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Line of Scrimmage: Breaking down LSU vs. FSU with Zachary Junda of And the Valley Shook

What does LSU bring to the table on offense, defense and as a whole? Is the hype surrounding the Tigers real? Can Florida State pull off a second straight win?

Florida State Seminoles football is back — and so is the Line of Scrimmage podcast.

Each week, we’ll be speaking with members of the beat that covers FSU’s upcoming opponent, getting the nitty gritty details from those who know those teams best.

Up first — a conversation with with Zachary Junda of And the Valley Shook, who helped us break down the LSU Tigers last season ahead of the first matchup in the series as well as an inside look at the Tigers’ recruiting class earlier this year.

What does LSU bring to the table on offense, defense and as a whole? Is the hype surrounding the Tigers real? Can Florida State pull off a second straight win?

Listen below, as well as on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, Google Podcasts, Stitcher or wherever you listen to your shows, or check out an abbreviated version of the conversation below.

Just like the Seminoles, the LSU Tigers enter this season with big expectations. Last year, year one of Coach Brian Kelly, the Tigers finished 10-4 overall, but had up and down moments. Overall, what do you feel is the biggest reason for the preseason confidence?

They exceeded expectations in year one and now it sort of feels like with that Alabama win and you took out Florida and Ole Miss, you took out Auburn — you kind of got whacked by Georgia, but because you kind of took down some of your rivals and like, “order has been restored” that makes you feel like you’re back.

And just the biggest reason I think for confidence that this Brian Kelly experiment is working right now is just there’s an adult in the room now. LSU has had really high highs — they’ve had some really like, ugh, seasons that the 2020 and 21 seasons when they go 5-5 and 6-7, and in 2008, the year after they win the title in ‘07, they go 8-5 but they haven’t full on cratered. So with Kelly, the hope is [LSU] a proven winner, and you can and should constantly be in that 9-3, 10-2, 11-1 range. And now that the playoff is expanding next year, LSU by all accounts should be in the playoff, they should always be in contention. And Kelly brings that model of consistency. They just feel more professional.

Let’s start on offense. Garrett Nussmeier had his moments last year, but is this truly Jayden Daniel’s team? Or will Coach Kelly be quick to make the change if the offense stumbles out of the gate?

I think this is all Jayden’s team. Garrett Nussmeier might have the strongest arm in college football, that’s great but he’s not the best quarterback on the roster and there’s a huge difference. People want to see Nussmeier's arm and go “wow, look at that throw he just made!” but he’s too much of a coin flip with his decision-making. This is Daniels’ team so much that depending on what sportbook you’re looking at, he’s either in the top five or second to Caleb Williams in Heisman preseason buzz. And there’s a chance he could do it. If you get out of some kind of like Lamar Jackson II type of season, some kind of Manziel type of season where he’s got you know, 2,800-3,300 passing yards and 800-1000 rushing yards with 30 touchdowns and 10 rushing he could really contend — but year, the long way about it is the only way Garrett Nussmeier sees the field is if Jayden Daniels gets hurt, but there’s just no there’s no QB competition as far as I’m concerned. He’s the future but 2024 will come in 2024.

Last year, the offensive line of LSU got baptized in the fire against Florida State. But what was an area of uncertainty, is the line now the strongest position group on the offense?

I think it’s certainly the most talented it’s been from an LSU perspective in a very long time. One of Kelly’s calling cards is the offensive line and he’s really stocked the cupboard at that position. To your point, that first game against Florida State, Will Campbell was a freshman all-American last year. He wound up being great but he went up against Jared Verse and year, that’s what happens. Emery Jones who bookended Campbell on the line was a true freshman all-American right tackle did not play in that game. I don’t know if Emery Jones makes a difference in that game but the tweaking that they did — they had maybe like three different combinations by the first just four weeks until they found something that worked — and Emery Jones, who was actually recruited to be a guard, they couldn’t take him off the field because he was one of their best five and he fit at that tackle spot.

It’s a talented group and more importantly, it’s a group that’s got a lot of experience together. These guys have played together so much. They understand how to move with one another. They know their roles. And the hope is yes, we’ll see a step forward.

Finally for the offensive side of things, let’s talk Tiger skills players. I know most fans know the names like Malik Nabers, Mason Taylor and transfer Noah Cain but if LSU has some big moments on offense this Sunday, who might they come from?

Everything’s gonna start and stop with number eight Malik Nabers. He led the SEC in catches last year and was second in yards. LSU has been on a really hot streak of producing elite wideouts and he should be next.

Taylor really put himself on the map with some iconic moments against Alabama — the touchdown in the fourth quarter, two-point conversion to win it. I don’t how much you’ll see of him because he’s a true freshman but Shelton Sampson from like 10 minutes down the street was a top receiver prospect in this past cycle. I’m excited about him.

Ryan Thomas Jr. is really big-body, he’s from like the next town over from where I’m from — he’s a junior he’s draft eligible he’s like six five and had like legitimate D one basketball offers. We’re kind of still waiting for him to put it together but he’s so big that he could be a potential redzone matchup nightmare.

At running back, LSU’s most successful running seasons have always been more by committee instead of like a one guy like a Fournette or a Derrius Guice. This year with Noah Cain, they’ve got Josh Williams, who really has a great story of former walk-on-turned scholarship player and now LSU is number one back. He’s 5’7” and maybe 200 pounds, but he plays so much bigger than he’s listed that if you need a short yard, he can get you that. Kelly brought home Logan Diggs who is from the New Orleans area, but played his freshman year last year at Notre Dame. He’s in the mix as well. John Emery has been here for gosh, four years now five years I’ve lost count now. And he was coming out of high school, the number one running back recruit and he’s got flashes but has never put together a complete game. But all these guys complement one another so well that they don’t have to have one great running back because they can all do the job and just different differing ways. And you just you also you can’t forget about Daniels’ legs — that might be the biggest X Factor. How much can Daniels hurt people on the ground?

It wouldn’t be an LSU/FSU matchup without Maason Smith missing the game. For the second straight year, the defensive line leader is out, this time thanks to everyone’s favorite defensive tackle eliminator, the NCAA. I know there was talk he was hindered by injuries, but how big of a blow is this loss, and who will fans see step up in his place?

It’s a big blow, especially because it would have been his first game back. And he’s never really gotten the chance to put it all together because nine games as a freshman, what literally one series last year, and just with his measurables he’s projected to be a top 15 pick

When you go to replace him, you can do a lot worse than going with Mekhi Wingo who is a freshman all-American who really impressed last year. He had a bigger impact that I would have expected, which was to be a rotational piece but he really balled out last year and made preseason all-SEC and he’s wearing that number 18 jersey, which, for the uninformed, at LSU it’s a significant number that means that that’s that guy, that’s what like a true Tiger looks like.

You should also expect Jacobian Guillory — he’s a four-year player, big body who hasn’t put it together on the field for whatever reason, but his production has increased more and more. The funniest thing about this LSU team is that they have a Jordan Jefferson once again, but he plays defensive line.

And Florida State fans might remember, former Gator Jalen Lee is now at LSU. He was 20 minutes away from LSU’s campus but went to Florida instead, and now he’s back. Kelly really loves bringing home these Louisiana guys, that’s a big part of like what he’s preaching

So Smith is a big blow, and you just hope that the combination of Wingo, Guillory, Lee and Jefferson can kind of do the job that number zero would have done had he been allowed to play but he signed his autograph and that’s a sin.

LSU’s biggest position news was the decision to move Harold Perkins from the perimeter into the linebacker position. Do you agree with Kelly’s decision? And who will fill Perkin’s departure?

I think Perkins should be like a Micah Parsons or, maybe since he’s not big enough to be Parsons like a Haason Reddick-type, like he’s just that good of a rusher. Perkins makes a difference in last year’s game. Just seeing what he did with the 13 tackles for loss, seven sacks and the four forced fumbles. He’s just such a good QB hunter — go watch the Alabama game, Arkansas game. Kelly is saying that Perkins won’t be a full-time inside linebacker, they’ll like him come off the edge in certain situations. I think they said they’re going to move him all over so you don’t know where he is. If Perkins is playing in that interior, that linebacker spot probably goes to Ovie Oghoufo, who is a sixth-year player who has with Kelly for three years at Notre Dame, transferred to Texas and is now is wrapping up, reunited with Kelly in Baton Rouge. They brought in a couple of Pac-12 guys — Paris Shand, Bradyn Swinson — but they’re not Perkins. He’s a generational talent.

They want him to be a true middle linebacker, which I hope goes out the window once bullets start flying, like “no no no, Perkins, you just see Travis, go het him. Just do that. Do that all game, I don’t care what you do, just do that.”They want hin to be Devin White, who is a really great sideline-to-sideline guy, but Devin White’s a true middle linebacker. Perkins isn’t a middle guy, he’s an off-the-edge guy. He’s so much lighter than Devin White, who’s like a brick house.

Final defensive question, has LSU done enough to revamp the secondary? The injuries are really starting to show up with JK Johnson out and Sage Ryan, Denver Harris, and others missing time during the offseason camp.

This matchup terrifies me so much because they still don’t sound like they really know what they’re doing at corner or who they’re going to count on. Ryan was brought to LSU as a five-star safety and has been at STAR, that’s been his role and now with literal days to go before kickoff, they’re like “hey, let’s try Sage at outside corner.” That says “man, I don’t know what we got.” Playing Florida State with questions like that in the secondary could be disastrous for LSU. I would much rather have a week zero before this game to work all the kinks out, because I don’t think the secondary is ready. This could be a really long night for LSU — the group has talent, but last year’s group was more experienced.

Final thoughts on the game? Do you have a prediction?

I think this is an awful matchup for LSU. Florida State likes to run the ball with counter, and that really clashes with how well LSU defends the run. This can be a shootout, I don’t think it’ll be as wild as last year’s in the stupid sense, but it’ll be wild like fireworks wild. But LSU’s defense that will get better as the year progresses is not ready for this stage — at least the secondary, maybe the front seven can bail them out. But I’ve got this really bad feeling that LSU is going to need a stop and they won’t be able to get it. A Jayden Daniels-led offense might score 31-35 points, but Florida State’s going to end up with 38 or 42. It’s going to be a wild game, a fun game, but sadly, I think this game is Florida State’s once again.

Everything Florida State Seminoles, all the time.

The Everything Noles podcast channel, presented by Fans First Sports Network, features insider Seminoles recruiting, football, basketball, baseball, softball, and soccer analysis and commentary, featuring shows hosted by staff writers Tim Alumbaugh, Matt Minnick, Michael Rogner, Brian Pellerin, Gwyn Rhodes and Ben Meyerson, featuring contributions by Joshua Pick, David Stout, Jon Marchant, and the entire Tomahawk Nation staff, produced by managing editor Perry Kostidakis.

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