Updated: Mar 2
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
YOU CAN FIND #10, #9, #8 #7 ALL ON OUR WRITINGS PAGE AT LSUODYSSEY.COM
MAX JOHNSON (QB)
1,069 PASSING YARDS
119 RUSHING YARDS
Heading into 2020, Mad Max Johnson was given the slimmest chance of starting quarterback at LSU by those in the media or fanbase, even this very author didn't quite know what to think outside of "this young kid is intriguing and I want to see what he can do". I remember feeling like "who knows, he could be some crazy cyborg in the running game and he looks to have a solid arm"...well, we underestimated his abilities, too:
This cat is a Terminator...
Though he watched the first games from the bench for the most part, relegated behind Myles Brennan of course. But once Myles went down after Missouri, T.J Finley was cast as the LSU freshman starter and the Ponchatoula hero put up 52 points on South Carolina...a damn fine debut.
At first, it was Finley who gained the confidence of the fanbase and the team in the wake of Myles Brennan's injury, he was perfect against South Carolina...but in the SEC, the last game doesn't ever seem to matter...and time would tell the wiser for LSU...as the opponents grew tougher, #14 seemed to get stronger...backup or not...
...From his first ever action in purple & gold, his pair of 4th quarter carries against South Carolina (2 for 19 yards) bulldozing mercilessly through SEC seniors like they were dryer sheets utilizing breakneck speed & elite gap identification, I knew this kid was a gamer.
Once Finley's turnovers against Auburn & Alabama reared their head, Coach O put Max in late to clean up the mess every time....and Max took the broom opportunity with both hands and threw TDs or created havoc instead. Even though Finley would take the reins for South Carolina, Arkansas, A&M, Auburn & Alabama as the starter (against the wishes of OC Steve Ensminger, who much preferred Max), Johnson took his chances and was decisive against top tier defenses.
Each time, Max produced the only big plays of the game for LSU's offense: Johnson 2.0 prevented an offensive shutout when he lit up the Auburn secondary with a touchdown bomb to Kayshon Boutte (a secondary who hadn't been tested all game); vs Texas A&M, he tossed a red zone slant touchdown to Terrace Marshall for the wide out's final LSU reception, also blocking another full on shutout in the process.
Against Auburn, Max threw 15 completions racking up 172 yards throughout his 2nd half only stint; likewise, Johnson 2.0 finished 14/22 with 113 yards and the Terrace TD vs A&M...
Once he was named starter for the final two games of the season at long last, the carnival of wrath he distributed upon LSU opponents across our final two games was the point where Mad Max truly went beyond thunderdome:
#6 Florida, buried deep among the Apocalypse Now fog of The Swamp, and Lane Kiffin's Ole Miss in the rain-soaked mists of Death Valley would be the multi-stage theater of doom for LSU's unsuspecting SEC opponents...especially Mullen's Florida.
Tossing 7 first down completions, posting 291 combined yards, 3 touchdown passes, a pair of 3rd down completions (including a clutch Kevontre Bradford red zone TD) and 2 first down rushes, Johnson came of age against the Gators in his debut start.
I could feel this would be LSU & Max's night the way he opened the game in an executioner's rhythm, starting with his looping bootleg TD pass to Jaray Jenkins, applying the precise touch over the outstretched defenders as he led Jenkins into the back of the end zone. The freshman kept cashing Trask & co's 3 turnovers into points as Cade York kicked the all-time 57 yarder through the rain & fog of the Swamp to seal it.
The emotional weight of the much-needed victory was empirical for LSU, Coach O, the fanbase and the upset of the year put the SEC on notice: LSU wasn't geauxing anywhere.
The win vs Florida was high profile LSU survivalism at its best... right when the program was portrayed as lying in disarray and dysfunction, the roster's most inexperienced guys went out there and took over, proving how wrong Orgeron's LSU critics had been and just how good of a coach he could be.
The freshman QB was now the focal point...and he was still yet to cause a turnover.
In the final game of the year, riding a wave of confidence heading into the meeting vs Ole Miss, Max Johnson was fully unleashed...
Dropping a 435 yard spectacle on Ole Miss as he led the Tigers to a 53-48 win, Max combined with Kayshon Boutte for a sickeningly brilliant 308 total yards and 3 TDs, Boutte breaking the 20 year old Josh Reed record (293 yards set back in 2001 vs Alabama)...
But this was a freshman wide out snapping this all-time record...and a freshman quarterback delivering the football like a Greek god (even rifling a completion from his knees), breaking the LSU freshman passing record & also barreling in a pair of 1 yard rushing TDs from the goal-line.
Against the Rebels (who's only successful rebellion was against playing defense itself), Mad Max tossed 27 overall completions, sealed in gold by 19 first down completions (11 during the turnover-assisted first half), 3 on 3rd down, a pair of touchdown tosses to Kayshon Boutte on 4th & 2, the electric talisman taking the ball out of the air and doing the rest; Mad Max completed 8 passes for gains of 20 yards or more, ran for four 3rd down conversions and scored another rushing touchdown on 4th and goal....
Accounting for 5 total TDs in the victory, Max had also thrown 3 separate TDs on 4th down over the final two games, an incredible statistic showing the gutsy willingness of this soon-to-be sophomore.
The biggest thing I take from his elemental bliss against Florida & Ole Miss as well as across the 2020 campaign?
Whenever I watched him play as a freshman, I felt as if I were looking into the future...
Witnessing Max take on the Gators with savage intent & destroying Ole Miss so emphatically, I couldn't help but feel as if we were all participants in the beginning of someone great...the rise of a champion, building a dynasty of record-shattering mastercraft alongside his teammates.
He will have big time competition during Spring & Summer for 2021's starting QB job...Myles Brennan surely will have an inside track at the gig, Garrett Nussmeier's development is key to the program (not to mention his father's friendship with offensive coordinator Jake Peetz) & the new OC himself expressed a lot of hope T.J Finley would stay on...so there's a ton of hoops for Max to jump through to get the job...
But after what we all witnessed...if those performances were Max at his most raw, his most unpolished, then I cannot wait for what he's geauxing to be doing in 2021...
If I had to pick a starter today for LSU vs Alabama, I'm selecting Max Johnson without a second's hesitation. Brennan's injury is a mystery, Finley's turnovers hurt the team, and Nussmeier's hand needs to heal, that's what I'd say if I needed excuses, but I don't...
...Max is just that good.
LOVE PEACE & TIGER VIBES