Updated: Apr 22, 2021
by Lonn Phillips Sullivan
Well, the 2021 Spring game has ended...and what did we think?
What did we see out there?
First off, don't read too much into the starting lineups, as there were a rash of injuries...but definitely pay attention to the Tigers who took their chances with full gusto.
There were some absences:
Todd Harris Jr
John Emery Jr
But for the most part, we had a good picture of the team....at least on defense:
Starting along the Defense was: DE Soni Fonua in for Ali Gaye but playing well (1 FF), DTs Joseph Evans & Neil Farrell Jr, while B.J Ojulari started on the opposite flank.
Behind the DL at LB: Damone Clark and Jared Small starting together in that 2 man LB setup we talked about a lot;
Then you had Jay Ward and Jordan Toles at safety, Cordale Flott at the nickel position, flanked by Stingley Jr and Dwight McGlothern all in the loaded secondary.
The offensive starters were Max Johnson at QB, Liam Shanahan remaining at center (struggling at times), Ed Ingram at left guard, Dare Rosenthal at left tackle, Chasen Hines at right guard and Austin Deculus at right tackle. In the backfield, Ty Davis-Price took over the ground game and on the outside, WRs Kayshon Boutte, Koy Moore, Jaray Jenkins, and Kole Taylor at tight end sealed up a nice but sloppy offensive unit on the day.
They're still trying to figure out the complex motion schemes of Jake Peetz at the moment, but what I saw was an offense that kept the play calls somewhat vanilla because they were working on establishing their bevy of pre-snap movements.
We watched TDP motion in and out of the backfield, showing up out wide, Kole Taylor was moved around, Jack Mashburn was kicked inside...we witnessed a group still trying to iron out the kinks.
Still, I loved the dynamic hints of an adventurous offensive philosophy from Jake Peetz, D.J Mangas, Jorge Munoz (who reprised his QB whisperer role from 2019) and analyst Steve Ensminger.
All the same, they ran into a brick wall for the 3rd time out of 5 scrimmages.
& MORE DEFENSE....
I told you about a week ago, in our piece testifying about LSU's unbelievable defense...and here they were, dead set on burning the page from last year as they forge forth in a rampant sea of aggression.
Strong tackling abounded, yards after catch were at a minimum, big plays were rare and turnovers were numerous, Daronte Jones' squad creating 6 turnovers, 5 INTs and 1 Derrick Davis Jr fumble recovery after a Soni Fonua strip.
Even while shuffling personnel, changing up formations or points of attack, Jones' unit are formidable, frenetic and fun to watch .
The defensive line came in as advertised, piling on never-ending pressure to the tune of 8 sacks & 3 broken up passes, while the defensive front combined for 12.5 tackles for loss.
Daronte Jones & Corey Raymond's secondary had an unreal day, picking off 3 passes, batting down 10 more, providing strong tackles on the edge and refusing to allow too many big plays.
This defense could be the SEC's best by midway through this coming season, such is their utter dominance and fundamental turnaround...still, we need to see this level maintained....it's too much fun to geaux without.
Today, many will anoint Myles Brennan as the guy...the "real quarterback" for the Tigers....but when you not only look at the performances, statistics, 3rd down efficiency, ability to extend the play....Max Johnson proved what he's made of just as much as Myles, though the team went 9 for 28 on 3rd down overall under all four quarterbacks and looked sloppy on occasion...which is to be expected at this juncture.
Even when "sacked" a few times, Johnson would've escaped if not for the blown whistles / gold jersey "blow it dead sacks".
On the first drive of the game, Johnson took the reins as the starter and led a highly effective drive into the red zone....although a penalty stripped him of a major touchdown to Boutte:
Stepping up in the pocket away from pressure, the walls collapsing around him, Maximus stood tall and rifled a centimeter perfect pass to Kayshon Boutte, mirroring their connection from last year. Kayshon broke two tackles on his way to the end zone, hopping over a sprawling Jay Ward and raced up the sideline for the score...though it was called back due to a penalty.
Regardless, Max found a nice rhythm and began uncorking short passes to the likes of Nick Storz, Koy Moore, Jaray Jenkins or TDP out of the backfield, although he found most of his big play success when targeting Jontre Kirklin and of course, Kayshon Boutte.
There is something smooth and positive about the way Johnson works the pocket, commands the offense and releases the football. His mechanics are unorthodox to most traditionalists: they may not force a quarterback whisperer to excuse himself with a bottle of hand lotion, however everything feels right for how he plays the game....everything seems easy for Johnson out there....of course, except for those first few drives.
Nothing was easy for any quarterback out there today against that defense.
As Max led the offense from the start with TJ leading the third string purple offense out there next, it was Myles Brennan, also clad in white and representing the second string white offense, so you have it right there....just as we said it the entire time:
Max and Myles are the two leaders in the QB race....and their play proved that beyond any doubt.
But who has the edge?
Max, because of his mobility.
Myles may have shown me he can move, but I didn't see him picking the right options on the run as Max routinely can.
While witnessing Brennan ignore a variety of escape routes (including a wide open touchdown run), we watched Myles take off on one promising, positive scramble through a furious pressure...and even the centrally-based path he took on that scramble could easily lend itself to him getting destroyed in the backfield...
Still, you cannot deny Myles' penchant for brilliant passing, tossing some sideline out route darts that possessed NFL sauce. He unleashed LSU's first big plays of the game (a long back shoulder fade over Derek Stingley Jr followed by another big touchdown bomb, both to Kayshon Boutte); Brennan protected the ball as well, posting 0 turnovers....something T.J Finley and Garrett Nussmeier weren't able to do for various reasons:
Finley's problems with turnovers reared their head once again today and I know why...
TJ is feeling the pressure of the starting job to the point he's forcing the ball into coverage, resulting in turnovers...a hallmark of his freshman season which fueled heavy defeats to Auburn, A&M & Alabama.
He didn't look relaxed out there...
Despite some strong reps at times, today will sting for TJ and I hope he can recover after the break.
TJ boasts the talent, owns an incredible arm & a perfect quarterback body, however....right now, he lacks confidence.
Elsewhere, freshman Garrett Nussmeier was out there having fun and showing the world what he's all about: Every play is a Hail Mary with this kid, rolling left, shifting right, bouncing back away from pressures. The Texas gunslinger showed off his arsenal, shaking and baking LSU's D-Line out of their socks at times, exquisitely spinning away to his left from pressure: (one example) making Jaquelin Roy dive at the air and topping it all off by tossing a sickening sideline completion.
Regardless of his 3 INTs, Nussmeier made fantastic plays which point to an extremely promising future....this kid has unbelievable moxy, throwing passes right at the same DBs who may have intercepted his previous pass....totally fearless.
He's not ready to start this year, but he's an unbelievable talent who could only be a season away from putting it all together.
(I wanted to see him finish that first drive in the red zone and make a few more plays, but overall a strong night from the second year QB)
(Great passing for the most part, yet his naive backfield maneuvers hurt the team and force us into continuous negative play scenarios we just cannot afford this year)
(Showed strong character when he rebounded from his interceptions, but those throws mattered little after his 2 forced picks and 0 TDs. The interceptions are one thing, yet failing to record a touchdown has to bug him. TJ needs to let the game come to him and relax or this starting job may be out of his hands by June.)
(Nussmeier threw 3 INTs, one more pick than Finley, however he also whipped a nice touchdown to Koy Moore, the WR's first unofficial or official touchdown catch at LSU;
Nuss produced some spectacular plays on the run and in the pocket, he excited the crowd, jazzed up the offense and made chasing defenders shake their heads in disbelief).
5. DWIGHT McGLOTHERN
During his starting turn opposite Derek Stingley Jr, Dwight McGlothern enjoyed a terrific Spring Game, controlling his one on ones, making nice solo tackles, as well as batting down a team-leading 4 passes, including a 4th down red zone pass on the first drive of the game.
I really loved what I saw from Dwight today, coming out and playing fundamentally sound cornerback out there, tackling well, forcing rushers inside even when unable to fight off his blocks, altering routes or affecting throws thanks to his blanket coverage, and most of all, denying a sustained rhythm under his stead.
4. B.J OJULARI
With a multitude of pressures, QB hits & 2 sacks (we're still counting up all his pressures), Ojulari took over the starting job from the absent Andre Anthony and did NOT disappoint.
He showed off some stunning spin moves, frenzied stunting, barrelhouse swim moves, dipping under and around left tackles like liquid steel...
Ojulari needs to be on the field.
I get it, Andre Anthony is an amazing force, leader & contributor...but we have to see B.J Ojulari take to the field or there's no point in having him.
He's too damn good to be sitting on the bench.
3rd down packages and that's it?
No...why wait until 3rd down to kick an ineffective offense's ass?
3. JAY WARD
Though he missed a tackle on Kayshon Boutte's long first drive touchdown (a play which would be called back anyway), Ward barely put a foot wrong out there, blasting 7 tackles and capturing his 4th interception since he switched to free safety.
Not only did Jay start out there, he starred....
Jay was running the show with confidence and mastery.
Last November, A Star Was Born that fateful day in Arkansas...
2. JAQUELIN ROY
Roy was a mammoth juggernaut out there, punishing the entire LSU O-line from inside to outside, varying his pass rush constantly, and wisely following the selfless play of his edge rushers.
Guys like B.J Ojulari, Desmond Little, Soni Fonua & Phillip Webb created a ton of havoc off the edge, which in turn propelled interior tackles like Roy, Evans, Smith, Eric Taylor or Farrell Jr into the backfield....time and time and time again.
Some may point to the scrimmage "no QB contact" rules as the reason why Roy grabbed 3 sacks, but those people didn't bother to watch the game......it could've been 7 or 8 no contact sacks for Roy....he was repeatedly on the door step of defacing quarterbacks and often supplied strong run support.
No one could deal with this guy, period....in anyway shape or form.
In fact, I don't think anyone realizes just how dominant he can really be....
Joseph Evans may be our most influential D-lineman during the 2021 Spring Game, but Jaquelin Roy was the best.
Those who say "let's wait until he does that in a real game".....well....let's just say, in limited reps as a freshman against the #6 Gators, Roy grabbed 2 sacks....so....he's proven he is more than capable of composing a symphony of death for every quarterback in the country.
1. JARED SMALL
The Catholic High super senior was all over the field, firing off like a cannonball and ricocheting in five different directions, splintering off and desecrating ball carriers or pass catchers, stop / drop and clock-ing their asses right where he found 'em.
Small went full renegade today, testifying before the Death Valley crowd what he is all about as a Tiger.
We've recently written or talked about Small grabbing reps and making good stops, yet I didn't see him coming out here and leading the team in tackles, grabbing an interception, 1.5 tackles for loss, breaking up passes....
Jared wasn't lucking out by racking up a litany of gang tackles thanks to a load of reps, he grabbed 9 solo stops from his whopping 14 tackles (they reported 14 right before he grabbed his final tackle...but since they're officially going with 14, I guess I'll go with that too...??).
Will Small start in week 1?
Can he maintain this high level of unstoppable heathen brutality, to the point his namebadge ripped off the back of his jersey???
It may just be that kind of season....I never count a Tiger out.
5. ED INGRAM
Blasting our defensive line relentlessly, while creating lanes for Ty Davis-Price, big #70 Ed Ingram brutally held fort as our one true focal point along the offensive line.
Though I believe the wrath of Andre Carter's #1 D-Line will continue to strengthen James Cregg's O-Line, they were embattled on every rep, rarely feeling comfortable, at ease or in a setting where their protection schemes went exactly according to plan....all of which should surely make them a better unit, if they can handle the adversity.
So far, I saw true nasty greatness from only one offensive lineman on most reps during the Spring Game, and that was Ed Ingram at left guard, holding his own against Joseph Evans for extended periods while shielding left tackle Dare Rosenthal on more occasions than he'll receive credit.
Our best runs often went straight through his gaps or cleverly played off his anchoring protective shield and each quarterback felt more comfortable moving to their left than their right....but only one of our four QBs are left handed....what does that tell you about their trust in Ed?
Hopefully Ingram's sterling example can raise our offensive line's collective level, upping their game to match Ingram's NFL-ready warriorship.
4. TY DAVIS-PRICE
Rushing 15 times for 76 yards, Ty went from strength to strength out there, bulldozing his way through tackles & breaking a 28 yard scamper through the teeth of our high octane defense, even while only recently recovering from an injury.
He handled life as the main running back beautifully....yet, he handled Saturday's "only one running back" scenario with even mightier prowess:
Touchdown Davis-Price made any injury concerns seem futile today, staking full claim of the #1 running back role, averaging 5.1 yards per carry and replicating his loose grind between phantom speed or pummeling power with sophisticated ease.
I was growing concerned when he was still receiving reps late in the game, being overworked so soon after his injury and a successful Spring Game, but I'm hoping he left the game fine.
We have to let our guys recover.
3. MAX JOHNSON / MYLES BRENNAN
See QBs section
2. KAYSHON BOUTTE
Boutte showed out today in a strong continuance of 2020's interstellar ending:
Demonstrating more physical presence than last year, he out-muscled LSU's wonderful DB unit to grab 11 receptions for 162 yards including two long bomb touchdowns, the first from Max was removed due to a penalty away from the play and another following a Myles Brennan fake spike, hauled in over the top of "practice nemesis" Derek Stingley Jr no less.
Is his #1 spot under threat?
No way, because not only did LSU's Flying Circus put on an exhibition on Saturday, Boutte is still the guy:
When a quarterback was unsure of what he was seeing at any moment, they scanned the field for Boutte and let it fly, trusting in his uncanny abilities.
What's most impressive????
We weren't even able to see all the various ways Boutte will be deployed this season....this was Kayshon....straight up...mano e mano....against Derek Stingley Jr or Dwight McGlothern and a secondary with 3 INTs, and he still made them pay.
In fact, Jake Peetz was never going to show Alabama, Auburn, Georgia or Florida any of our varied sets with Boutte in the backfield, motioning in and out of the slot, but even with a conservative offense against a beastly, turnover-creating defense & an extremely physical secondary, Boutte excelled and sent a message to anyone believing his freshman year was a flash in the pan.....
He's about to take that pan, fill it with sizzling big plays next to a decadent aroma of touchdowns, and smack ya upside the head with it.
1. JONTRE KIRKLIN
Catching a ridiculous 16 passes for 209 yards and 2 scores from 4 different quarterbacks while playing for both 1st & 2nd string offenses, Jontre had his greatest day as a Tiger, waiting four years to show the world what he's made of....and rest assured Choo Choo, they're talking about you tonight.
Choo Choo tore it up, showing a variety of catches in his repertoire: leaping grabs, well-timed crossing routes, back shoulder fades, over the shoulder teardrops, quick slants.... or even laying it out for the football....after leading the Tigers in drops last year, this was the freight train's redemption....however Jontre Kirklin didn't just atone for some dropped passes last year, he just skyrocketed his name up the depth chart.
Will he be the #2 WR??
Too early to tell, but he played like a #1 today.
More Spring Game analysis on its way....
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by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Copyright 2021 Lonn Phillips Sullivan Writings Inc
SHOUTOUTS: Michael Dineen!