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Preview: Tigers Open 2023 Season in Orlando vs. Florida St.

by Harrison Valentine | Digital Media Graduate Assistant
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Preview: Tigers Open 2023 Season in Orlando vs. Florida St.

LSU will kick off the 2023 season in familiar territory on Sunday night as the Tigers travel back to Orlando to face Florida State at Camping World Stadium.

Kickoff is set for 6:44 p.m. CT on ABC and the LSU Sports Radio Network.

Head coach Brian Kelly is encouraged with the progress his team has made this offseason, highlighted by several key returners on both sides of the ball. At practice, it’s been less explaining, and more doing, allowing this group to be way ahead in their development than they were at this point a year ago.

“We’re a smarter football team,” said Kelly. “We understand the systems, the process, the things necessary to become more consistent in everything we do to be a championship football team. That comes right down to the smallest of details.”

Returning a fifth-year senior at quarterback is a big reason why as Jayden Daniels is primed for a monster season after throwing for 2,913 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2022, while also rushing for 885 as well. A second year in Mike Denbrock‘s system has the California native feeling as comfortable and confident as he’s ever been.

“Year 2 allows him to have a comfort level from a knowledge standpoint and a personnel standpoint where he feels he can let it rip a little,” Kelly said. “We encourage him to more and more.”

On offense, Daniels will have no shortage of weapons to choose from, beginning with a star-studded receiver room led by Malik Nabers, Kyren Lacy, Brian Thomas and Aaron Anderson. The running backs return familiar faces, and added some new ones, too, as Josh Williams, Logan Diggs and Noah Cain are set to assume a bulk of the carries on Sunday night.

At certain position groups, unknowns have turned into strengths, and there’s no better example than the LSU offensive line, who return a deep and experienced unit in the trenches. Sophomore left tackle Will Campbell was awarded the coveted No. 7, given to the best player from the state of Louisiana, marking the first time the number has been given to an offensive lineman.

“I was just as shocked as anybody,” Campbell said. “It’s a huge honor. I couldn’t be more thankful that I was chosen, and I have to represent it the right way.”

“He’s a big guy, but he’s a playmaker too,” Daniels added of Campbell. “It’s an honor for him to get that. He’s a part of the tradition, but also started a new one – the first lineman to wear it.”

Campbell had 513 pass block snaps last year as a true freshman in the SEC, allowing just two sacks. That’s a playmaker in his own right.

On defense, sophomore Harold Perkins is ready to assume a bigger leadership role at inside linebacker after an incredible freshman campaign with 40 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and an interception.

Perkins will be lined up next to transfer linebacker Omar Speights, who received First Team All-Pac 12 honors a year ago. Junior Greg Penn III returns after tallying 78 tackles in 2022, adding to a talented linebacker group.

“You’re going to see a linebacker, not a pass rush specialist,” Kelly said of Perkins. “I’m excited to watch his development into that player that can impact the game, not just coming from the edge and harassing the quarterback, but from all facets.”

Another leader of the defense will be junior defensive tackle Mekhi Wingo, who was given the legendary No. 18, which is awarded to a player who is synonymous with success – both on and off the field – as well as a selfless attitude that has become the epitome of being an LSU football player.

On Tuesday after practice, Wingo, Daniels, Campbell and safety Greg Brooks Jr. were selected as LSU’s team captains for the 2023 season, voted upon by their teammates. 

The Seminoles return a veteran quarterback of their own in Jordan Travis, who passed for 3,214 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2022.

Trey Benson was Florida State’s leading rusher with 990 yards on the ground, averaging 6.4 yards per touch, with nine touchdowns. Johnny Wilson led the receivers with 897 yards on 43 receptions with five scores.

Defensive lineman Jared Verse will also be an impact player on the edge after recording nine sacks a year ago, making for an intriguing matchup in the trenches against the Tigers’ front.

“We certainly have picked a great matchup,” Kelly said. “LSU and Florida State, a top-10 matchup in Week 1. It’s the only game on Sunday. It’s just a great challenge for our football team, and they have been looking forward to this challenge.”

The Path begins on Sunday night, as all eyes will be on the Tigers in a stand-alone, primetime slot, looking to showcase the improvements made since last taking the field 243 days ago.