Division Champs LSU, Purdue End Strong Campaigns with First-Time Matchup
By Michaelea Neal
Florida Citrus Sports
The Louisiana State Tigers and Purdue Boilermakers, who reached respective conference championship games in the SEC and Big Ten, have grown accustomed to physical matchups and are preparing for another one in the 2023 Cheez-It Citrus Bowl on Monday.
LSU won the SEC’s West Division in its first year under head coach Brian Kelly and believes a win here can continue to build momentum for their future. Purdue won the Big Ten West and is going for back-to-back nine-win seasons. Neither wants to leave Camping World Stadium disappointed.
“They always are really special,” Purdue senior linebacker Kieren Douglas said of bowl games. “The whole experience throughout the week and what they provide for us, it really makes a memorable experience. And, of course, it is a great opportunity for our team to show what we can do.
“We are looking to go and make that memory when we look back a good memory and a win,” Douglas continued. “ to know that we have done everything we can, even with the circumstances that we have been given, to go out and play as hard as we can to win the game.”
Across the field, LSU started its season with major shifts on the offensive line, including a pair of new tackles in true freshmen Emery Jones Jr. and Will Campbell. The decision to go young paid off, and offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock said he’s proud of the growth the Tigers have made throughout the year.
Quarterback Jayden Daniels is another player whose growth was apparent as the season went on. On Monday, at the bowl’s Player-Coordinator Media Day at the Rosen Plaza Hotel, Denbrock detailed Daniels’ commitment to working on areas of opportunity.
Daniels’ improved footwork and vision have allowed the LSU offense to thrive in his first year after transferring from Arizona State; he said he sees Monday’s challenge as another opportunity to grow.
Daniels sees this game as an opportunity for both sides of the ball to step up and make plays. He wants to go out there and show the world what LSU’s offense can do as they build momentum into next season.
Defensively, the Tigers will be down a few starters but have young, talented players eager to embrace the opportunities before them. LSU defensive coordinator Matt House believes the meeting room and learning on the field through mental reps is extremely important in a new scheme.
“For me and the offense, going out there and, really, just showing the world what we want to showcase for next season, going into next season — the momentum,” said Daniels, whose Tigers will return to Orlando to kick off the 2023 campaign against Thursday’s Cheez-It Bowl champion, Florida State. “How we finish the season is how we are going to end up starting the season. We want to start on a high note, we want to end on a high note.”
The Tigers brought in a lot of transfers before the season, including defensive lineman Mekhi Wingo from Missouri, a veteran in the young LSU locker room. The way they have all bought into one another is key to their success and momentum going forward.
“It is very important for us to get the win, just for the vibe in the locker room and to transition into next year,” Wingo said.
Purdue offensive coordinator and interim head coach Brian Brohm will serve as the play caller for the bowl game, but he’ll have a legend at his disposal in Purdue grad in longtime NFL quarterback Drew Brees, who will be contributing as an interim quarterbacks coach for the game.
Purdue defensive coordinator Mark Hagen said they have their work cut out as they prepare to contain a Tigers offense that is complete from top to bottom.
“This group is as good and as talented as we have played all year,” Hagen said. “We are going to have to bring our A-game to play like we want to play.”
Hagen describes Daniels as “slippery” as he can escape the rush and make plays. He notes that Daniels sometimes holds on to the ball too long, which can provide the Purdue defense with an opportunity to provide pressure.
“He really is the guy that makes their offense go, there is no question about it,” Hagen said. “We have to do a good job of containing him.”
Purdue quarterback Austin Burton said the best part about learning from Brees is that he is open to any question. For the quarterback room, Burton said “excited” would be an understatement to describe being able to learn from him and have him as a resource.
“Any little thing, whether it is watching film or on the practice field, he is very detailed and specific and gets you the right answer all the time,” Burton said.
Brees has also been able to offer insight to the program about what they can expect from Brian Kelly at LSU. Brees is familiar with Kelly’s philosophy from sitting with him in production meetings last season when he was broadcasting Kelly’s games on television during his stint at Notre Dame.
“I think he brings a great level of experience, structure and I think certainly to continue the winning ways at LSU, but, also, when you look at just the crop of talent that exists in Louisiana and their ability to recruit, I just felt like that would be something that would attract people even more to LSU,” Brees said.
Hagen thinks it has been a calming presence for the team to have Brees working with the team as they try to keep their focus on the game.
“It has been a very, very positive situation,” Hagen said. “We are excited that he is with us down here. We are excited that he is going to be on the sideline on Monday.”