LSU running back Kaleb Jackson may have struck the loudest cowbell sound in Saturday’s 41-14 SEC victory at Mississippi State’s Davis Wade Stadium.
The true freshman from Baton Rouge’s Liberty Magnet captured the imagination of a televised audience and sent a jolt of electricity throughout his team’s sideline with a 13-yard gain in the third quarter.
The 6-foot, 225-pound Jackson, who has worked his way into LSU’s rotation at running back, stiff-armed his first Mississippi State defender on a second-and-11 carry that he bounced outside toward his own sideline.
With the Tigers already firing on all cylinders behind the combination of Jayden Daniels and Malik Nabers in a 34-7 game, Jackson shed State’s Corey Ellington’s attempt to tackle him and then hit the sideline. He had a five-yard running start when Bulldogs’ 205-pound freshman defensive back Isaac Smith tried to close on him and was sent reeling backward following the force of their collision.
Jackson dropped his right shoulder into Smith, who went sprawling until a teammate came over to clean up the tackle at LSU’s 37-yard line.
By then, the Tigers’ bench had gone wild when Jackson prevailed in his first welcome-to-college-football moment.
“There’s a lot to like about Kaleb Jackson,” ESPN color commentator Jesse Palmer said after the play. “The guy has humongous legs. This is a tough guy to bring down. After some really nice runs last week against Grambling State, he’s earning more carries in this game. You’re going to see DBs in his career make business decisions, kind of torpedo at his feet. This guy’s a monster.”
Jackson carried twice more on a drive capped by a 1-yard run from Daniels that made it 41-7 with 1:21 to go in the quarter. His run on the third play of the drive, though, still resonated with most everyone.
“Physicality, explosiveness but a young man that is still learning how to play this game,” LSU football coach Brian Kelly said of Jackson. “If you look back on his high school career, he was not a four-year player. He’s learning how to play the game every time he steps on the field. He’s terrific to coach. The great part about it is he doesn’t have much baggage. He’s learning a lot about the game as we go along. We’re talking to him about some of the rules as it relates to kickoffs. If the impetus of the ball goes into the end zone and it hits you, you don’t have to take it out. These are foreign things to him.
“Just teaching him the game and him learning the game are where we’re at with him,” Kelly added. “But it’s easy to see the raw, physical ability but there’s so much more to that. You saw what (Logan) Diggs and (Josh) Williams were able to do in third-down protections against a difficult scheme. Kaleb’s not ready for that. He will get ready for that but he’s not just there yet.”
With Diggs, a Notre Dame transfer, having ascended to the top of the team’s depth chart, Jackson was the second running back into the game two weeks ago against Grambling where he delivered 11 carries for 62 yards and his first two collegiate touchdowns in a 72-10 runaway.
He first caught the attention of Kelly and has been one of the team’s primary kickoff returners, averaging 24.0 yards on three returns with a long of 27 yards.
Although LSU boasted a deep running back position with eight players on scholarship, Jackson took advantage of injuries to Williams and Armoni Goodwin in preseason camp, and the absence of John Emery Jr., to work his way into the team’s rotation.
He scored a pair of touchdowns with the second team offense in LSU’s first major scrimmage in August and was the deep man on the team’s kickoff team against Florida State.
The nuances of the position, such as blitz pick-up in pass blocking, remain a part of Jackson’s game that’s still developing for a player with 16 carries for 81 yards (5.1 yards per carry and 2 TDs. He’s also caught two passes for 15 yards.
Diggs explained the transformation from high school to college can be challenging based on the system a player was accustomed to in high school.
Jackson was part of a Liberty program that as a new LHSAA program played a junior varsity schedule for two years before he burst onto the scene during the 2021 season when the Patriots won the District 6-4A title and reached the Division II state select quarterfinals.
Jackson rushed for 2,031 yards and 29 TDs – averaging 14.7 yards per carry – and added 21 catches for 394 yards and 4 TDs. But in his senior season, he suffered an ankle injury in the first game and didn’t play the remainder of the year.
“When I came into college, in high school at Rummel, they did a good job of preparing me for those kind of situations. I pass blocked a lot,” Diggs explained. “Coming into college it was more of learning the technique. From Kaleb’s standpoint he came from a different program where he was just getting the ball, and just having to run and not having to block much. He kind of was a step behind, but every day he’s working on it, asking me questions trying to get better at it. He wants to be a perfectionist and he’s going to be really good at it.”