With two games remaining in the regular season – one home and one away – LSU head football coach Ed Orgeron is considering the possibility of starting a third different quarterback this year.
True freshman Max Johnson, who has played sparingly in relief of fellow freshman quarterback TJ Finley, may get a closer look this week as a starter when the Tigers (3-5) visit sixth-ranked Florida (8-1) in a rescheduled game at 6 p.m. Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
“Yeah, I think that’s something we’re going to give consideration to this week, look at it,” Orgeron said Monday during his weekly news conference. “I thought Max played really well. I thought also TJ did some things. That’s something we’re going to give consideration for this week.”
Finley made his fifth start in last week’s 55-17 home loss to Alabama where he completed 14 of 28 passes for 144 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions.
Johnson, who made no starts this season in place of injured starter Myles Brennan, was inserted into Saturday’s game in the third quarter with LSU trailing 52-14. It followed a similar pattern of his earlier appearances against Auburn and Texas A&M.
Johnson went 11 of 17 for 110 yards vs. Alabama without an interception or TD, but managed to drive the Tigers for a 52-yard field goal by Cade York.
For the season, Johnson has completed 64 percent of his passes (40 of 63) for 395 yards for 2 TDs and no interceptions. Finley has thrown for 941 yards (80 of 140 for 57.1 percent) with five TDs and five interceptions.
“I thought he looked his best against Alabama,” Orgeron said of Johnson. “I thought he was crisp. I thought he went through his progression well. His ball came out very well, threw very catchable balls. He can scramble, run. I think he’s tough. He’s a hard worker. So is TJ. I think both of those guys are very similar. I thought Max played his best game.”
Here’s what else Orgeron had to say:
“I thought our team, just like I said after the game, competed very hard, prepared well. The will to win on the sideline was there throughout 60 minutes of the game, down to our last drive, 15-play offensive drive. A lot of young players got a lot of valuable playing time, competed really hard. I give Alabama credit, outstanding football team. They played a great game. Some great players on that football team. But you know what, we got to bounce back today. We got to get ready for Florida, another great football team, on the road, explosive offense. Some of the things that we have to eliminate is obviously, as I’ve said all season, explosive plays, especially in the passing game. Got to get better pressure on the quarterback. I was pleased the offense scored 17 points. We missed that fourth-and-short going in to tie the game 7-7. Could have been a difference in the ballgame very early. We didn’t get that done. We have to improve on that stuff. I thought overall offensively we made some improvements in some areas.
On whether the expectations were too high for this season, why are you so optimistic about the future
“Because I’m a competitor (laughter). We’re at LSU. You know what, it’s hard for me to look at, ‘Hey, this is what we lost, this is what we don’t have’. I always kind of look at what we do have. I believe we have some outstanding freshmen that are learning how to play. It all started playing poor defense at the beginning of the year. We were playing good offense. We were scoring 40-41 points. Myles Brennan got hurt. There were a lot of blows throughout the year that this team took. I still think there’s fight. I still think we have a great recruiting class. I love the freshmen we have on this football team. I think with one or two recruiting classes, we will build championship teams again. I feel like we can do it. Maybe three years ago after we lost to Troy, nobody would ever predict we would win a national championship, have one of the best teams in the history of football. We did it. I do believe we can do it again.”
On the defense’s subpar performance vs. Alabama after such an encouraging outside vs. A&M
“Alabama is a different offense than Texas A&M, number one. They’re very explosive. I think they were scoring 48.5 points per game, 500 something yards of offense. They’ve had a very successful season. Outstanding quarterback. I was surprised we couldn’t get a better rush on them, to be honest with you. I was real disappointed we jumped offsides three or four times, I think twice on fourth down, then again, the ability to stop the explosive plays. I thought they were going to make some plays, but in the second half when (Derek) Stingley was on Devonta (Smith), I thought he did a pretty good job. I wish we could have doubled on Devonta more if the first half. Formations and stuff dictated we couldn’t. We had a couple of busts. Sometimes we were supposed to double him, and we didn’t. There were some missed assignments. We got to give them credit, they made the plays.”
On the health of Derek Stingley Jr. was injured against Alabama. On the possibility of building for 2021 with younger players
“First of all, Stingley had a slight injury in the beginning, I think maybe the second quarter or something like that. He came back and fought. I think he’s going to be fine. I talked to (LSU trainer) Jack (Marucci) this morning. He’s going to be at practice today. We don’t talk about 2021. We talk about finishing 2020. I got to give credit for all these guys that stayed, that didn’t opt out. We want to finish strong. I think you saw the willingness to compete to the very end against a very good football team. I expect that throughout the season.”
On the team’s problems in short-yardage situations this season; any evaluation of passing game coordinator Scott Linehan
“Well, you know, short yardage, Scott is third down, but not third down and short. We didn’t block the ends very well on that play. I wish we would have snuck it. We should have snuck it. We shouldn’t have taken the ball on the line of scrimmage, but we didn’t. We thought we had a play there. Cut block, the guy jumped around it, made a tackle for a loss. That was a very decisive play. I’m not saying it changed the outcome of the game but could have put us up 7-7 against the No. 1 team in the country, give us a little momentum. I thought we learned our lesson, obviously we didn’t. Something I got to get better.”
On the challenge Florida presents with a defense that leads the SEC in sacks
“We have to win some one-on-ones. They are very talented up front. I know their defensive coordinator (Todd Grantham) -very well. He was a defensive line coach, teaches great technique. It’s going to be a challenge for us.”
On the status of freshman safety Jordan Toles
“I think Jordan is going to be fine. I think he should be back for this week.”
On the manner in which you judge the progress of your offense with two true freshman quarterbacks
“Those are all things when the season is over, I’m going to look at it. Right now, our focus is on Florida.
On reassessing the final spots in your current recruiting class because of the dilemma with the offensive line
“Obviously offensive line is a priority for us. We only have one commitment right now. Yes, there’s a sense of urgency there. I do believe we’re in on some big-time players. I believe we’re going to have success on one or two. We may need a junior college player or maybe a graduate transfer in that area. I may have to hold a couple scholarships for graduate transfers.”
On the balance between trying to win now and getting freshman ready to play
“To be honest with you, we’re doing it already. They’re all playing. It’s not like we’re saving for the future. It’s what we have. Most of the players that are playing are playing for 2020. It just happens most of them are young players.”
On the reason you recruited wide receiver Jaray Jenkins
“I’m very proud of him. He had some hardships, losing his mother. He never blinked. Had a great high school coach, great family. Turned out to be one of our team leaders that’s developed. We liked his tape, we liked the way he caught the ball, the way he ran routes. He has developed into an outstanding receiver, really one of our team leaders. One of my favorite stories, to see how much he’s grown as an individual here at LSU.”
On the ability to re-recruit current players back for 2021 season
“Doing it, I promise you, on a daily basis. I talked to most of the guys about coming back. Some are dead set on going. Some are considering coming back. We still talk to them on a daily basis. Obviously, you have to worry about the season here. But that has been addressed with most of our players, that we want them to come back, we’d love them to come back, where they’re at, talking to their families.”
On what sales pitch do you use
“Well, development. Stay another year. Some guys stay another year and make $10 million by staying another year, get drafted higher. It all depends where they’re at, where the draft grade comes back, first round, second round, lower-round player. Come back, have another year, get drafted higher.”
On any discussion about playing in bowl games
“First of all, that conversation has never come up about a bowl or not a bowl. We’re concentrating on Florida. Obviously, we’re going to be concentrating on Ole Miss. After that we’re going to see where they invite us to go, then that will be discussed. As far as a meeting, that has never been discussed.”
On amount of time, it takes a player to figure the SEC out; does opting out affect your recruiting strategy
“Well, first of all, I think players at different levels, according to their athletic ability, their maturity, their background, seems like to me the guys that come in mid year graduates tend to have a higher success ratio their freshman year. Some of them take a while. You see guys at different levels. And, yes, opting out and stuff like that, your roster is so fluid that you have to keep up. I’m meeting every Monday on roster management, where we’re at, what does the future look like. Obviously for us, graduate transfers at key positions have been very successful for us. We hope we can do it again.”
On the benefits of playing in a bowl game
“Sure, another chance to compete, another chance for young players to get better, more practice time. Sure, another game would be great with me.”
On the importance of getting additional practice time
“Yes, and we need it. These guys didn’t get spring ball last year. These young players need a mini spring. Usually, it’s 12 to 15 great practices. So, yes, I think it’s a big-time advantage.”
On your initial approach defensively against Florida
“We got to know where that tight end (Kyle Pitts) is, for sure. He gave us fits last year. Great player. Kyle Trask is an outstanding quarterback. I think he has 38 touchdowns, three interceptions. Tough, can run the football. Got a great offensive line. A lot of speed. We’re just getting started on Florida. But obviously we worked on Florida this summer. We had time to game plan on Florida, then the game got canceled. I think we’re a little bit ahead. We’re looking at the last five games, marrying those two game plans. Today is only the beginning.”
On what a win would mean to the team at this point
“It will be a great finish, a great finish. Start with Florida. What an outstanding challenge. 8-1, going to play in the Swamp. We have to play our best football, play our best football to be able to beat Florida. We got to take care of LSU first. They pose some problems. We got to put our cleats in the grass, eliminate explosive plays, score more points on offense, play great on special teams to even think about beating them.”
On the emergence of freshman Kayshon Boutte
“Outstanding. We’ve been pleased with Kayshon ever since he came in. The day Ja’Marr Chase left, he had a great day out there, battled through some injuries, stuff like that. Glad to see we’re getting him the ball. I think he’s going to be a fantastic football player for us.”
On Tre Bradford’s emergence as the third running back over Chris Curry
“No, something we wanted to do. We wanted to throw him the wheel route on the back field. Specific plays for him. Tre can be a slot receiver, he’s that talented. I talked to him a little bit, maybe playing running back and maybe playing some receiver. He’s open to it. Maybe something we can do with him in the future.”
On the qualities that make Florida QB Kyle Trask so unique
“I had a great opportunity on my year off. Dan Mullen and I have a great relationship. He was a GA (graduate assistant) at Syracuse when I was leaving to go to USC. I’ve always thought he was an outstanding coach. I knew his offensive line coach. They asked me to go speak at their clinic. I spent four days there. We talked about recruiting, he and I. I asked him what the No. 1 factor is you’re looking for at quarterback. He did not hesitate. He said, toughness. The guy is tough. He’s tough, a competitor. He found him. He’s a diamond in the rough. I think you look at 38 touchdowns to three interceptions. The way he operates, the way he finds the guys. Dan is a great game day caller. He knows exactly what to do with his quarterback.
I think it’s a combination of a great quarterback and a great caller.”
On the steep drop off this season affecting the mindset of the players
“I didn’t see that in practice. I’m telling you; we had some great practices last week. Last Wednesday was one of our best practices. (LSU strength and conditioning coach) Tommy Moffitt monitors their energy, output during practice, mental drop offs. I have to give the players credit. They’ve hung in there, practiced, played hard for us.”
On the secret for getting more electric TD runs from John Emery Jr.
“And we should. We ran the stretch on him outside. Haven’t run enough of it. Was blocked very well. We should do more.”
On the potential move of Tory Carter to tight end and Arik Gilbert to wide receiver
“Yeah, I think Arik Gilbert is a phenomenal football player. I think the more time we can get him the ball, the more success our football team is going to have. It was very good to have Tory more in there to see his physicality on offense and also catch the ball in the bootlegs, turn it up, be very physical on the collision. I think the combination of those two guys in the game is very helpful to us.”
On the possibility of other players wanting to opt out earlier in season
“I can’t recall guys that came to my office. Most of the time when they opted out, most of them come talk to me. I try to convince them to stay, but they had already made their decision for one reason or another. I can’t recall us ever having convince anyone not to opt out. The only one that came back was Neil Farrell.”
On the possibility of having scholarships available to fill the players that opt out
“I wish. I wish they gave us more, but they don’t. We have 25, that’s it. Just because a guy opts out, you don’t gain another initial. That’s what makes it tough to get your roster back to 85. It’s not my call, but hopefully in the future the NCAA changes the rule to where you can have more initials, depending on guys opting out, juniors going to the draft early, to get your roster back to 85.”