(Note: Updated this morning with quotes from LSU head coach Ed Orgeron)
It was June 9, 1994, maybe 10 minutes into my flight after taking off from Orlando headed to Houston where I was going to cover game 3 of the NBA finals after two Magic losses to open the series.
That’s when I heard. . .BOOF!
A wing suddenly dipped, then leveled even. While all of the passengers nervously looked at each other, the pilot made this announcement with all the coolness of a late night jazz DJ:
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We’ve had a little engine trouble. . .(PAUSE). . .we’ve lost one engine so we’re turning around and heading back to Orlando to change equipment. . .(SWITCH TO REASSURING VOICE). . .but don’t worry, this plane is fully capable of flying on one engine. So, sit back and relax and listen to your stewardesses. . .(ANOTHER PAUSE). . .on when to assume the crash position just before we land.
“Again, thanks for flying Delta Airlines. We appreciate your business.”
My first thought was, “Now you tell me you appreciate MY business? There better be some free drink coupons for all if we survive this.”
My second thought was, “Maybe this jet can fly on one engine but we’re one more BOOF away from a death spiral.”
Which is where LSU football, though not as nearly dramatic, finds itself four days from the start of 2021 preseason practice.
The Tigers are one quarterback with college game experience – sophomore Max Johnson – away from crashing after senior Myles Brennan broke a humerus bone in his left arm this past weekend. It happened in Grand Isle where he was preparing for a fishing trip. One of his flip-flops got caught in a loose board and he was unable to brace himself when he fell on his left arm because he was holding his fishing equipment.
It was the last complete weekend Brennan had off until LSU’s open date Saturday on October 30.
That’s 13 Saturdays away, which ironically is close to the minimum amount of time doctors say it takes to fully heal the humerus, a long bone of the upper arm between the shoulder joint and the elbow joint.
The news must be absolutely crushing to Brennan, who had the unenviable task last season of following 2019 Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow as LSU’s starting QB.
“His dad and his mom took it hard, I’m sure he took it hard,” LSU head coach Ed Orgeron said Tuesday morning during his weekly appearance on a Baton Rouge radio show. “I didn’t get to talk to him yet, I called him yesterday, but I’m sure he was very upset. We are going to follow him through this. Our prayers are with Myles and his family. It’s tough.”
After a shaky first half in last season’s opening loss to Mississippi State, Brennan threw for 1,112 yards and 11 TDs before suffering a season-ending torn abdomen with 2:45 left in the second quarter of game 3 at Missouri.
It was the most yardage ever thrown by an LSU quarterback in his first three starts. And because of COVID-19, it was done without any spring practice and drastically reduced opportunities for off-season work.
For anyone questioning Brennan’s fortitude, consider he played the rest of the Missouri game after getting hurt. That was 52 offensive snaps in which he completed 22 more passes in 40 more attempts for 312 more yards and two additional TDs to end a 68-snap day completing 29 of 48 for 430 yards and four TDs in a 45-41 loss.
Don’t ever question Brennan’s toughness. This is someone whose family home in Bay St. Louis burned down, was rebuilt and then got completely wiped away by Hurricane Katrina.
If you’re a Brennan, you don’t pack it in when adversity strikes. Just like he waited his turn to become LSU’s starter last season as a fourth-year junior.
Transferring has never been an option for Brennan, and it probably isn’t now since he likely can get a medical redshirt year (which the Brennans have already inquired about, according to Orgeron) if he doesn’t make it back this season.
Why not transfer?
“I’d already learned several offenses, so I wasn’t going to pack my stuff to go somewhere else,” he said before last season.
Knowing Brennan’s character and willpower, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him try his best to get back on the field before the end of this season. It also wouldn’t be a surprise for him to do anything he can to help prepare Johnson and now No. 2 QB true freshman Garrett Nussmeier to play as well as possible.
Because if you know anything about Brennan, he values winning over everything.
The one thing we’ll never know is who would have won the starting QB job.
Johnson was certainly a lifesaver when he won his two starts at the end of last season and became the golden boy in the eyes of many LSU fans for delivering wins that salvaged a 5-5 season.
Those same fans sort of poo-pooed Brennan’s existence, forgetting the only thing he did to lose his starting job was get hurt.
With Brennan now out, we’ll never know if Orgeron and new offensive coordinator Jake Peetz were devising plans to play both Brennan and Johnson. Not so much a two-QB system but making sure whoever was the backup got playing time to prepare him to confidently step in if the starter got hurt.
Last season when Brennan got hurt, true freshman backups TJ Finley and Johnson weren’t ready. That’s because Brennan needed as many snaps out of the gate as possible as a first-time starter.
Even if Brennan hadn’t gotten hurt at Missouri, it’s possible Finley and Johnson would have eventually seen some action. But Brennan’s injury happened so early in the season that they didn’t have enough practice snaps.
And what happened last year with the LSU QBs is why the old John Madden one-liner “If you have two quarterbacks, you have none” doesn’t apply to all situations.
LSU needed two QBs ready last year, but circumstances of getting first-time starter Brennan thoroughly prepared dictated otherwise.
It’s why until this past weekend, no matter who was named starter, LSU had the luxury of two QBs with starting experience who would rarely become rattled in the heat of battle.
Now, that is gone.
But like that Delta pilot back in 1994 who had been trained to land using one engine – he hit the Orlando airport runway at a much-higher speed than usual but got us to the gate in one piece – LSU has five weeks to prepare its only two scholarship quarterbacks for the Sept. 4 season opener at UCLA.
“Max is going to be our starter,” Orgeron said. “He has got to have a great camp. The depth chart is etched in sand, and he knows he has to perform. But I believe in Max, just like I believe in Myles. I think we got us a great quarterback, a championship quarterback.
“Garrett is going to have to step up. Garrett is a very talented young man, I’m glad we got him, and he just has to learn the offense, step up and take care of the football. He had some unfortunate picks in the spring. But I know he’s going to get better with experience.”
The timing of Brennan’s injury, just before training camp as opposed to in-season, certainly makes a challenging situation a tad easier for Johnson and Nussmeier (who participated in spring practice after enrolling in January).
But there’s another reason to believe Orgeron and Peetz can guide LSU to a safe landing, change equipment and jet through the 2021 schedule.
Johnson is the son of former Super Bowl winning quarterback Brad Johnson, a retired 15-year NFL veteran.
Nussmeier is the son of Doug Nussmeier, a 20-year coaching veteran who has been a QB coach or offensive coordinator (or both) for four NFL teams (currently he’s QB coach for the Dallas Cowboys) and six college teams including 2012 national champ Alabama.
Thus, Max Johnson and Garrett Nussmeier have lived and breathed football since they were throwing seam routes and fly patterns with their binkies and rattles. If there is anyone equipped to handle this current LSU emergency landing without blinking, it’s this duo.