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LSU’s Secondary Will be Without Starting Strong Safety Major Burns

Coach Brian Kelly said after the game that Burns, whom he’s praised throughout the preseason and regular season for his communication skills, will be sidelined 3-to-6 weeks with an “upper neck” injury.

“I don’t want to get into the specifics when you’re talking about a neck injury,” Kelly said. “He’s been cleared by all of the doctors, but it will need some rest.

“It’s probably going to take between three and six weeks before we can get him back out on the field.”

Jayden Daniels jogged down LSU’s sideline with his helmet dangling in his left hand. He wanted to congratulate his teammates after they scored on their first drive without the starting quarterback Saturday night. Daniels shook their hands and patted their backs as they came off the field.

Daniels left the game a few minutes earlier after he got tackled hard on a first-down run. LSU radio said athletic trainers evaluated his lower back in the medical tent. Though Daniels returned to the sideline with his helmet ready, he didn’t need to play another snap as LSU finished off a 38-0 win over New Mexico inside Tiger Stadium.

LSU needed this kind of convincing performance in its final tuneup before the thick of the Southeastern Conference schedule starts next weekend. The Tigers (3-1) maintained their offensive rhythm, found an answer for one special team’s issue, and completed their first shutout since Sept. 8, 2018, against Southeastern.

The defense looked like one from LSU’s past for the second straight game. New Mexico (2-2) gained 88 total yards and punted on every drive except for one at the end of the first half. The Lobos averaged 2.7 yards per play. They picked up two first downs. Seven of their ten possessions were three-and-outs, including all of them in the second half.

And LSU did all this without three starters. Sophomore safety Major Burns and junior edge rusher BJ Ojulari were out, and senior defensive back Jay Ward didn’t play after getting banged-up last week.

Without them, defensive coordinator Matt House used creative personnel groupings that tested the unit’s depth. He came out in a true four-man front and started freshman linebacker, Harold Perkins. With LSU already thin at safety, cornerback Jarrick-Bernard Converse changed positions.

Perkins led the team with eight tackles, and Arkansas transfer safety Greg Brooks was all over the field. LSU combined for eight tackles for loss and four sacks. It only allowed one big play on a busted coverage on play-action, but New Mexico had to punt again.

While the defense shut down another opponent, LSU’s offense played with a more consistent tempo than the first three games of the season. It gained 633 total yards against a team that ranked within the top 20 nationally in multiple defensive categories. New Mexico had allowed 765 total yards all season entering the game.

The offensive change was noticeable from the opening possession. Daniels delivered a series of quick passes that let the wide receivers operate in space, and sophomore running back Armoni Goodwin capped an eight-play drive with a 5-yard touchdown run.

Daniels looked as comfortable as he has all year. He made quick throws that kept the offense moving, took chances downfield when he saw them and used his legs once he went through his progressions and saw no one was open. Daniels completed 83% of his passes (24 of 29) for 279 yards.

The score would have gotten out of hand sooner if not for a couple of mistakes in the first half. LSU settled for a field goal on its second drive, then an unnecessary blindside block erased a 76-yard punt return for a touchdown by sophomore Jack Bech. Though LSU still drove into the red zone, two penalties pushed the offense back and Damian Ramos missed a 38-yard field goal.

Still, Daniels led another methodical touchdown drive near the end of the first half to give LSU a 17-0 lead when Goodwin scored for the second time. Goodwin later limped off the field after a reception and did not return to the game.

It was a solid night on the ground overall. LSU, which has struggled to run the ball this season, averaged 5.3 yards per carry. Five players combined for 219 yards and four touchdowns.

Daniels got hurt picking up a fourth down midway through the fourth quarter. He entered the medical tent but returned to the sideline, seemingly ready to return to the game.

LSU didn’t need him again.

With redshirt freshman Garrett Nussmeier at quarterback, junior running back Noah Cain finished off the drive with a short touchdown run. Cain scored again on a 49-yard carry as he burst through the middle and broke multiple tackles.

Then, Nussmeier slung a throw to sophomore receiver Brian Thomas, who broke a tackle and weaved through the defense for a 57-yard touchdown.

The game showed the promise of this LSU team, but now the real test begins. The Tigers travel to Auburn next weekend, the first of six straight SEC games that will ultimately determine the season’s outcome.

In their last tun-up before that difficult stretch, they did everything they needed.