic freshmen performers of the 2022 season. On a middling 498 snaps, Perkins logged 74 tackles (2nd on the team, and 44 of those were solo which was the best on the team), 13.5 tackles for loss (1st on the team by seven TFLs), 7.5 sacks (1st on the team, plus had a 15% pressure rate), 4 passes broken up, 4 forced fumbles, and 8 run stuffs. He even tied the school record of four sacks in a single game, which he achieved against Arkansas. He was a freshman All-American and, yet, still couldn’t get on the field as much as Micah Baskerville or Greg Penn! That won’t be the case this year as he switched to the “I’m a star” single digit jersey of #4 and will absolutely be the starter this year.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 02 Cheez-It Citrus Bowl Photo by Russell Lansford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Defensive Back - Greg Brooks, Jr. - Redshirt Senior

LSU’s secondary is getting a hard reset as five of its top seven defensive backs from last year’s rotation are gone. Greg Brooks played more snaps than any other defender and swiped away five passes while intercepting two, but Major Burns is the only other DB that returns with more than 300 snaps during last year’s campaign. To counter, LSU portaled in two safeties - Welton Spottsville from Kennesaw State and Andre’ Sam from Marshall - as well as four cornerbacks to fill in.

So what does it all mean?

2023 LSU Schedule

Man, it is tough to play in the SEC West. Granted, LSU is projected to be at least a touchdown better than all of their opponents except for Florida State and Alabama but there’s just no let-up in the most loaded division of the most loaded conference.

After opening at a neutral site against Florida State, LSU will have a touch up against Grambling before playing Mississippi State, Arkansas, Ole Miss, and Missouri, with three of those being on the road. Remember when I told you Missouri was Kansas State’s third-toughest projected opponent? Yeah...Missouri is LSU’s ninth-toughest projected opponent. Yikes!

Missouri will be coming off of a road trip at Vanderbilt and, most likely, will be facing an opponent that will be projected to be a huge favorite. The Kansas State game is the season’s first big test for Mizzou, and the game against LSU will be the second. Whether the Good Guy Tigers are 5-1 or 6-0 or 4-2...winning this game has the potential to say a ton about the Eli Drinkwitz tenure whereas LSU will be seeing this game as a tricky road tilt in the way of an SEC and National Title.

On paper LSU should win handily but a rebuilding defense and a (hopefully) rejuvenated Missouri offense could create a second Mizzou-LSU shootout in CoMo. Let’s hope, at the bare minimum, it’s an entertaining game.