Max Johnson looks to have taken the next step as the leader for Coach Ed Orgeron’s group. Through three weeks, Johnson is second in the nation in passing touchdowns and his efficiency is off the charts, despite lackluster play from his offensive line.
After an up and down season opener, Johnson looks much more poised in the pocket, going through his reads and making the right decision. A major factor in his success the last two weeks has been the uptick in tempo for the Tigers.
"I think it just allowed our guys to play fast,” Johnson said. “Get in rhythm and just take some shots whether it was 1-on-1 or whether it was running the ball and not letting the d-linemen to get set, I think Coach Peetz did a really good job of setting the tempo and I've got to call it faster. Whether it's getting the line set or getting the protections set, but I think overall, the tempo helped us a lot I think."
A prominent figure in this Tiger offense has been the development of the true freshmen within this offensive scheme. Mainly Deion Smith, Jack Bech and Brian Thomas Jr. in Johnson’s arsenal.
“It's pretty awesome how many freshmen we have making plays right now such as Jack, Corey, all the freshmen receivers are making plays,” Johnson said. “So, I think it's just exciting for them and exciting for our team. It's going to be a lot of fun."
Johnson has been a fan of Bech’s game since day one, hoping to see him get more volume in the coming weeks. Through just three games, Bech has proven to be one of Johnson’s most consistent weapons whether it be a check down or a deep shot.
"I think he can do a lot of things whether it's blocking or going up and catching the fade ball with one hand,” Johnson said.“He's overall what you want at tight end. He's done a great job of getting open, knowing where to be and knowing the plays and I think Coach Peetz has done a great job of putting him in those places to succeed."
With the young guys stepping up and proving they’re a major force against opposing defenses, it opens up the ability to get sophomore stud Kayshon Boutte more touches. Through just three games, Boutte’s numbers are astounding, already with six touchdown receptions.
One thing that has stood out within this offensive scheme the last few weeks has been coordinator Jake Peetz lining up Boutte in the slot, creating a more diverse playbook.
"I think just putting him in the slot allowed us to run some RPOs whether it was glances or 6-yard outs and I think it allowed us to put Deion Smith on the field too and BT at Z,” Johnson said. “I think it's just a personnel thing whether we have different personnel group or them, I think it just puts our athletes in space."
Johnson and Peetz continue getting a feel for what this offense is capable of and which game plan can be more effective than others. Sliding players all over, like Boutte, opens up a more dynamic scheme for other receivers as well, taking the pressure off the freshman All-American in Boutte.
Johnson hit on his relationship with Peetz and the next steps this offense must take in order to hit that next gear before SEC play kicks off.
"We talk all the time,” Johnson said. “I think it's just adapting week to week to what the defense does. I think he's done a good job of calling it that way whether we do more RPOs, more runs or more play-action passes."
As this Tigers group shifts their focus to the task at hand against Mississippi State, Johnson is beginning to click at the perfect time. His dynamic playstyle and addition of electric young receivers to his arsenal shows promise for this unit.
"I feel like we're getting closer to that level,” Johnson said. “I think we had a great game plan last week, but we don't want to dwell on the past. I think we're just looking forward to practicing this week and looking forward to the game."