Updated: Feb 27, 2022
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Today, we begin to count down the XI Top Tigers of 2021, and much like last season's Top 10 Tigers of 2020 list, we were forced to analyze a season which will live on as a dangerous time for LSU, a scary year full of uncertainty and disappointment....
However, through it all, certain Tigers treated fans to individual brilliance at an elite level, showing out for the Tigers Community in our darkest, most desperate hours of need.
Who stepped up when LSU needed them most?
We reveal our Best IX Tigers of 2021.....
And we begin with a controversial choice....
MAX JOHNSON (QB)
27 TD passes
1 TD run
2,815 Passing Yards
While there certainly are mixed feelings regarding Max Johnson's LSU career & transfer destination, there shouldn't be too much dismay concerning his inclusion among the other Tigers on this list.
Throwing 27 touchdown passes within a ramshackle offense (almost designed for Johnson's failure), routinely suffering vicious hits or sacks, all as his running game were nonexistent for our schedule's first 5 Saturdays, Max was swimming against an unstoppable tide.
It's funny how....after a "disappointing season" from Max Johnson & LSU's impotent offense, #14's 27 touchdown passes still ranked 3rd within the SEC, only behind Will Rogers and Heisman winning QB Bryce Young, climbing up to 15th nationally.
Though make no mistake, 2021 was defined by Max's regression at the quarterback position, completely staged by soon-to-be-fired Offensive Coordinator Jake Peetz's obsession with calling long developing routes. Alongside this horrific play-calling, Max's poor pocket presence, happy feet, and lack of a running game or offensive line, there were many elements which negatively compounded Max's 2021 issues.
Often, he was bailing out of clean pockets and running directly into sacks....when he had time, he felt he had to run....when he thought he had time, he was a second away from getting the ball knocked out of his grasp; At other moments, he missed wide open targets with errant throws (Alabama), stepping away and out of hits or pressures...
On the other hand, we also witnessed Johnson completing two hair raising touchdown throws to Jaray Jenkins vs (Max's current team) A&M, or tossing 9 touchdowns to Kayshon Boutte during just 6 games.....we have to acknowledge at a couple different points over the first few games, Max tied with Bryce Young for the national touchdown passing lead.
But just like every other Tiger on Jake Peetz's 2021 offense, his limitations were ruthlessly exposed by a crackerjack box play caller, a beat up and shaken OL, Kayshon Boutte's season ending injury, and most of all, the mental & physical pounding LSU's sophomore starter took throughout the season...on and off the field.
Max's legacy at LSU will be forever mixed, especially due to the nature of his departure to despised rivals A&M, but when you really look at the big picture, you have to say:
Regardless of any criticism, Max Johnson is the best non-Burrow quarterback to start for LSU since Matt Flynn.
Over just 14 starts, one full season and the final 2 games of 2020, with most of his starts arriving in a season with just 6 receiving performances over 85 yards, Johnson tossed for 3,883 yards, 35 TDs, 7 INTs at a 59.8% completion rating, threw multiple touchdown passes in 10 different appearances, posted 6 Saturdays of 300+ yards, 8 games of 22+ completions (hitting 26 three times in 2021 alone); Max beat Florida twice, usurped 3 ranked teams, led ramshackle offenses to a trio of 40+ point games (2 against ranked opponents), orchestrated 3 come from behind wins, all before Max ended his LSU career with a brilliant final TD pass to beat A&M, a teardrop fade for Jaray Jenkins during the final seconds of a wild 27-24 come from behind victory......
His final pass saved LSU from their first sub .500 season since 1999....
In fact, he did the same in 2020; Throughout the Tigers' worst seasons of the 21st century thus far, Max Johnson kept LSU just above water, saving the program from further embarrassment, including shutouts at the hands of A&M and Auburn.
Flip the coin again, and when you look at his numbers, Johnson's season was derailed by major slumps:
First, he only completed 15 passes of 20 yards or more, including attempting just 2 long balls vs UCLA, and from his highly respectable yards & touchdowns totals, 1,143 yards & 15 TDs came from the first three games alone. He threw away chances to beat Alabama, his errors on critical downs cost us points vs Ole Miss, Auburn and Kentucky.....
Then again, this is a young man who was being brutalized by opponents; constantly taking big shots and free, open hits to the head, including a sickening pile drive vs Ole Miss and Alabama. While he was only sacked 9 times through LSU's first 5 outings, Max was blasted 19 times across the final 5 games (4 featuring Max being sacked on at least 3 occasions).
Taking a comparable chunk to quantify, LSU's Zach Mettenberger tossed 3,174 yards and 23 touchdowns through 12 starts and 5 substitute appearances....while throwing to twin titans OBJ and Jarvis Landry....
From 22 LSU appearances, QB Brandon Harris put up 2,756 yards and 20 TDs.....
In two full seasons at 24 starts, Danny Etling threw 4,586 yards and 27 TDs...
At times, Johnson was far from perfect, and LSU's coaching shuffle greatly hurt his development during his time in Baton Rouge......but when you really factor in everything, it appears to me as if Tiger fans are forgetting how desolate our quarterback play was for so long until Joe Burrow.
For some LSU fans, they'll call Max a failure; but if Johnson's season and a half tenure of 35 TD passes, 7 INTs & just under 4,000 yards is a failure, then it shows just how far the quarterback position has evolved at LSU in such a short timeframe, both from a performance and expectation standpoint.
How can you hate on a guy who embarrassed Florida with a historically depleted roster twice, single-handedly fired Dan Mullen, connected with LSU superhero Kayshon Boutte for maximum offensive carnage, threw for 435 yards in only his second start, tossed Terrace Marshall's final LSU catch...a touchdown to prevent a shutout....
Max also rode wild, turbulent waves around the LSU program, back and forth, watching 2 quarterbacks transfer, roles switch and priorities change rapidly...still, in dire circumstances, Max Johnson led LSU to a better record than anyone had forecasted at those critical junctures vs Florida and A&M...
LSU Odyssey tip our cap to Max and welcome the battles against him at A&M yet to come....
STAY TUNED FOR X
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Copyright 2021 Uninterrupted Writings Inc
SHOUTOUTS: NURSEKORT! GEAUX TAYLOR! KEVIN HOWELL! MICHAEL DINEEN NEW YORKER TIGER! JAMIE THORNHILL! RICHARD SALOOMATHON & YOU!