LSU’s Kelly aims to keep QB starter for season opener secret

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
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BATON ROUGE, La. – New LSU coach Brian Kelly is hoping his team can keep a pretty big secret for a week leading up to the revamped Tigers’ season opener.

Kelly said Monday that he’d known for about 48 hours who will start at quarterback this Sunday night against Florida State in New Orleans. But he added that he’d rather not announce whether it’ll be redshirt freshman Garrett Nussmeier or Arizona State transfer Jayden Daniels until as close to kickoff as possible.

“Certainly I think everybody here wants to know who the quarterback is; I get that,” Kelly began. “But I think it’s a tactical advantage for us not to announce it.

“Look, Florida State played a game; that’s an advantage for them,” Kelly continued. “So, it doesn’t help us to give up any of our cards in that sense. So, we’re going to hold on to our card until game day.”

The Seminoles enter the Labor Day weekend showdown in the Superdome with LSU on the heels of a lopsided 47-7 victory over Duquesne in Tallahassee, Florida, last weekend. The Tigers, meanwhile, are about to kick off a new era under Kelly, who was lured away from Notre Dame by a 10-year, nearly $100 million offer from LSU.

Kelly said back when fall camp opened in early August that his staff had a relatively large number of decisions to make about the starting lineup, particularly at quarterback, cornerback and offensive line.

Nussmeier and Daniels have been in a tight competition throughout, Kelly said, indicating that both should expect to see playing time this season, regardless of who starts.

“There’s some great similarities between the two in terms of what they’re able to do,” Kelly said. “They both run extremely well. They both can make plays outside the pocket and certainly we don’t have to change the play-calling. … This is a 1A and 1B. This is not a 1 and a 2. And both of them obviously are going to contribute this year.”

Whoever the backup is should remain “so engaged” in the game – with their helmet on – “because they know how close they are to playing every snap,” Kelly added.

“We’re going to be natural in the ability to get to the next play with the next quarterback,” the coach said. “This isn’t that you have to turn over your play sheet and go to Jayden Daniels play calls or the Nussmeier game plan.”

Kelly was more forthcoming about the offensive line, whose most experienced player, tackle Cameron Wire, started just four games last season.

Kelly said once Garrett Dellinger, who had played both tackle and guard, demonstrated he also could be effective playing center for the first time in his career, “everything else was able to fall into place.”

Dellinger had to learn not only new techniques as it related to snapping the ball and then quickly getting into a blocking stance, but also to how to call out blocking assignments on the line of scrimmage.

“There’s a lot going on there,” said Kelly, who has built a reputation for developing offensive linemen. “Here’s a guy that hadn’t played the position, so that’s a big ask.”

Kelly said junior Anthony Bradford and Central Florida transfer Miles Frazier would start at guard, while Wire and freshman Will Campbell would start at tackle.

But he added that several other linemen would get snaps.

“We’re probably not in a position right now where 72 plays for the inside guys and the outside guys is feasible,” the coach said. “We’re probably going to have to play 7 or 8 guys.”

At running back, John Emery Jr. would appear to be the front-runner – if he’s eligible. Kelly was ambiguous about that.

“John’s done everything that would allow him to remain in good standing with the football program, but I have things that are out of my control as it relates to who I can play – and that’s not something I can comment on,” Kelly said.

If Emery can’t play, Penn State transfer Noah Cain and sophomore Armoni Goodwin appear to be top options.

Kelly did not comment on who’ll start in the secondary, but a handful of players acquired recently from other college teams appear to be in the mix.

Ohio State graduate transfer Sevyn Banks, Oklahoma State senior transfer Jarrick Bernard-Converse, Louisiana-Lafayette junior transfer Mekhi Garner and McNeese State graduate transfer Colby Richardson all have gotten good looks in practice.

NOTES: LSU announced that linebacker Antoine Sampah has entered the transfer portal. Sampah missed all of last season with an injury after appearing in four games for the Tigers as a true freshman in 2020.

WVU RB Donaldson in concussion protocol, out for Baylor game

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) West Virginia running back CJ Donaldson is in concussion protocol and will miss next week’s home game with Baylor after he was injured in a loss to Texas, coach Neal Brown said Tuesday.

Donaldson remained on the ground after he was tackled on a short gain in the third quarter of Saturday’s 38-20 loss to the Longhorns. His helmet and shoulder pads were removed and he was carted off the field on a stretcher. After the game he was cleared to travel home with the team.

“He’s recovering,” Brown said. “There is a strict return-to-play (policy) that we have to follow here and I’m zero involved in it. All I do is ask the question. They don’t even start the return-to-play until they’re symptom free.”

Donaldson, a 240-pound freshman, leads the Mountaineers with 389 rushing yards and six touchdowns, with an average of 6.9 yards per carry.

West Virginia (2-3, 0-2 Big 12 Conference) is idle this week and hosts Baylor (3-2, 1-1) next Thursday, Oct. 13.

Taulia Tagovailoa says he visited brother, Tua, over weekend

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COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa was able to visit his brother, Tua, last weekend after the Terrapins’ game against Michigan State, he said Tuesday in his first comments to reporters since Tua left the Miami Dolphins’ game against Cincinnati last Thursday with a frightening head injury.

Taulia played in Maryland’s win over Michigan State on Saturday but was not made available to the media afterward. He said Tuesday he was able to go to Florida and spend some time with his brother, who suffered a concussion four days after taking a hit in another game but was cleared to return.

“He’s doing good, everything’s fine,” he said. “My biggest thing was just seeing him and spending as much time as I can with him. I came back Sunday night.”

Tagovailoa said he appreciates the support for his brother.

“My brother’s my heart. He’s someone I look up to, someone I talk to every day,” he said. “It was just a hard scene for me to see that.”

Tagovailoa said he was in constant contact with his mother about his brother’s situation, and he was finally able to talk to Tua on Friday night.

“I really just wanted to go there and just spend time with my family, hug them and stuff like that,” Taulia Tagovailoa said. “But he told me he’s a big fan of us, and he’d rather watch me play on Saturday. … After that phone call, I was happy and getting back to my normal routine.”

Tagovailoa indicated that his brother’s injury didn’t make him too nervous about his own health when he took the field again.

“I guess when that happens to someone like my brother, or when anything happens to one of my family members, I don’t really think of how it will be able to affect me,” he said. “I just think of: `Is he OK? How’s he doing?”‘

Although it was a short visit to Florida, he said he and Tua made the most of their chance to be together.

“I just wanted to make sure he’s healthy and stuff, which he is,” Taulia Tagovailoa said.