Updated: Feb 26, 2021
by Lonn Phillips Sullivan
TOP 10 TIGERS OF 2020 LIST:
KAYSHON BOUTTE (WR)
If you say "no one predicted Kayshon Boutte's record breaking freshman campaign", you wouldn't be entirely accurate:
Educated by his Westgate domination & WRs Coach Mickey Joseph's high praise about Kayshon's "natural catcher's hands", LSU Odyssey projected him to catch 31 passes for just under 500 yards & 6 TDs in a preseason projection that was published when Ja'Marr Chase, Terrace Marshall and Arik Gilbert were still on LSU's roster...that's just how highly I rated the young man.
However, to say I expected 14 catches, 308 yards and 3 TDs vs an SEC opponent, snapping LSU WR Josh Reed's 20 year SEC receiving yards record in the process would be a lie ....no...I didn't. It took multiple big names to exit for Boutte to finally receive the amount of targets needed to reel in a 300 yard night...in fact, a 300 yard game seems like madness from NFL2K5, doesn't it? But once Kayshon became the #1 guy, breaking records became a new reality...
I was blown away...stunned by his extraterrestrial ability to allude tacklers...and yet, it wasn't surprising:
Once Ja'Marr Chase opted out before the season, I felt Kayshon would assume LSU's #2 WR spot, even over seniors Jontre Kirklin or the highly rated Racey McMath.
Under the radar at the time, Coach Orgeron told Off The Bench how Boutte was "impressing him during practices". The freshman was the first guy there, the last to leave, caught every pass and carried himself as if he were the new #1 wide receiver...remember, Terrace Marshall was still on the team at this juncture...
His confidence was skyrocketing and he connected well with Myles Brennan, yet the freshman found himself at the 4th or 5th WR spot on opening day, playing a supporting role against Miss State.
Early on during the first week loss, Brennan tossed Boutte straight into an unforeseen hit. The New Iberia native was lit up hard with a head shot, sent to the ground in a cacophony of thunderous brutality which effectively limited the debutant receiver for the rest of the defeat.
As LSU's offense sputtered early in the season on key downs, Kayshon was often out of the picture from a play-calling standpoint, and more and more passes from Brennan or Finley were forced towards Marshall or Gilbert, often turning into interceptions.
Despite the freshman role, when Myles, T.J or Max went to Boutte early in the year, he demonstrated his astounding explosion and ability to launch in stride, effortlessly gliding past defenders as if his body were a vehicle he could steer and accelerate (his TD vs Auburn from Max Johnson or his 3 catches at the end of the Vandy game).
While the final stats against A&M may declare only 3 catches for 9 yards under Boutte's name, they fail to account for what we all saw on camera or in the flesh:
Kayshon making a Grade A "Get Yer Popcorn!" catch, tapping a toe in bounds at the inch line before falling into the end zone well past the pylon. The referee signaled a touchdown on the play, yet the reviewers halted the extra point.
The play was crazily overruled, even the obvious catch at the one yard to one inch line... It was a wild turn of events....one which would change the game.
On the next play, freshman QB T.J Finley forced a telegraphed pass vaguely in the direction of a lazy route by freshman TE Arik Gilbert, hitting an A&M player instead for the red zone interception.
Regardless of the non-touchdown call's injustice, the young Tiger's true powers weren't unleashed until the two leading receivers left the program: Terrace Marshall's amicable opt out following the A&M game only days before the Tigers faced Alabama...and then, Arik Gilbert's turbulent transfer from the team, later joining LSU rivals Florida.
Heading into a gauntlet that included a rescheduled match up against the #1 team in the nation & LSU's most bitter rivals, immediately followed by Florida's 6th ranked squad, Kayshon Boutte was LSU's only true undisputed playmaker left in the passing game.
Receiving only 26 targets over 7 games prior to the Alabama showdown, the Tigers' new #1 receiver would embark on a 41 target, 4 (5) TD, 27 catch spree over the final 3 games of the season, two of these breathtaking freshman performances arriving against top 10 squads (#1 Alabama, #6 Florida).
Once again, it begins with some unbelievable playmaking, scorching work after the catch only to end in a near Boutte touchdown which, if not for Jontre Kirklin, could have resulted in an LSU turnover.
After surrendering a 21-0 lead to Nick Saban's Tide at the end of 1 quarter, LSU's offense opened the 2nd by scoring a touchdown:
Finley scanned the scene, watched Boutte ghost through a few screen-hungry Bama defenders (who must've forgotten their corner was blitzing on the play) and tossed a dart against the corner blitz with brilliance. Boutte snapped the Finley pass out of the air and took it all the way in for a touchdown from 44 yards out....then it caught my eye. "He dropped the ball at the one yard line...maybe even the two! He just went full DeSean Jackson!"
Cheating himself out of a touchdown a week following the refs robbing him of another, Boutte was shocked at the mistake as much as we were; Still, in a game the Tigers were already destined to lose, no harm no foul thanks to Choo Choo's heads up play.
Cameras show a hilarious moment unfold: Boutte flips the ball and the pigskin lies there on the grass untouched for quite some time, defeated and cynical Bama defenders huffing and puffing their way past the ball, LSU's offense celebrating with Boutte...then, an attentive Jontre Kirklin hustles from the other side of the field in a very stealth-like fashion (not wanting Bama to know the ball is live) and scoops it up, walking into the end zone and shoving the ball in Boutte's gut, saying "might wanna hold on to this."
The two were even shown engaging in some hilarious verbal jousting back and forth on the sidelines while many were wondering why the touchdown stood.
It was nearly 3 minutes until the full replay was shown to viewers at home, while CBS commentators Gary Danielson & refereeing analyst Gene Steratore criticized the referees endlessly....and for those in attendance at Tigers Stadium, many came home tweeting me asking "why did they give Boutte a touchdown? It looked like he dropped it?"
No matter the error, Kayshon Boutte was still the brightest spark against the Crimson Tide, catching 8 passes from 12 targets for 111 yards against Patrick Surtain (who shied away from covering Kayshon).
I knew right then everything I was sensing about this young Tiger was spot on...here he comes with a vengeance against Alabama.
After Chase, Marshall and Gilbert left, someone needed to step up...it wasn't sophomore National Champion Trey Palmer or Jaray Jenkins who took that #1 guy mantle, it was 2020 freshman powerhouse Kayshon Boutte...and Coach Orgeron expected that outcome, ordering maximum targets his way.
Although it was too little too late...how did our quarterbacks hardly aim for Kayshon Boutte, only a meager 26 times across the first 7 games of 2020??? He actually turned this limited usage into some primal real estate, catching 18 receptions, 208 yards, 1 TD & the near TD haul vs A&M.
Across the final 3 contests including #1 Alabama, #6 Florida and finishing it all off against Ole Miss, Boutte had 41 targets come his way, generating 27 grabs, 527 yards, 4 TDs & 100+ yards vs all 3 opponents. This shows exactly what the young man can do when given the chance.
In the face of criticism over his exuberant fumble, Boutte responded in a manner we expect from established greats, not freshman debutants amidst the most troublesome year in college football history.
Without Terrace Marsall & Arik Gilbert (as well as Ja'Marr Chase opting out in pre-season), Kayshon led the Tigers' passing attack through a fog-filled gauntlet in the Swamp at #6 Florida, ruining Dan Mullen's big senior night with a National Championship-spoiling Tigers victory 37-34. Recording 108 yards, a big TD, two receptions of 34+ yards, four 1st down conversions, and a key 3rd down grab, Boutte ran the Gators ragged.
Following fellow freshman Max Johnson's debut start, the WR & QB pair became an established duo of true dynamism: Boutte & Mad Max began to showcase the chemistry they started in garbage time vs Auburn & Alabama; Now with the stakes at their highest for Coach Orgeron's program, both freshmen were getting their big chance & they both backed their Coach.
Boutte responded to his critics by ripping Todd Grantham's defense to shreds in the yards after catch department (21.6 yards per grab vs Florida). He was taking the ball and summarily destroying, depleting and draining Florida's defense, punishing them one defender after another for allowing him to gain possession so easily.
The former Westgate machine played a key role throughout the win over Florida, but his work in the clutch came up huge for Coach O's squad:
On the final touchdown scoring drive (handing LSU a temporary 34-31 lead), the Tigers faced a rough 3rd and 7...yet it was another brainless play from Florida's Marco Wilson which kept the drive going. Boutte's physicality and speed proved too much for "Shoeless" Marco Wilson, forcing the "defender" into an obvious pass interference & an automatic first down.
After a gashing 13 yard run by former Tiger / current Utah Ute Chris Curry, Johnson hit the New Iberia born receiver in stride for a disgusting 41 yard gain of generational conquest, a high octane play setting LSU up at the Florida 10 yard line. Though it would take a gutty 3rd down touchdown throw to Tre Bradford to grab the touchdown, it was LSU's outrageous young receiver who made it all possible.
On the cusp of a Week 10 scrum vs Ole Miss, the final match up for the Tigers (due to our self-imposed bowl game ban), I expected LSU's offense to rack up points, I hoped Max Johnson would spread the ball around, convert 3rd & 4th down opportunities & throw Boutte the ball ...thanks to Johnson & Kayshon's telepathy, LSU achieved these hopes and beyond.
At first, Max was finding Jenkins, Moore, Palmer...and yet, when push came to shove on critical downs, he went straight to Boutte. By the time LSU's defense began forcing turnovers left and right, Johnson wasn't messing around...he knew they had to cash in.
Accordingly, he threw the ball to his #1 guy repeatedly (20 overall targets, not including 3-5 more on plays with flags), the receiver showcasing blistering playmaking attributes & durability over 4 quarters, pulling off a stunning, record-breaking / history-making performance.
Kayshon scored 2 of his 3 touchdowns with simple "gimme the ball" crossing routes, Johnson's timing and accuracy allowing his receiver to catch the ball on the run towards the sideline...the rest was a series of supernatural moves from the LSU wide out.
The Louisiana-born Tiger toyed with Ole Miss' defenders, stiff-arming defensive end Jalen Jordan as he raced out to the sideline for a massive gain. But these weren't just flashy, comfortable scores...these were huge plays made by a freshman receiver while the program's quest for a face-saving end to a disappointing year hanging in the balance.
Witnessing Boutte's acceleration in mid-flight is akin to seeing a football player floating with the ball...effortless flow...a simple body adjustment from #1, a routine swivel of the hips can be the end of the play...such is the unfair nature of his speed, agility, underrated physicality and of course, the suspenseful finesse.
He makes the catch, turns slightly up field before suddenly sticking his foot in the ground, turning your body in a knot, creating the hesitation, uses his low center of gravity to change direction and cuts back for 20 more yards...or more....leaving defenders choking on the screams of their flailing teammates.
Another secret to his success, especially against the Rebels? The way Boutte maneuvers his body through hits, absorbing contact and bouncing off missed tackles for further yards.
Watch the footage against Ole Miss: Boutte is twirling about & dancing through, under or around these defenders as if he bent gravity to his every whim. He routinely manipulates the downhill momentum of his opponents, knowing his athleticism will win out...and it does...
It's hard to fathom exactly how he weaved his way through defenders time and time again, absorbing massive shots to the head, chest or legs....yet every time Kayshon took a huge hit, he continued to finish the play.
The full truth was Boutte's constant playmaking from increased touches equaled more hits and he suffered an injury by the end of 4 quarters, smashing up his ankle before catching the game-winning touchdown, taking off for an improbable score.
Injured & hampered? No one would've known as Kayshon Boutte tore off on a 45 yard long bursting frenzy through missed tackles, bouncing off hits and spinning through the Ole Miss atmosphere, away into the boundless twilight of Tigers Stadium...undisputed in his omnipotence.
"On the touchdown... I was hurting," Boutte revealed after the game, yet he kept his pain inside and went back out on the field...refusing to hide from the bright lights.
The play would hand the Tigers a huge season-ending victory, simultaneously giving Kayshon Boutte the all-time single game SEC receiving mark of 308 yards, eclipsing LSU legend WR Josh Reed's 293 yards against Alabama in 2001.
In the year of Devonta Smith, it was another Louisiana wide out who set the all time SEC record, surpassing Smith's multiple 200+ yard performances by stamping the first ever 300 yard receiving game into the history books as a freshman...Excalibur Maximus...
Heading into his 2021 sophomore year, Boutte is now surfing atop uncharted waters...already holding an all-time SEC record, establishing a fortified telepathy alongside quarterback Max Johnson, walking the walk / talking the talk as LSU's undisputed #1 receiver...
The sky isn't the limit, it's just another stepping stone for this young juggernaut.
And we'll be along for every part of the ride...
2020 GAME BY GAME NEXT LEVEL STATS
(MANUALLY TALLIED BY YOURS TRULY)
VS MISS STATE
1st downs 1
1st Downs 3
Gains of 10+: 3
1st Downs 2
Gains of 10+: 2
VS SOUTH CAROLINA
1st Downs 1
Gains of 10+: 1 (19 yard catch)
1st Downs 1
Gains of 10+: 1
Gains of 20+: 1 (43 Yd TD from Mad Max)
1st Downs 3
3rd Downs 1
Gains of 10+: 2
1st Downs 4
3rd Downs 1
Gains of 10+: 3
Gains of 20+: 1
1st Downs 4
3rd Down Conv. 1,
Gains of 10+: 3
Gains of 20+: 2 (34 yd TD, 41yd)
VS OLE MISS
1st Downs 11
3rd Downs 1
4th Downs 2 (2 TDs)
Gains of 10+: 8
Gains of 20+: 5 (32 yd TD & 18 yd TD on 4th)
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Copyright 2021 Uninterrupted Writings Inc LLC
SHOUTOUTS: PETE! NURSEKORT!!!! MARYROSE!!!!! REDSTICK2020 & OF COURSE A.D!