Updated: Jul 20, 2021
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
All along, this very site believed LSU's quarterback battle would take on this exact trajectory, from Max's deserved first team snaps to start the off-season or TJ Finley's subsequent transfer to Auburn, if you read or followed our quarterback discussions or writing, you've seen this is the exact stage we've been setting from the beginning:
Max Johnson or Myles Brennan....the choice is between these two quarterbacks:
Will Coach O ride with Brennan for a second straight season, igniting a possible two year run for Myles at LSU?
Or will his faith, and the immediate future of the program lie in the dual threat capabilities and next level mentality of Max Johnson?
While both are backed by freshman slinger Garrett Nussmeier, he's still at least a season away from contending for a starting spot, despite the boundless possibility of his raw virtuoso talents; I saw enough evidence during spring to back up that take.
Even when there were four QBs, this race was always tabbed as a two man show:
Max or Myles....
Myles or Max....
First of all, the choice is between two slightly related, yet schematically / technically divergent offensive paths:
Myles offers a talented arm, loads of experience in and around the LSU program, the respect of many coaches / staff members after last year's heroic 435 yard, 4 TD performance vs Missouri (after suffering a rare abdominal tear in the 1st quarter); his arm is the strongest part of his game, capable of producing NFL tosses such as his sideline spring game rocket to Boutte against Derek Stingley Jr, among a list of other impressive passes during his Tigers career.
Brennan's passing acumen was phenomenal through 3 starts in 2020, nearly matching Burrow's 2019 numbers from his first trio of outings: only 5 yards, 1 INT and ten 3rd down conversions separated the pair of LSU quarterbacks.
So....what would Offensive Coordinator Jake Peetz receive from a Brennan style offense?
Passing, passing and more passing, almost reminding me of the one dimensional Detroit tenure of Matthew Stafford: big time stats, but what to show for it?
For all the Burrow-esque passing yards and touchdown stats from 2020, Brennan struggled mightily on key downs and at critical times in the red zone, finishing 9/40 on 3rd down opportunities after 3 starts and going 9/17 in the red zone: though he threw 6 TDs and 1 INT inside the opposition 25 yard line, LSU too often settled for field goals during "had to have it" moments (vs both Miss State & Missouri, contributing heavily to those historic defeats).
When you watch his film, many of these issues arose from a telegraphed offensive attack....every person in the building knew the ball was going to Terrace Marshall; Once Myles missed a read or was flushed from the pocket, a "no man's land brand of chaos" ensued:
While Brennan produced the SEC's highest rated passing grade vs the blitz in his 3 starts (according to Pro Football Focus College), once Myles was flushed from the pocket and forced to throw on the run, he rarely completed passes...so far I can only find two (one was a TD to Marshall vs Missouri...it is worth noting Myles also suffered his injury on this specific play).
Another question I have is leadership...
Do you think Myles has the confidence of the team?
There were moments during the spring game where Brennan's body language was all wrong, looking weary and ragged following a buoyant start.
After becoming the second of LSU's four quarterbacks to throw a TD (also ending as the only QB who didn't throw an interception), Brennan's momentum came grinding to a halt. Myles looked out of sorts on the burnout main street of "Three & Out City". Following the psychological weight of each wasted second half drive, Myles began slumping his shoulders, shaking his head in continuous annoyed disgust; This scene culminated in a bizarre, but revealing second half moment:
Though the play had been blown dead, Myles tried scrambling up the gut and ran into a wall of LSU defenders, led by Damone Clark. As Brennan tried to shake the play off, Damone roughed Myles up with the crown of his helmet and slapped the ball out of his hands, talking smack to the quarterback from point blank range.
Somehow, there wasn't any Joe Burrow vs Jacoby Stevens slugfest, there was no reaction from Myles...just a diet Pepsi lite jog by the LSU quarterback back to the line.
If you've never played football before, the above non-reaction from Brennan (following Damone's blatant challenge) may seem like nothing....but to a team aiming to rekindle their love of aggressive, energetic, all action devastation on both sides of the ball, it can mean everything.
Could Myles' tepid Spring be the main side effect of a near luckless quarterback fighting his way through the sickeningly painful rust of his hideous injury?
I think so.
Which leads me to my final reservation with Brennan:
Is it in his best interests as a human being to play football?
Can his body take another shot like he suffered vs Missouri?
Who's body can?
We've heard all the warrior stories...
Head Athletic Trainer Jack Marucci keeping the extent of Myles' Missouri injury between himself and the starter, a decision which nearly had disastrous consequences for Myles' health; Then, there's the ripped apart forearm when playing high school football at St. Stanislaus, a gory scene straight out of The Terminator in which onlookers could "see his bone"....
It goes without saying....Myles has experienced some of the worst luck I've ever seen for a quarterback:
While being called the "next big thing", Myles had to wait and watch Danny Etling putz around for a year and a half, then, it was his job.....until this Heisman / National title-winning, record-breaking, #1 overall pick named Joe Burrow showed up.....then, after watching an alien from another planet come in, steal your job, pull off things you could only dream of, and then mic drop on his way out, it was Myles' job once again.... finally....until he suffered a horrific injury after only 3 games, 2 close defeats, and a massive fall from #6 in the nation to a Top 25 exile;
He's been waiting four years...... I've been hearing his name as the next great LSU quarterback since 2015.
It's been a long road for Brennan:
Recruited by Les Miles, signed by Steve Ensminger, one-upped by Joe Burrow and Danny Etling...he's seen LSU go through Cam Cameron, Matt Canada, Steve Ensminger and Joe Brady at the offensive helm.....damn, he's even seen Jorge Munoz arrive at LSU, win a title, take off and come back again....he was incredibly on hand for Bo Pelini's year-long Baton Rouge vacation last year.
No other quarterback has been through football wars quite like Myles Brennan....it would be a mighty horrific shame if he were to never experience a full season as an LSU starter, at the least.
I would love to see Myles triumph and never deal with another major injury again, especially one like the doom-ridden abdominal tear he experienced last year.....nevertheless, the manner in which he plays (holding on to the ball and letting routes develop far too long, usually in empty formation) combined with his lack of athleticism, often leave him vulnerable to hits which would even garner gasps from Charles Manson.
Not only does this risky, nearly reckless formula of play-calling negatively effect Myles mentally and physically, the "Scott Linehan way" destroys a team's chances for success.
If Myles Brennan can display command over a balanced attack, if #15 can show me some escapability out of the backfield, if Myles can extend plays to secondary routes with patience and panache, if he can continue to polish his rocket arm, if he can become engrained in the team to the point no one wonders who the leader is, then I would be able to forecast a great LSU Tigers season in 2021 with Myles as our starter.
When it comes to Max Johnson, the immediate details which jump out?
He's less of a Brennan-esque slinger and more of a cerebral playmaker or distributor, possessing the utmost confidence in his physical abilities; often using his legs to buy his receivers time, before unloading precision passes from his underrated left arm, Johnson seeks to destroy defenses on every snap.
Max utilizes this method to play the opponent's momentum against themselves, quickly identifying space and attacking with either his arm or legs.
In fact, you get the feeling there are 2 or 3 plays within one single Johnson snap....that's the magic of his play extension.
When everything breaks down, the play is never over for Johnson, whether that means escaping for a brutal 4 yards in order to avoid a negative play, or unleashing a killer strike while absorbing a nasty hit, Max can make the backfield his playground.
There's a reason this very author was screaming for Max to start against Texas A&M and Alabama last year...he was our only chance of making either game competitive...and after watching his primetime heroics vs #6 Florida on his SEC / CFB starting debut, how could you not back him for continued success in 2021?
Against Florida, Max opened LSU's pressure-filled rivalry game by way of a beautiful lob pass to WR Jaray Jenkins, bamboozling every Florida defender in the process.....but when the play ended, Max exploded, injecting the team with pure steely energy when he pumped his fists and lost his mind in a rage-filled celebration, not unlike Joe Burrow's own 2019 assassin's creed.
On both sides of the ball, our squad fed off Max's madcap energy: the defense began forcing a litany of turnovers and in turn, Johnson was there.... licking his chops ready to capitalize.
Maximus was also money from critical downs, going 6/7 on 4th down opportunities, including tossing a pair of 4th down scores to Kayshon Boutte, another 4th and goal rushing touchdown, as well as a gutsy 4th quarter / lead-taking 3rd down screen pass to Tre Bradford.
Of course, the next week against Ole Miss, Max went a few more rungs up the ladder, tossing 27 completions, 435 yards, 3 TD passes, rushing for a goal-line TD on 4th down, while finishing with a 140.1 QBR....oh yeah, he also set the LSU freshman record for passing yards in a game and set up Kayshon Boutte with an SEC record-snapping 308 receiving yards.
More than just the power of Johnson's starting displays, his cameos provide a more complete picture of what he can do when the game is in his hands:
Across 5 drives vs A&M, Max threw 8 of Terrace Marshall's 10 catches, including the current Carolina Panther WR's final LSU touchdown, saving LSU from a pathetic shutout for the second time that season.........(during the prior 3 quarters, TJ Finley completed only 2 passes to Terrace through 10 drives)...
When he mopped up vs Auburn, he saved LSU from an embarrassing shutout by throwing 10 passes over 9+ yards to 7 different receivers, finishing with 9 first downs, a pair of 3rd down completions, a key 4th down passing conversion, and a long touchdown up the sidelines to Kayshon Boutte, the freshman's first touchdown catch for LSU.
Cleaning up again vs Bama, Max completed his first 5 throws to 4 different receivers, absolutely dealing out there and sending Saban into a late game eruption.
The questions we need to ask regarding Maximus Johnson:
Can he get better than what we've already seen?
Yes he can....he already has.
Max's arm is already taking on a new dimension on the cusp of his second year, unloading deep passes with expert precision & confidence, working on every facet of his game alongside his 16 year NFL veteran father Brad, establishing strong connections with wide outs Kayshon Boutte, Koy Moore, Jaray Jenkins, Jontre Kirklin as well as the 5 freshmen receivers, plus, Max is showing off an improved vision against the tightest coverages, and an uncanny ability to deceive a free safety; those who doubt his arm are in for quite the surprise.
What is Max's biggest weakness?
To be honest, I'm looking and the only thing I could come up with?
There's some general mechanical polishing he could work on (footwork, timing, reading the defense), at times his passes lacked power (which could end up costing him interceptions), sometimes he took too many hits, and last but not least? Max was a freshman.....that's it.
Those are the three deficiencies I found from a debutant quarterback playing in the SEC West without an adequate offensive line or playcalling structure.....any errant plays he made were all "in the name of winning the game"...and with only a single official turnover on his resume thus far, Max never really seemed to let his team down.
Finally, the former Oconee High quarterback has experienced what it's like to be a freshman starting his first game on the road against #6 Florida, a primetime rivalry event on national television, with the program's future & possibly his head coach's job resting on his shoulders;
Inexperienced in comparison to Myles Brennan?
Don't believe that for one second.
You could argue the returning veteran starters came back because of Max Johnson....at least to some finite degree.
Now....all the cards are on the table....
We know what Myles and Max have achieved, their potential, their promise....we've seen the evidence to back it up, we've analyzed the worrying signs & lingering issues of each quarterback's game...now it's all about following their every rep in fall camp, their progress during the next few crucial months, and then.....the choice will be made.
The ramifications of this QB decision won't stop on the field, no.....
If Max is chosen by Coach O, his ascendancy would most definitely usher Myles' transfer from LSU; On the other hand, opting for Brennan over Max probably won't indicate an immediate quarterback room shakeup, although, if Myles cashes in on his opportunity, becomes a successful starter throughout 2021 with designs on returning for his final year of eligibility in 2022, it could get really messy...not to mention crowded.
That would be Max's junior season, or potential sophomore year (thanks to the extra season of eligibility), although 2022 would also be his brother Jake's freshman campaign at LSU......it could get awkward for Jake if his older brother is on the bench while he's catching passes for a Methuseluh-esque Myles Brennan.
Overall....when I look at everything....I just have a feeling about something subtle...
In only his second full offseason as a Tiger, we're seeing photos of Max hanging out with prime Tiger leaders such as Ty Davis-Price, Koy Moore, even freshman Jack Bech....he's been seen in photos hanging out next to Baby Gronk, the 9 year old celebrity footballer....of course, we've also seen Maximus taking part in his father's legendary Tik Tok videos....he's been extremely visible.
On the other side of the coin, the last time we saw or heard anything from Myles was an Instagram video of him being served an extremely expensive dinner at a fancy restaurant surrounded by his family.
There's nothing wrong with going out to dinner with one's family, although it has always felt to me like Max has a closer connection to the team....as if the entire squad can sense and buy into his wavelength. Myles seems to be in his own world...a little "above it all"...a bit "set apart" as "the quarterback".
At the end of the day, we're either getting Myles or Max...but the choice is clear, it is definitive, and the differences are striking.
Coach Orgeron's choice will impact the program far beyond 2021...even more important than picking his offensive and defensive assistants this offseason, Coach O has always understood how crucial his quarterback selection will be for LSU's championship ambitions.
While some will pine for Coach O to select Myles Brennan, all to protect the QB room's health going into the 2021 season, his choice has to be based around winning.....and winning now; he cannot make decisions due to the pressures of keeping certain players on roster....LSU's quarterback cannot be chosen out of fear.....
LSU majors in winning championships...we've won 3 and been to 4 games since 2003....keep this in perspective, Ohio State have lost 3 title games themselves since 2006.
When looking at LSU's top 2 national roster, you have to believe anything less than a National Championship in 2021 would be a disappointment....
It's the type of choice that could win or lose a National Championship....
It's the kind of decision which tends to define coaches long after they're gone...
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Copyright 2021 Uninterrupted Writings inc
SHOUTOUTS: May the best man win! Despite our personal preference between you two, LSU Odyssey supports both of you! LET'S GEAUX!