College Football

NCAA Football: LSU rewrites Citrus Bowl record books in routing Purdue

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LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels runs for yardage in the Tigers’ Citrus Bowl victory over Purdue. Photo by Michael Fettig

ORLANDO – In these days of opt-outs and transfer portals, you never really know what you’re going to get in a bowl game. But a curious thing happened before No. 17 LSU took the field to face Purdue in the Jan. 2 Cheez-It Citrus Bowl at Camping World Stadium.

The betting line moved nearly 10 points in favor of the Tigers leading up to kickoff. LSU went from less than a touchdown, to a double-digit favorite by game time.

The obvious reason was because Purdue (8-6) would be without its starting quarterback and a couple more top players on offense. That can be expected in today’s game, where opting out and transferring has become as casual as changing socks. Not to mention, the Boilermakers’ head coach Jeff Brohm left for a similar position at Louisville.

LSU had some missing pieces of its own, mostly on defense. Still, the Tigers held Purdue out of the end zone until the fourth quarter and allowed the Boilermakers to advance that far only once in a record-breaking 63-7 victory.

“You know, look, you get these opportunities and you want to be able to celebrate your season, enjoy the bowls and the atmosphere, and then you want to go play well,” said Brian Kelly, who completed his first year as the head coach at LSU. “And we did that today. Our guys executed at a high level. They competed at a high level. We were not at full strength, but that did not stop our guys from putting in the time and the effort.”

LSU (10-4) made best use of the players it suited up and recorded its first double-digit win season since the 2019 national championship.

Records fall

LSU’s 594 total yards of offense are the most ever recorded in a Citrus Bowl game. The old mark was set back in 2013 by Georgia, when the Bulldogs rolled up 589 yards on Nebraska. The 63 points scored by the Tigers are also a Citrus Bowl record, topping the 56 points scored by Toledo over Davidson in 1969.

In addition, the 56-point margin of victory is a Citrus Bowl record as well. Previously, Alabama held the mark with a 49-7 victory over Michigan State (2011).

The 99-yard Pick-6 by LSU’s Quad Wilson set a Citrus Bowl record as the longest in the game’s history. It was one of three interceptions by the Tigers and spearheaded a bowl record 122 total interception return yardage. The old mark was 110 yards set by Oklahoma State over BYU in the 1976 Citrus Bowl game.

Players weren’t the only ones opting out of this one. The announced attendance of 42,791 was in no way indicative of the rabid fan base from both programs. This was LSU’s third appearance in the Citrus Bowl over the last seven years. It was the smallest Citrus Bowl game crowd, not counting the Covid year of 2020, since 1979 when LSU defeated Wake Forest, 34-10, before 38,666 in head coach Charles McClendon’s final game at LSU.

At the time the game was called the Tangerine Bowl. It has been known as the Citrus Bowl since 1983.

LSU QBs shine

Included in LSU’s superior effort was that of a pair of quarterbacks that could start for most college football teams. Jayden Daniels and Garrett Nussmeier pushed one another at the quarterback position, as they are anticipated to do in the offseason as LSU prepares for the 2023 campaign.

Both enjoyed success, engineering first-quarter touchdown drives. Daniels took the Tigers down the field for an early 7-0 lead before Nussmeier directed an 8-play, 67-yard touchdown drive on his first series and LSU took a 14-0 lead into the second period.

John Emery and Noah Cain, scored on short runs of 1 and 9 yards respectively to cap the two scoring drives. Cain added a second 9-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. He finished with 58 yards on eight carries while Emery added 52 yards on seven tries.

Both quarterbacks were efficient in teaming up to stake LSU to the early lead, and both added second-quarter touchdown passes as the Tigers’ lead ballooned to 35-0 by halftime. Daniels threw 32 yards to Mason Taylor before Nussmeier tossed 10 yards to Brian Thomas, Jr. and the rout was on.

Daniels finished with 139 yards and a touchdown on a 12-for-17 afternoon. He also rushed for a game-high 67 yards on six carries. Nussmeier threw for 173 yards and two touchdowns, completing 11-of-15 passes with one interception.

WR Malik Nabors earns MVP honors

Enough quarterback touchdown throws; it was time to catch one. The Tigers made it 42-0 early in the third quarter on trick play. Sophomore receiver Malik Nabors, the game’s MVP, took a reverse pitch and tossed it 5 yards to Daniels, who scored, to cap a 9-play, 45-yard drive.

Before the third quarter came to a conclusion, Nabors struck again, this time taking a shovel pass from Nussmeier and weaving his way 75 yards down the field for a touchdown and the Tigers’ lead grew to 49-0 entering the final 15 minutes. It tied for third-longest touchdown pass in Citrus Bowl history, equaling that of Georgia’s Aaron Murray (2013).

Nabors caught 9 passes for 163 yards, both game-highs. He also completed both passing attempts for a total of 50 yards.

“Obviously, Malik was electric today,” Kelly said. “You know, made big plays all over the field, and that’s kind of the mantle of LSU wide receivers, and it’s his opportunity now, and you could see that he wanted to make sure that he made a statement out there today.”

Purdue finally got on the scoreboard, scoring early in the fourth quarter on a 16-yard touchdown pass from Michael Alaimo to TJ Sheffield, who led all Boilermakers with 7 receptions for 56 yards.

LSU unveils a third QB

But the Tigers answered with third-string quarterback Walker Howard, who some say will eventually prove to be the best of the bunch. Howard marched the Tigers 55 yards in 7 plays with Derrick Davis, Jr. capping the scoring drive on a 12-yard touchdown run.

Howard completed 2 of 4 passing attempts for 7 yards.

Both teams were coming off of respective conference championship game losses. LSU was defeated 50-30 in the SEC Championship Game by Georgia, a team that will be playing for a national championship on Jan. 9. Purdue fell to Michigan, 43-22, in the Big 10 Championship Game.

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