Updated: Jan 11
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by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
I know what you're thinking....
What a sloppy, outrageous and insane victory to end the season...
But it was a night which encapsulated 2020 perfectly, wasn't it?
Never pretty... so many missing in action... massive potential for greatness just around the corner...huge blows derailing all manner of momentum....psychological thrills, chills and spills...if 2019's 58-37 game featuring 1,328 yards of combined offense wasn't crazy enough, the game we predicted to be a wild, unruly affair to rival last year's game turned out to be true....in ways we could never imagine:
There's a beauty in the struggle...
I had LSU winning 44-29, however these young Tigers scored 34 in the first half alone to set up 53 total as our freshman quarterback Max Johnson led our offense to 27 first half points;
Our defense forced 4 turnovers throughout one of the most bizarre opening 30 minutes of football you'll ever see....but it was Mad Max to Kayshon Boutte for 20 targets and 14 receptions for an SEC-record snapping 308 receiving yards and 3 TDs which will blow the mind most.
The #1 local 5 star freshman deleted Ole Miss' secondary.
They didn't even exist...
Max Johnson constantly threw smart passes, 27 completions at 8.5 yards on average for 435 yards and 3 TDs....wowza....but it's the next level stats that tell the true tale:
Johnson threw 19 first down completions (11 during the turnover-assisted first half), 3 on 3rd down, a pair of touchdown tosses to Kayshon Boutte on 4th & 2, the electric talisman taking the ball out of the air and doing the rest with his unstoppable football body, mind and soul; Mad Max completed 8 passes for gains of 20 yards or more, ran for four 3rd down conversions and scored another rushing touchdown on 4th and goal....
In two starts, we've seen Johnson throw three 4th down touchdown passes now, adding a huge goal-line rushing score on this night.
Max and Kayshon had a fantastic / fascinating connection for much of the 2020 campaign (Alabama second half, Auburn & Florida TDs) but tonight was synchronicity in the SEC conference better than anything we've ever seen and the raging, ravenous greatness emanated from two brilliantly eternal freshmen, now heading into their sophomore campaign with a headful of glory and more than enough proof on the field to justify their ascendancies.
Boutte was bouncing off defenders like they were made of Limp Bizkit's 21st century career, completely ramming the accelerator in the yards after catch department which, I'm sure, was at least 55-60% of his 308 yard haul.
I had the privilege to speak with Kayshon prior to the season and I asked him a question forwarded by one of our most cherished Odyssey friends Mike Watson: The question was:
"Are you better out wide or in the slot?"
Kayshon's appropriately badass answer to our LSU Odyssey Subscriber?
Tonight, Boutte wasn't even deployed in too many exotic formations or points of attack (never did we see him in the backfield or motioning too prolifically) and yet he sliced and diced Ole Miss' defense like Gordon Ramsay on a killing spree.
Eclipsing WR Josh Reed's 293 yards vs Alabama in 2001 (Boutte still coming in second with 14 receptions, tied alongside a few 2019 greats behind Reed's 19 during the same 2001 Bama win) while Max, Myles and even Joe Burrow's 2019-2020 records still look up at QB Rohan Davey's crazy record breaking 528 yards passing in that 2001 Bama game as well...
But tonight, this gratuitous offensive onslaught came from a freshman quarterback who was known primarily as a run-first, RPO guy...not a skin-you-alive cutthroat passer.
Well, I remember back awhile my friend Tony saying Johnson was a great passer and I began to believe it after witnessing a few of LSU's preseason scrimmages...I wrote that, I'm sure of it....but 435 passing yards for a freshman is ridiculous...I predicted he'd throw for 306 and 3 TDs with 1 Rushing TD...well, he went even further...
Can LSU really hand Myles Brennan back the starting job next summer after this?
Surely the transfer speculation and action regarding T.J Finley (that this author broke) will sadly accelerate in the aftermath of such domination by Mad Max...
We will answer these questions and more in a piece coming extremely soon focusing on LSU's quarterback future for 2021...we were waiting for the season to end and one freshman QB to out-duel the other...there was a reason we called for Max to start vs Alabama...
This was special...with a nonexistent rushing attack coached by disinterested passing fiends in Ensminger and Linehan, Johnson still rattled off 52 yards and 2 gutty rushing TDs, 3 3rd down rushes and a 4th down rush) while freshman Tre Bradford looked really promising in spots for 53 and walk-on freshman #27 Josh Williams took off for a team-leading 55 from 12 carries, led by a 30 yard long burst down the sidelines.
2020 LSU vs Ole Miss was just bonkers...it was just madness, from the offense letting out 593 yards of total offense and allowing 558 themselves on defense, it was a game which made the 2019 contest look tame and obvious in its result...of course Burrow, Clyde and Chase's ridiculous nights gave LSU the win....that's what upperclassmen make sure of....but tonight LSU had to have the rare remaining upperclassman in the trenches or on defense and the inexperienced freshmen leading the offense "together strong" in order to get through the rain-soaked attrition...and the seniors who made sure of that deserve every ounce of credit.
While allowing an atrocious 558 yards (LSU's 9th game of 10 contests where Pelini's defense allowed 500+ yards...allowing 600+ on 3 occasions), this 2020 LSU defense may not be judged too kindly by history, but the future of this defense in the hands of an evolving bevy of 4-3 capable players can seem enticing when it works....we just haven't seen it work outside of some illustrious individual, renegade performances by defenders who've had enough.
Although it's true, this group also showed heart as much as gutty resolve vs Ole Miss, responding to big gains by making red zone stops, tackles for loss, sacks or turnovers with their backs against the wall...in actuality, they handed the offense the game with 6 turnovers and at the same time, still could not get out of their own way.
At one point, Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral threw 5 INTs from 12 consecutive passing attempts, a statistic which doesn't even appear real at this point but absolutely was, hitting his 5th just after half time....yet the quarterback who was mentally finished still racked up 409 total yards on the Tigers.
The panic inside Corral's tortured psyche began when Jay Ward caught the first of his 2 INTs on the night, but wouldn't stop when free safety Todd Harris broke on another duck pass from Corral and caught his 2nd INT of the season and only continued when DE Ali Gaye batted a pass to his chest for his first ever LSU INT and a well deserved one after 7 team-leading pass break ups..... and with 40 seconds left in the half, you have Jabril Cox also jumping on a screen route for his 3rd INT of the campaign, before finally Jay Ward finishes the cycle of INT Life with Matt Corrall once and for all when he caught a 50/50 jump ball duck to open the second half.
For someone who loves interceptions and turnovers and made their trade on the youth gridiron of Davis County, Utah by intercepting passes or forcing / recovering fumbles, this was glory-bound action from LSU's instinctive secondary, undeniable defensive line and gutty linebacking duo / trio (Cox, Baskerville...& Stevens for 25 combined tackles and an INT?).
Rising Tiger Legend CB Jay Ward may have allowed the first touchdown of the game, but he atoned when he cut in on a short hitch route at its apex and intercepted Corral, taking the ball to the house for LSU's 4th defensive touchdown of 2020 (LSU has 8 defensive touchdowns since the start of the 2012 season: thus unit had 4 alone...this was Ward's 2nd interception in 2 games and his first ever LSU touchdown, but there's a bigger statistic which points to a growing greatness within the heart of this LSU defense, regardless of the struggles:
In 2011, LSU's G.O.A.T defender Tyrann Mathieu scored 2 defensive touchdowns (came within a yard on a few other forced turnovers) Ron Brooks had 2 INT RET TDs and Kevin Minter scooped and scored, taking their tally to 6 (not 3) defensive touchdowns....that record hadn't been touched until this horrible .500 season arrived and it wasn't matched individually until Eli Ricks scored his 2nd Defensive TD vs Florida and overall, also the 2011 team's hollowed record record of 6 wasn't touched before tonight, during a game in which Bo Pelini's porous defense allowed 307 rushing yards from 48 rushes for a 6.4 clip....the Tigers' defenders couldn't stop Lane Kiffin's rushing attack in the second half whatsoever and it didn't matter.
Hell, we even surrendered and submitted unto Matt Corrall for 150+ rushing yards!
Because of atrocious performances against the run tonight, LSU were lucky to win this game....even after forcing 5 interceptions and creating 6 overall turnovers...still, our Tigers only won by 5 points...
In what would be Jacoby Stevens' final play as an LSU Tiger, #7's defensive unit forced their 6th turnover from a key forced fumble inside the red zone by Ali Gaye, finally clinching the game, with Orgeron / Johnson / LaCoutoure's thin D-Line eternally grateful for #7 Jacoby Stevens' recovery hustle (and DE Ali Gaye swatting the ball from Corrall's right hand) to ice this crazy game.
LSU's D-Line were facing the gauntlet tonight, one rushing attempt after another knowing if they didn't make the play, a gain of usually 10-30 yards was to be had in behind;
Knowing this eventuality, they still forced themselves through Ole Miss's O-line like butter, grabbing 32 overall tackles and two sacks, although their continuous, unceasing siege from Ojulari (4 pressures, 3 hurries, 3 hits including one on 3rd down), Gaye (3 pressures, 3 hurries) or senior Andre Anthony forced every turnover.
By the end of the game when Stevens recovered the fumble, these D-Linemen were huffing and puffing from running their guts out (ala 2018 vs A&M):
Graduate Assistant Coach and former #18 Tiger Christian LaCoutoure played all 4 quarters and 7 overtimes of that game, the UCF Fiesta Bowl and others where he had to play every down for the Tigers' D-Line due to injuries: when I watched him coaching 'em up on the sideline as his Tigers could only muster pants and stares, he knew the message was being received, he didn't need to pound their heads...they were simply too tired to acknowledge what they understood, thanks to Christian's prodigious coaching:
There was senior #92 Neil Farrell burning the midnight "Oile" Miss as he raced from sideline to sideline to grab a monumental, game-deciding sack or hustling 35 yards up-field to halt Matt Corral before LSU's secondary could...if he decides to head to the NFL, Neil Farrell finished his LSU career in dominant fashion holding 7 overall tackles highlighted by 5 solo stops, 1 TFL and the huge sack;
On the other side of the coin, freshman Jaquelin Roy seemed a constant on camera, watching the big #99 make 6 assisted stops including one behind the line of scrimmage, their linebacker duo of Cox & Baskerville combined for 18 tackles and remained active for nearly every single play (with strong safety Jacoby Stevens acting as an auxillary LB)...also, with Derek Stingley Jr out once again, Jay Ward played from the first second to last and was incredible once again, somehow raising the bar from the Shoe game.
Ward has gone from strength to strength since his full recovery from injury and he's been nothing but brilliance personified since his return after Auburn: a blocked field goal as time expires vs Arkansas to preserve a 3 point lead, 1 red zone forced fumble to save face against Alabama, 1 acrobatic red zone INT (his first as a Tiger) vs Florida, 2 INTs tonight, all as he smashes everything in sight with a ferocity rarely seen on this LSU unit.
Outside of the 48 points allowed, the fire Pelini brigade, the madness surrounding LSU's 2021 quarterback throne, the allegations scandal, the 2020 opt outs and transfers parade, the recent speculation and doubts over a championship coach only 12 months after winning a 15-0 title with the Greatest of All Time college football squad....aside from all of that, this was one hell of a performance from an embattled set of players who watched every "star" guy sit on the sidelines, every top NFL Draft pick opt out of a game such as this (Ole Miss included), those guys went out there for their own destinies and took this game on senior night...
Although it was interesting watching seniors such as Jontre Kirklin, Neil Farrell, Glen Logan, Racey McMath, Austin Deculus, Zach Von Rosenberg, etc....
Their vibe wasn't one for themselves...this was a night for the last of the 2017 class's champions to pass the torch to the next Tigers who were playing alongside these 2020 title-winning seniors on the field, as well as those from 2021's class signing with the Tigers this week or in January / February....
If Kayshon Boutte can catch 3 TDs for 308 yards and 14 receptions to set an SEC record, then Chris Hilton, Deion Smith, Jack Bech, Malik Nabers or Brian Thomas could, too.
When Eli Ricks set a freshman standard yet again for DBU throughout 2020, only a year after Derek Stingley stole 6 INTs, S/NB Sage Ryan or CB Damarius McGhee could pull that off in 2021, as well.
LSU are creating a turnover machine on defense and a touchdown machine on offense...not in scheme or by coaching style or specifics, but in something which stands the test of coaching changes or scheme alterations: PURE ATHLETIC GREATNESS AND CHAMPIONSHIP INSTINCTS.
Coach Ed Orgeron understands exactly which young men to look for, both in athletic brilliance and grace as much as off the field character; the talents of these young men are developed and maximized at LSU no question, no matter who may be in place at the assistant spots, that is why I can tell Coach Orgeron has been an outstanding, long-lasting success in Baton Rouge.
LSU lost nearly 4 guys deep at almost every position on the entire roster, specifically the biggest in quarterback, offensive line, defensive line, safety, corner, even running back and yet Orgeron pulled off a .500 season.....Gus Malzahn would've lost 9 games facing these circumstances, Kirby Smart 6 or 7, Dabo Swinney 4 or 5 and Lincoln Riley wouldn't win a game in Orgeron's SEC shoes during 2020's challenges.
You only need to look in the trophy cabinet, the record book or on the recruiting trail to understand why Orgeron continues to pull off magic against every tide, wild river or bend in the road, Coach O has refused to break or give in...his seniors refused to give up or let up as well, and this mentality influenced the freshmen playmakers in the ways of a Tiger:
During the craziest season in college football history across the board (while no team faced the obstacles and onslaught of off and on-field issues as this Tigers group), LSU may have bent on defense, become too one-dimensional on offense...hell, this team could possibly have the wrong assistants on staff in certain areas (Linehan must go and Callaway must be ascended to the headset), however this LSU football squad under Coach Ed Orgeron looks electric heading into 2021...with more playmakers and history-takers on the 2021 recruiting trail set to join them in due time.
BLACK LIVES MATTER
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Copyright 2020 Uninterrupted Writings Inc LLC
SHOUTOUTS: Joseph Rutkowske, a true friend!