by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Could there have been any better cure for LSU's current on-field malaise than beating #6 Florida like THAT?
We had to listen to so many media members laugh at LSU, a great number of fans legitimately scoff at our chances....all anyone needed to point at was the 24 point spread from the Vegas oddsmakers: former 2011 Tiger, LSU Odyssey supporter & constant badass T-Bob Hebert revealed LSU had a pre-game win expectancy of 0.6% geauxing into the Swamp....
No one was giving LSU a chance because LSU weren't giving themselves a chance...
Even we were getting sick of taking shots after every loss for our continued, defiant support of this football team and many of its coaches:
We predicted a 38-47 loss, the first defeat we'd predicted since 2018....and with LSU racking up the points and yet proving incapable of stopping Trask enough to pull out the win.....
LSU's Max Johnson (who won SEC Offensive Player of the Week for his efforts) and co. supplied the points, their 37 was only 1 point off of our projection, but after an uncharacteristic show-stopping performance from Bo Pelini's embattled and roster-thin defense, the Tigers pulled it out in heroic, back to the wall fashion which will win more on the 2021 recruiting trail than any negative recruiting coming Orgeron's way.
The longest field goal in LSU history, nailed and impaled from 57 yards through the fog, every point scored by a freshman or sophomore, the first time an LSU quarterback threw for more than 2 TDs inside the Swamp (Max chucked 3), the red zone ricochet interception, sophomores and freshmen forcing or creating every turnover...
We also witnessed seniors Neil Farrell Jr, Andre Anthony and Ray Thornton all step up with interior blood decoration (Neil), relentless pressure on Kyle Trask (Anthony), or registering a sack, a TFL and a forced fumble (Ray)....
Saturday in the Swamp was about a team who'd had enough....
On Friday night at the team hotel, there were speeches about togetherness and motivation, but there was also an "either you're in or you're out" mentality...
This bonded the team at the precise moment they needed to hang their toughest.
"It was very quiet within the locker room before, I was a little worried...." Orgeron described during Monday's press conference, "but maybe that's the temperature of this team, right now," he grinned.
Hushed in the locker room in concentration as these Tigers may have been, the unrelenting punishment from LSU's defense was anything but quiet, a sustained removal of Trask's face from our front four's sacrificial pressure or our DBs bedeviled execution.
"The Shoe Game" will likely geaux down in history as a victory of great consequence for the tenure of Coach Orgeron...a defining game which saved the 2020 season...proving itself as a battleground for the future of the program, where only the strong truly survived 2020's nonstop test of wills.
At the top of the heap, these are our Top 5 Tigers vs Florida:
TOP 5 TIGERS VS FLORIDA:
1. MAX JOHNSON (QB)
239 PASSING YARDS
52 RUSHING YARDS
-7 FIRST DOWN COMPLETIONS
-2 3RD DOWN COMPLETIONS (INC. A TD TO BRADFORD)
-2 FIRST DOWN RUSHES
There was a reason we called for Max Johnson to start against Alabama...
The kid went out there and ripped Florida to shreds on his debut start and his performance shouldn't have surprised us:
After seeing the young lad toss touchdowns during a blow-out against Alabama, as well as preventing a shutout vs Texas A&M with a brilliantly executed smoker to Terrace Marshall (long after T.J Finley's profligate play had more or less cost us the game) or tossing a bomb to Kayshon Boutte in order to prevent another shutout vs Auburn, we've all seen Max Johnson thrust to the wolves throughout his appearances, cast into the worst moments of LSU's most shameful season in years...and yet every time, he's delivered a fistful of ironclad hell for opponents, throwing for 634 yards, 6.5 yards per attempt as he produces an immaculate 132.1 QBR with 0 turnovers;
Max has tossed 11+ completions and 110+ yards in every cameo game while being sacked multiple times throughout each outing...and now the freshman is the first LSU quarterback to throw for 3 TDs in the Swamp...
The touch on that first TD pass to Jaray Jenkins was outrageous...watch it back, then change your pants...
Mad Max came out slinging the ball around in a calculated fashion, mixed in with smartly executed RPO action (including one moment where he saved TDP from a blast in the backfield before he squirmed away from the heat and turned a 3 yard loss and potential pain for his running back into a positive gain.
Although there was blown coverage on the Boutte touchdown by Florida's extinct defense, this blown assignment came from Mad Max's manipulation of the defense all game long, working one side of the field to the other as Offensive Coordinator Steve Ensminger forced Todd Grantham's under-fire defense to cover the entire field....and they couldn't hang with the freshman, whatsoever.
Offensive Coordinator Steve Ensminger called a Grade A game, and so now after weeks of hearing how he needs to retire, how he's too old, how he doesn't know what he's doing, I want you brainless "fans" to admit you're wrong....this is the guy who called every damn play vs Oklahoma as LSU dropped 63 points, this is the same guy who called 90% of the plays vs Clemson in the National Championship game....this is the offensive coordinator who's produced the greatest production in LSU's long, fabled (but offensive-lacking) history:
Without Ensminger, Joe Burrow never steps foot inside LSU HQ as a member of the Tigers...
Without Ensminger Joe Burrow doesn't ascend to such a record-shattering level on his way to Heisman-winning, title-hoisting honors and the #1 pick in the NFL Draft / NFL Rookie of the Year candidacy...
Without Ensminger, Myles Brennan doesn't storm out of the gates in record-setting fashion, becoming the first LSU debutant to pass for as many yards, touchdowns or completion percentage through the first 3 games of the season...
With Ensminger, two very different freshman quarterbacks are winning SEC games...
And this is also the guy who every steambreathing young quarterback wants to play for, from Joe Burrow to Myles Brennan, or 2021's Garrett Nussemeier, 2022's Walker Howard, 2023's Eli Holstein and potentially 2024's Arch Manning....even Oklahoma's #1 overall 2021 QB Caleb Williams had LSU finish 2nd on his list....that's an impressive, salivating line which doesn't even include the stack of greatness in our current quarterback room, from T.J Finley to Walker Kinney and now Max Johnson taking down the 6th ranked team in the country, on the road, in his debut start....
Max Johnson's showcase on Saturday night proves what Ensminger is building works....and if you can't or won't see that, then you don't know football.
And if you know football, you realize LSU may have just found their 2021 starter.
2. ELI RICKS (CB)
3 TACKLES (2 SOLO, INC. 1 WHICH STOPPED A TD)
1 PD (FIRST PLAY OF THE GAME)
1 INT RETURNED FOR TD (TRASK FACIAL)
In 2 appearances without his close friend and CB-mate Derek Stingley on the opposite flank, freshman stunner Eli Ricks has pulled off an interception in each contest, ripping the ball out of the air when LSU's offense needed it back most.
At the same time, Ricks has also established himself as the most beloved player on LSU's roster, top to bottom. Without question, when you see a young DBU master turn around and embarrass a Gators QB who thinks he's "the next Joe Burrow", you're gonna celebrate this young man's existence at all costs.
Add in the fact he's an awesome guy, a ruthlessly superior defensive back while possessing more swagger than the entire state of California twice over, then you have a talent so unstoppable even Bo Pelini trembles in his presence.
From the first play, Trask went after Eli Ricks (not a good idea fool) and the #2 CB in America stole his face and made him pay, rejecting the ball on the first play of the game as Trask's disjointed, arhythmic tone was set for the night.
Although Eli sustained a banged-up shoulder earlier in the game (and Trask completed 3 passes from 6 total targets against Eli including one on 3rd down for 11 yards), Ricks returned from injury and made the Heisman candidate pay the price. When stepping in front of a Florida receiver and taking Trask's flat pass out of the air 48 yards down the field for his 2nd INT TD return of the season, Eli transcended every moniker or assigned status attached to his name....
He was now geauxing above and beyond....(although THIS publication did predict he would finish the year with 4 INTs and 1 TD RET, he's already doubled up in the Pick Six Ricks department!).
Not only was every LSU fan I know geauxing absolutely bonkers once Eli picked Trask off and turned around to let him have it, Eli's wondrous play set off a chain of events which would first give LSU a 14-7 lead, psychologically impede Kyle Trask and finally spoil Florida's CFP-bound season.
This was a night of pure wonder, overwhelming satisfaction and a celebration of the history and future of LSU football...and there's nothing more LSU than a DBU Ambassador picking off a Heisman candidate, taking it to the house and showing some infinite swagger while in the act....and if you do it inside the Swamp, we'll give you a statue.
STROLL ON, ELI.
3. JABRIL COX (LB)
6 TACKLES (4 SOLO)
2 QB HITS
3 QB HURRIES
What a comprehensive display of every weapon within Jabril Cox's arsenal, from his excellent coverage abilities (even tracking down a 40 yard bomb and slapping it out of the air with his back to the ball, a play many safeties cannot accomplish), forcing a fumble as he prevented a long gain, tossing receivers or running backs into the backfield from whence they came for major stuffs...
Most of all, Cox was finally sent in on brutally effective blitzes right at Trask, forcing 4 QB Pressures, 3 QB Hurries, 2 QB Hits (a few on 3rd down, forcing field goals over TDs) & breaking up 2 passes as he racked up 6 tackles...perhaps this was the way Pelini should've been using Jabril all along:
Too many times we watched Cox stoic in coverage as every opposition quarterback passed around him over the middle, exploiting matchup nightmares like Cordale Flott or Damone Clark...now, with Cox blitzing in randomly, the quarterback never knows when Jabril is dropping back into coverage for yet another pick six (he basically has two, although only officially credited with 1, his 2nd saw him smashed out of bounds at the inch line as footage showed him scoring).
This was Cox's greatest game...I don't feel as if those statistics do his performance justice, as he was everywhere to be seen on nearly every play Florida ran...sniffing out all the action and laying waste to one Gator after another.
Now, the question is whether Jabril will enter the 2021 NFL Draft...
We feel another year would solidify his status as a 1st Round NFL talent, yet the player himself (as well as his family) will be wondering if a 5th year in college is really needed for their son, now recording 9 overall interceptions from the LB position at NDSU (7) and LSU (2) and returning 5 for TDs (plus a 6th which was debatably close).
Cox would've already been a 2nd Round pick during the 2020 NFL Draft...transferring to LSU was about proving he could play against the best of the SEC and recreate exactly what he did at the FCS level.
Has Cox done enough to be a 1st Round pick this year?
Jabril has most likely hit the bar and then some:
Recording 51 tackles, 5.5 TFLs, 5 PDs, a sack, a fumble recovery, a forced fumble while nearly taking two INTs to the house in the SEC from the linebacker position is not only proof of staying starpower, it's stone cold truth....Cox is most likely gone to the NFL.
Your turn Raesjon!
4. KAYSHON BOUTTE (WR)
AVG: 21.6 YPC
In the absence of LSU's two most recent opt-outs, their leading receivers Terrace Marshall and Arik Gilbert, Boutte had to go it alone as Johnson's primary target, yet the Louisiana local ate Florida's DBs all night, even causing trouble when he didn't catch the ball.
Boutte was blocking on the outside with venomous aggression alongside forcing pass interference penalties, dragging attention away from Jenkins, Koy Moore or Jontre Kirklin so they could contribute with strong outings.
Kayshon has proven exactly what this author was saying all along: He is a star, yo.
Tearing off with boundless pace, keeping defenders off balance before, during and after the catch, Boutte is slippery with the ball as his 21.6 yards per catch (13.8 overall) proves from the Florida game.
431 yards receiving from 31 catches for 2 TDs (4 basically) is high for a freshman WR, especially at LSU, yet Boutte's menacing specialties already usurps sophomores Trey Palmer & Jaray Jenkins or seniors Racey McMath or Jontre Kirklin as the #1 wide out on the team now.
Just think...in 2021 with Boutte, Palmer, Jeaux Jeaux Earle, Chris Hilton, Deion Smith and potentially a returning Arik Gilbert (or signing Brian Thomas) on Mickey Joseph's WR roster, LSU will possess the most high octane pace out wide in college football....and Boutte is already the #1 guy as a freshman.
5. JAY WARD (CB)
8 TACKLES (6 SOLO)
1 INT (in the red zone)
2 PDs (both in the red zone)
Following up his blocked field goal vs Arkansas which preserved the LSU victory, or his punch-out forced fumble that saved some DBU face against Saban's Bama cult, Jay Ward produced a spirited drive on a night full of inspired Tigers which we could not deny.
How can anyone deny greatness?
We nearly gave this spot to Cade York nailing a historic 57 yarder (which would've been good from 63) through the set of Apocalypse Now, we wanted to afford recognition to Jaquelin Roy's bruising dismemberment of Florida's O-line for 2 sacks and 2 TFLs...we almost felt Damone Clark deserved this spot for his atoning play against such psychological blows...and yet we couldn't ignore the all-encompassing showmanship from Jay Ward.
DBU's Kingslayer batted down two passes in the red zone in man coverage, denying touchdowns, before he pulled off one of the best demonstrations of acrobatic whimsy I've ever seen. Responding to a McGlothern ricochet as he rose from the ground, Ward caught his first career LSU INT on his knees an inch before he fell into the sideline.
The action was quite extraordinary: first Ward grapples with Kadarious Toney on a route inside the LSU 15, Toney peeling out as Trask rolled out for his receiver to come back. Trask saw Tony in space and throws a bad pass, hitting Toney's outstretched left hand which cups the ball up into the air, bouncing straight off Dwight McGlothern's helmet only a half centimeter and a split second before Nudie's left foot hits the out of bounds line, keeping the ball live....
Now, back to Jay:
Ward fell straight on his face after diving, but stayed alive with the play and kept his head up, alert for anything, and yup, here it came, the ball dropping straight into his lap after he pushed himself up and hugged the ball home....wildly celebrating before sitting business-like on the bench as every teammate or coach came to pay their respects to the DBU Don.
DBU Miyagi Corey Raymond will be showing that clip on many a future DBU meeting, clinic or practice....that is what it's all about: staying alive, keeping your head in the game and being ready for anything...it's what made Tyrann Mathieu a superstar...Jay Ward is undoubtedly next.
Right next to Thaddeus Moss's Cris Carter impersonations vs Alabama last year....this was something otherworldly and will become one of this storied rivalry's most rewatched plays.
YOU ARE LOVED
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Copyright 2020 Uninterrupted Writings Inc LLC
SHOUTOUTS: Tony Two Bets is a purple & golden gawd