Heading into the season, if there was one player the Tigers couldn't afford to lose, it was Myles Brennan. That theory only magnified with his stellar start to the 2020 campaign, though one that wasn't without its learning curves.
In just three starts, Brennan has shown massive improvement week-to-week, so any duration he's out is a bummer for the LSU offense. Coach Ed Orgeron revealed on Monday that a "significant" lower body injury has taken longer to heal than initially expected, leaving Brennan's status Saturday against South Carolina questionable.
But the show must go on and freshmen quarterbacks Max Johnson and TJ Finley have been receiving equal reps in practice. Johnson and Finley showed tremendous promise last week, according to Orgeron, but the next four practices will be the ultimate indicator in who earns the starting job should Brennan be held out.
"Both of them are very impressive, I believe both of those guys have NFL talent, we're gonna practice with both of them this week and whoever has the best week is gonna start," Orgeron said. "I want to see what they can do and the only way to do it is under live action."
Orgeron said he plans on giving both players snaps against South Carolina if Brennan ultimately cannot go.
Johnson and Finley are similar in many ways, as the Ponchatoula native Finley stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 242 pounds while Johnson is slightly shorter at 6-foot-5 but weighs a good 20 pounds lighter than his freshman counterpart. While physically there are some similarities, Johnson and Finley's play styles are a little different.
Finley came to the program needing to drop a few pounds while Johnson was the exact opposite, adding some weight over the offseason.
"I think [losing weight] helped [Finley]. We had a two-minute drill on Tuesday. He scrambled out of there. Looked very good. Obviously, Max is very good. I think Max is comparable in speed to Joe Burrow. A little faster. Max is more of a scrambler than TJ. [But] TJ can move out of the pocket and avoid the rush."
The freshmen quarterbacks have been able to adjust very quickly in Baton Rouge, something that Orgeron said Monday has a lot to do with both enrolling early and being with the program ahead of the championship bowl practices. If one of the freshmen do indeed draw the start on Saturday, it will be the first time since 2014 the purple and gold have started a true freshman at quarterback (Brandon Harris).
LSU is 3-3 when starting a true freshman at quarterback, the first of which was current offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger in 1976. Ensminger was 5-of-8 for 56 yards in a win over Tulane.
"Both of those guys, I think it really helped they were here last spring,” Orgeron said. “Although we didn't have spring football, they matured a lot, they have been in the meetings a lot, they know our offense. Again, (LSU offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger) is going to have to see what they can do. He knows what both of them can do. Call the game that they can manage in the game."
Ensminger knows better than most what it's like to start as a true freshman and so he'll have to draw up an offensive gameplan that fits potentially both of his young quarterbacks. Establishing the run will be something Ensminger will want to do as the Tigers rushed for less than 50 yards against Missouri and have been inconsistent this season.
"It's really important in this game and any game really for us to get the running game going," Orgeron said. "That's gonna set up the pass, we cannot be one dimensional. We have to be able to block better up front, we have to run the ball better so we're not getting behind on second-and-10, third-and-10. We have to get to a manageable balance."
Expect a starter decision to be made after practice on Thursday, though it's hard to imagine Orgeron revealing that information before the game. Orgeron says who starts will widely depend on what the team expects the South Carolina defense to throw at the LSU offense.
"We'll see what South Carolina gives us on defense, and who best suits to play it. But they have to have a good week. We're not going to give it to anybody," Orgeron said. "They have to perform. Last week both of them were ready to start us off. They got prepared for that. They didn't know who was going to start, so it's going to be the same thing this week. Now, playing at home should be easier for them. Obviously being the first game to any one of them is going to be a little nervousness. I think both of them can handle it."