Scooter Hobbs column: Citrus creates juicy QB race

Published 12:48 pm Wednesday, January 4, 2023

You plan the big trip, spend all that money to take the kids to Disney World, and then all the little munchkins want to do is jump up and down on tacky couches and make snow angels in a big pile of dusty Cheez-It.

You end up scrounging through the orange-stained turf and get caught sneaking a quick bite off the floor from the Cheez-It leftovers.

Five-second rule? What a pure Embarrassing Dad Moment for LSU head coach Brian Kelly, huh?

Dad, people are watching us!

But can you get the danged kids to quit jumping on the orange couch all over the Cheez-It mascot and back on the field to finish this thing? Leave that cheezy mascot alone.

Oh, never mind.

Yes, it was the best of all Orlando vacations for LSU. The Tigers got the run of America’s theme park capital, got to do whatever they wanted to from start to finish, but mostly something like 63-7 in the Cheez-It Citrus Bowl over what looked like a hapless Purdue team.

The LSU program will return home from that fantasy land feeling so much better about itself, ready to tackle next season with higher expectations.

But never mind Kelly’s “process” having LSU in a proper postseason mind-set.

The LSU coach sure knows how to spice up a purple and gold offseason.

But first things first.

The most lopsided bowl win in LSU history put the shine on the happy face of Kelly’s first season, one that was losing some finishing luster. It insured that his first year will be remembered not for fading with consecutive losses to Texas A&M and Georgia but for beating Alabama, winning the SEC West and …

OK, let’s be honest here. Purdue wasn’t going to beat LSU. From the very start, that much wasn’t exactly a hidden Mickey.

But forget the narrative that Purdue was missing too many vital pieces — opt-outs, you know — to make a game of it.

LSU didn’t get much sympathy last year when it showed up far more depleted for a Texas Bowl debacle against Kansas State. The Tigers needn’t apologize for routing a Purdue team missing a few key offensive players.

It was beyond even Boilermakers interim assistant coach Drew Brees’ help.

And LSU was missing a few opt-outs, too, although mostly on defense.

It didn’t matter. Even if LSU was heavily favored, the Tigers still had to show up ready to play — sometimes an iffy proposition in the “meaningless” column of the bowl schedule. But the Kelly imprint on the program scored another point.

This should be about how LSU played, how ready to play the Tigers were, how efficiently they operated.

But, bless his heart, that wasn’t all Kelly did.

Buckle your chin straps. Throw another log on the Twitter fire and hang on to your rumor mill.

It’s on.

When Kelly turned it into a two-quarterback game, he turned LSU into a Two-Quarterback Offseason. And there’s nothing LSU fans love more than that kind of action.

Kelly denied it, of course.

True, LSU used three quarterbacks, as even true freshman Walker Howard was allowed to chunk it around during mop-up.

For that matter, star wide receiver Malik Nabers, the game’s MVP, might want to throw his hat in the ring after going 2-2 in the air with a 45- yard completion and a short TD toss.

It was that kind of game. Your next door neighbor might have taken a few snaps with no harm done.

But Kelly said it was always the plan for backup Garrett Nussmeier to play in LSU’s third series — when, by chance, the budding rout was still revving up at a mere 7-0.

“There’s no quarterback controversy,” Kelly said. “Jayden (Daniels) is still our No. 1 quarterback.”

Maybe it was just a hunch when, after two more series were entrusted to Daniels’ more experience hands, Nussmeier came back in again … and again.

Maybe it was just a coincidence that Nussmeier’s first truly meaningful snaps one game after a Daniels’ injury forced him off the bench of helpless cause to throw for 294 yards in one half against Georgia’s real defense.

It was hard to analyze it too much Monday against the backdrop of all kids-style fun and hijinks the Tigers were having.

Both had their way whatever they tried, just like the rest of the Tigers.

Daniels did nothing to suggest he’s not the best choice to start at quarterback next year when he returns for his — what is it? — 10th, maybe 12th season of college football.

Nussmeier can still scare you with the chutzpah to gun-sling it into coverage.

Somebody at least wanted to see if the Georgia game, which was already a lost cause, was a fluke or not.

Or maybe it was lip service to keep Nussmeier’s eyes from taking a look at the transfer portal.

Not so, Kelly said.

“I absolutely, 100 percent believe that all three quarterbacks are going to be with us,” Kelly said, “and we’ve had conversations (about it) with all of them.

“The most important thing is when you have two really good quarterbacks, you have to have an open mind. You can’t be close-minded.”

Translation: Don’t doubt him. But bring popcorn anyway.

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at scooter.hobbs@americanpress.com