LSU true freshman quarterback Max Johnson drew plenty of rave reviews for his performance last Saturday in leading an undermanned group of Tigers into The Swamp and emerging with a 37-34 victory over sixth-ranked Florida.
Johnson was selected the Southeastern Conference’s Offensive Player of the Week for his part in LSU’s seemingly improbable victory, accounting for nearly 300 yards and three touchdowns.
“He’s a true freshman, going to The Swamp, you’re a 23-point underdog and you win,” LSU head football coach Ed Orgeron said Monday during his weekly news conference. “That tells you a lot about the young man.”
Despite the fact Johnson became LSU’s first true freshman to lead the Tigers to a road victory over a top 10 opponent in his collegiate debut, Orgeron was non-committal whether Johnson will get a second straight start in Saturday’s regular-season finale for the Tigers (4-5) against Ole Miss (4-4) at 2:30 p.m. in Tiger Stadium.
The game will be broadcast by the SEC Network.
“We’ll have to talk this week and see what the game plan is,” Orgeron said. “We wanted Max’s mobility, not that T.J. doesn’t (have it). We wanted to give Max a chance to start. T.J. had his opportunities to do it and he did very well. I think we were very impressed with Max’s leadership, his toughness, his ability to run the football, his ability to make decisions under pressure and the biggest thing was no turnovers.”
Johnson completed 21 of 36 passes for three touchdowns to three different receivers and added 53 yards rushing on 13 attempts. The 21 completions and three TDs were school records for a true freshman quarterback.
Orgeron indicated Johnson will be limited in practice Monday because of a ‘small injury’ but expects the native of Watkinsville, Ga. to be ready to play against Ole Miss.
“I think by the end of the week he’s going to be full speed,” Orgeron said.
Here’s what else Orgeron had to say:
“Sophomores played, I think 48 guys played. Every point scored on that field was by a freshman or sophomore. A lot of young guys playing. A lot of next-man-up. Great job by (defensive backs coaches) Corey Raymond and Bill Busch getting these guys to play the defensive back field (which) hadn’t played very much. I thought for the most part they played excellent. On offensive back, (Max) Johnson, three TDs, no turnovers. Kayshon Boutte, 108 yards catching the ball, one TD. Two outstanding freshmen. Three players rushed for over 50 yards. I thought we did a good job of running the football.
On defense the three turnovers were critical. Great plays made. Goal line stance, phenomenal job of effort and belief. And then four sacks, sack fumble at the end of the game set up a field goal and six tackles for loss.
Special teams, again, lights out, game-winning field goal, 57 yards, school record by Cade (York). So proud of him. I just watched it on film there. I don’t know how he saw it go through there, but he knew it, and what a tremendous play. And then, again, on the field goal rush, Jay Ward, I don’t know if he affected them or not, but it went wide left, and Jay had a great rush, and it was a great scheme by Coach Mack (Greg McMahon). Great field position, again, by Zach (Von Rosenberg), 5 of 8 were inside the 20.
Just overall, got to give credit to the football team. They did it. They decided they were going to do it on Friday night in the team meeting. Florida is a very good football team, and that was a big win for us in the swamp.
On to Ole Miss. I know Lane (Kiffin) very well. Lane has done a phenomenal job at Ole Miss. He’s got one of the best offenses in the country because he’s one of the best offensive minds. He’s done a great job with Matt Corral as quarterback. Jerrion Ealy, I tried to recruit him at running back. Elijah Moore, I believe that he has 82 receptions. He’s very difficult to defend. He’ll formation you. He’s a great game day caller. The game slows down for him. His daddy is Monte Kiffin. He was raised on football. I have the utmost respect for Lane.”
On the group of freshmen and sophomores leading program forward
“I really believe last year’s recruiting class is phenomenal. A lot of guys are playing already. The sophomores are doing a very good job. We never talked about the future and what we were going to do. We wanted to finish this year strong. But as you look at it, all those guys are coming back. Maybe we can recruit some guys with the extra year eligibility. For next year we should have a very strong team, a very strong nucleus along with this recruiting class we’re going to have this year.”
On the possibility of the people that weren’t available against Florida returning for Ole Miss
“We’ve got to see what’s going to happen this week. It’s early. I think we have 54 guys available or something like that. We’ll see. Whatever it takes, but if we can do it in The Swamp, we can do it at home.”
On the return of starting linebacker Micah Baskerville after missing last week
“Yeah. I think Micah’s going to be available this week. He became ill, wasn’t able to travel. And he’s better now. He’s clear. And I think that he’ll practice this week and he’ll be fine.”
On the difference in the team’s turnaround last week
“I think you’ve got to give credit to the players. The players wanted to beat Florida. They dug in. They were not happy. Nobody was. Our performance (55-17 loss) against Alabama, give it to Alabama, they’re a great team. But you still saw us fight during the week at Alabama. And then the guys decided, hey, listen, this is Florida. We want to represent LSU in the right way. We know what everybody is saying about us out there and all that. It’s not true. We’ve got to show everybody. The only way you’re going to do it is show them. And I think Friday night in the hotel was an excellent night. There were a lot of examples of a lot of motivational speeches, a lot of motivational videos. And I think our team caught onto it, and they believed. And, you know, I’ve got to say this to you. It was very quiet in the locker room before we went out for Florida. And I was a little bit concerned. But they came out on fire, ready to play. So maybe that’s the – you know, the temperature of our team.”
On your fondest memory for Saturday’s win over Florida
“Yeah, to see those three flags on the field and see the shoe. And by the way, I’ve been asked to give a bunch of shoes for Christmas. I don’t know why. My Christmas list has become shoes. I don’t know why people want shoes from me. But just to see those three flags on the field and see a chance for us to win the game and see the joy in our players and our coaches face in the locker room. Love it.”
On your lasting memory from a COVID-impacted season
“You know, the players that stuck, the coaches stuck together. The adverse situations that all of us were put in. The unexpected, not having success like we wanted to this season. Having guys had to step up and stick together. I think we’re all going to learn from having a week like we had last week where some teams or some men would have crumbled. And we decided to get stronger and fight. We stood up and we fought. And that’s what I want this team to learn, that anytime in life you face adversity, you got to stand up and fight. You can’t crumble. And good things are going to happen.”
On the wackiest thing you’ll recall from the season
“That shoe. That shoe being thrown. It’s fresh in my mind. I’ve never seen that. I’ve never seen that before in football.”
On the weirdest thing you’ll recall related to COVID
“Just I think when we all had to go home and the roads, there was nobody on the road and I didn’t see another human being, get to talk to another human being for two weeks. We all had to go home, and I’m in a home by myself, and just watched way too much TV. I hated it. I hate being by myself. I didn’t like it. I love being with our staff and our team.”
On your thoughts of the anniversary of Joe Burrow winning last year’s Heisman Trophy
“It’s kind of funny, his dad texted me today. And I didn’t know it. I just said, thank you. He told me thank you. I said, what? Thank you all. And it’s just a tremendous family, tremendous award for Joe. But you know what, (he) wasn’t finished, and that was big for Joe, but he had his eyes set on a National Championship, and he was the leader of that team, and so did his team. So those are great memories.”
On the influence of Brad Johnson had on his son Max
“No question. No question. I think his dad trained him, and so did his momma. His momma was a great volleyball player. His momma is Mark Richt’s sister. There’s a lot of football in that family. And just getting to recruit them and knowing Brad and Nikki, the type of people that they are, and also watching Max play. But I think all of that combined made him a very, very good competitor, just like T.J. is. T.J. has great parents. They’re very similar in a lot of ways. He has a small injury. He’s limited today, but I think by the end of the week he’s going to be full speed.”
On the connection that’s made you and Lane Kiffin so close
“Well, you know, Lane came in as a young coach with Coach (Pete) Carroll, our first year with Coach Carroll, I believe it was the year 2000. So, I’ve known Lane for 20 years. And we became good friends. I respect him as a coach. There’s no question. I respect his knowledge of the game. He got me to leave the NFL to go with him to Tennessee. He was going to come with me when I got the job. If he didn’t get a head job, he was going to be my offensive coordinator. So, he’s a great recruiter. Me and him recruited a lot of great players together. We have a lasting bond. We won two championships together. I’ve coached with him at Tennessee. I remain close with him. We talk about personal things. We share things. I just have the utmost respect for him.”
On the aspects that make a great offensive mind such as Kiffin’s
“The game is in slow motion for Lane on the sideline. He can see all 22 at one time, much like (former LSU defensive coordinator) Dave Aranda could for us. I watch the line because I’m a line guy. Some guys are watching the defensive backs. He watches all 22 at one time and can tell what they’re doing. He can change players on the line of scrimmage. You’ve seen him. You’ve seen him at Alabama whistling, changing plays. He played quarterback. He knows what to do with the football. He understands both sides of the football. So, I think his game day calling and his preparation and his recruiting are excellent.”
On the Kiffin’s pedigree and the impact of his father Monte
“I think he has a lot to do with it. He’s still with them. They’re best friends. And Monte taught him football. The kid was always around football, always in the locker room, always listening to football. And if you’re around Monte Kiffin, it’s football 24/7. The guy is always on the phone, he’s always talking, and Lane is just like his daddy.”
On this being your first head-to-head meeting with Kiffin as head coaches
“It will be the first game, yeah. In practice we used to go after it all the time. And we were very competitive, and I loved it. But, yeah, it will be the first time.”
On whether you plan to talk to Kiffin this week
“You know what, I haven’t talked to him much this season. He’s been busy doing his thing, I’ve been busy doing my thing. I don’t talk to any head coaches, rarely, during the season.”