Opportunity of lifetime: After patiently waiting for three years, quarterback Garrett Nussmeier gets his first career start for LSU in ReliaQuest Bowl

Garrett Nussmeier will assume control of LSU's offense in 2024. PHOTO BY: Jonathan Mailhes

LSU junior wide receiver Kyren Lacy sees it as an opportunity for a spin around the block for the 2024 offense.

With the offense operating at optimum levels all season under Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jayden Daniels, the Tigers will get a sneak-peak at the ’24 version with Daniels having opted out of Monday’s ReliaQuest Bowl against Wisconsin.

Redshirt sophomore Garrett Nussmeier, who after 37 games in three full seasons, will get his first career start when No. 13 LSU (9-3) meets Wisconsin (7-5) at 11 p.m. on ESPN2.

“We’ll just give ya’ll a taste for next year,” Lacy said when asked about Nussmeier. “We’re going to go out with a bang.”

For LSU to achieve a second straight 10-win season, the Tigers are going to have to do with someone other than Daniels, this year’s Heisman winner and projected top-of-the-first-round NFL Draft pick. He decided to skip the bowl game on Dec. 18, officially handing the keys to the nation’s top offense in points and total offense to Nussmeier, who completed 17 of 33 passes for 196 yards with one touchdown and zero interceptions.

“I’ve been waiting for this opportunity,” Nussmeier said in a Dec. 21 interview with local reporters. “I’m excited for it and going into the game, I’m just going to do my job…. Lead the offense. My goal is to win the game and play good. It’s not to get caught up in the moment. Yes, this is my first start and I’ve been waiting for it for a long time, so there’s going to be a little bit of emotion. I’m going to let it go and worry about leading this offense and helping us execute to the best of my ability.”

LSU coach Brian Kelly believes Nussmeier’s earned the opportunity.

“He’s put in his time, and he’s been unselfish in a sense, that he’s waited for this opportunity,” he said. “He loves LSU. He’s put himself in position where now, he can be that guy who leads this football team. In this age where everybody wants it now, he waited for his chance and is deserving of the opportunity. We’re all excited to watch him play.”

Long time in between starts

It’s Nussmeier’s first start since Dec. 4, 2020, when directed Marcus High of Flower Mound, Texas in a regular-season finalist against Plano East. The native of Lake Charles, La. broke multiple fingers on his non-throwing (left) hand and was lost for the state playoffs a week later.

“What helped me the most was putting my trust in God and his plan for me,” Nussmeier said. “It taught me to be humble. It gave me humility and understanding that I want things right now, but it’s not time for it. The timing’s always right. That was the best lesson that I learned throughout that entire thing.”

Two years ago, Nussmeier was locked in what was described by head coach Brian Kelly as a back-and-forth battle for LSU’s No. 1 quarterback job with Daniels.

Daniels emerged as the team’s starter and never relinquished that perch, becoming the team’s starter for 26 consecutive games through a 42-30 home victory over Texas A&M.

The two close friends took first-team repetitions each week in practice but there was a clear line that separated Daniels and Nussmeier on Saturdays.

“The thing I appreciated the most was the competition and how we pushed each other to be great every single day,” Nussmeier said. “That’s something I’ll carry with me the rest of my career. Having to be good every single day, especially when we competed two years ago in the fall.

“I had to be good every single day because he’s such a good player,” Nussmeier said. “That helped me a ton. It taught me not to take off days. It taught me to approach every rep in every practice just like it was a game. I’m really happy for him. Really proud of him. He was easily the best player in college football this year. He deserved that trophy.”

Waiting patiently behind a Heisman winner

Nussmeier had a front-row seat to one of the greatest seasons by an LSU quarterback with Daniels operating with such high efficiency.

Daniels dazzled LSU fans and college football enthusiasts with an array of running and passing that resulted in more than 400 yards a game and 50 total touchdowns.

When Daniels took a big bite out of opposing defenses, Nussmeier was left to pick up the scraps in six relief appearances that did include two emergency outings when Daniels was injured against Missouri and Alabama.

Nussmeier didn’t complete a pass in two attempts in a series against Missouri, and Daniels returned to lead LSU to a 49-39 victory on Oct. 7. Daniels went into concussion protocol after a hard hit from Alabama’s Dallas Turner, and Nussmeier came on with the Tigers trailing 35-28, but completed 5 of 10 passes for 53 yards.

The Crimson Tide went on to win, 42-28, and Daniels returned near the end of the following week for an historic 606-yard, 6-TD effort in a 52-35 win over Florida.

“There are a lot of moments not getting to play when you prepare for a game,” Nussmeier said. “I take a lot of pride in the way that I prepare as if I was going to play every game we went into. When the clock hit zero and I didn’t play, it was hard, but I think the easiest thing is if we won the game, I was happy. That’s what I cared about. Now it’s my opportunity to play and I’m excited about it and it’s the same goal. Win the football game.”

Fulfilling a purple and gold dream

Nussmeier arrived at LSU a four-star prospect out of Marcus High, a school in the suburbs of Dallas where his father Doug served as quarterbacks coach of the Dallas Cowboys. He currently serves in the same role with the Los Angeles Chargers.

The nation’s No. 13 ranked quarterback by ESPN threw for 8,160 yards on 623 of 946 passing with 83 touchdowns in high school.

Nussmeier appeared in four games as a freshman in 2021 and passed for 329 yards with two touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. In order to retain his redshirt, he wasn’t able to play in the team’s Texas Bowl (a rule the NCAA has since relaxed) when the Tigers were decimated by opt-outs and transfers in the wake of coach Ed Orgeron’s firing.

He appeared to be in a two-quarterback battle for the team’s starting quarterback position with Myles Brennan when Kelly, who was hired in December, added Daniels from the transfer portal in the spring.

Brennan retired from football, leaving Daniels, Nussmeier and freshman Walker Howard to wage a competition for the starting job which went all the way up until kickoff of the Florida State game in September.

Kelly opted for Daniels and never looked back.

“That’s tough, especially for a guy of his caliber coming in,” LSU linebacker Greg Penn III said of Nussmeier’s wait to start. “He probably has had guys on the outside saying he should be playing. Everyone does. Him being able to wait his turn and stay patient, I think it will pay off for him in a big-time way.”

Daniels flourished in Kelly’s spread system, leading LSU to a 10-4 record, the SEC West Division title and an appearance in the SEC Championship Game. The Tigers won their 10th game with a 63-7 thrashing of Purdue in the Citrus Bowl.

Nussmeier got some extended playing time in the regular-season finale at Texas A&M when Daniels went down with an ankle injury. He tried to play at less than 100% in the SEC Championship game and with Georgia in clear control, Nussmeier played the entire season half and passed for a school record 294 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in the 50-30 setback.

“A guy that’s not scared,” Penn said of Nussmeier. “He believes he can make any throw. He’ll throw it. He believes that. Nuss believes he can make any throw. It’s awesome watching him play. We came in together in Class of ’21, it’s cool to see him get his opportunity to see what he can do.”

Same system, different style

Daniels played a style that carried him to the apex of the sport, becoming the first dual-threat quarterback to win the Heisman in six years since Kyler Murray of Oklahoma.

Daniels’ nation’s-best 90 plays of 20 yards or more were as majestic – evidenced by his 85-yard scoring run against Florida – as they were artistic – a sampling in his three 70-plus-yard touchdown throws. With better than a 10-yard-per-play average, he was a first down waiting to happen that kept LSU fans on the edge of their seats and opponents gasping for air.

Daniels concluded his 55-game collegiate career as the only player in FBS history to pass for 12,000 yards (12,749) and rush for 3,000 (3,307). He also totaled 123 touchdowns.

By contrast, Nussmeier has carried seven times in his career for minus-58 yards and one touchdown. He’s a pure pocket passer with a rifle for an arm that’s never displayed the ability to extend plays when the pocket breaks down.

“You’ve got to hold your blocks longer when a guy’s going to sit back and throw the ball,” LSU offensive tackle Emery Jones Jr. “He doesn’t really want to run. He wants to put the ball in the air which we like sometimes. You’ve got to hold onto your guy a little longer, maybe two or three seconds longer.”

Nussmeier’s been more than patient for a moment that could be the catalyst to his college career.

“This is the same game I’ve been playing since I was six years old,” he said. “I’m a coach’s kid. I’ve been around this game my entire life and once I run out of the tunnel, and we’re walking out there for the coin toss, it’s going to turn into, ‘Alright, let’s go.’ It’s all fun and games and to be like this amazing. This is my first start, but at the end of the day it’s about winning a football game and it’s about playing.”

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