Notebook: LSU Freshmen Showing They Belong, Max Johnson's Rapid Development

Tigers making the right adjustments heading into first SEC game of season
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The Tigers showed what they’re capable of on both sides of the ball in Saturday’s victory over Central Michigan. Improvement from the defensive line and growth in the run game showed Tiger fans what they can expect come SEC play next weekend.

Coach Ed Orgeron harped on the depth of this freshmen class, the effectiveness of Max Johnson and the defensive momentum the Tigers are looking to carry into Starkville.

Freshmen Showing They Belong

In Saturday’s win, the play of the true freshmen was the main takeaway. Whether it was running back Corey Kiner, wide receiver Deion Smith or tight end Jack Bech, these young guys proved they’re more than capable of competing at the highest level.

“He [Kiner] is a strong runner and can break tackles,” Orgeronsaid. “He can run inside and run outside. He’s got a spark about him. He reminds me, and I am not even saying as a player, but as a person, he reminds me of Clyde [Edwards-Helaire]. He’s a big man, he’s got a great attitude, he comes to work every day and has a lot of energy; just like Clyde did.”

The praise of freshman receiver Smith goes without mentioning. His elite athleticism and ability to reach the ball at its highest point is what separates him from the pack. In his coming out party against Central Michigan, the young gun received tremendous praise for Coach Orgeron.

"He reminds me of Justin Jefferson in a lot of ways," Orgeronsaid. "He has great body control, he can catch the ball, he has deceptive speed and he can get off the press. And he has great hands."

This freshmen class has been nothing short of spectacular. The depth, tenacity and desire to prove their worth has been a focal point since they stepped foot on campus. On both sides of the ball, this group has the chance to be one of the best classes LSU has had in quite some time and Coach Orgeron knows it.

"I really think it's our best class that we've had here, from top to bottom,” Orgeron said. “They're great kids. They're great young men. Outstanding players. It's very well balanced. But we're gonna see. But they are showing right now it's one of the best classes we've recruited."

Max Johnson Development

The growth of starting quarterback Max Johnson has been a prominent figure for the Tigers over the course of the first three weeks. Johnson is second in the nation in passing touchdowns and his efficiency is worth mentioning.

Saturday night in Death Valley, Johnson passed for 372 yards and a career-best five touchdowns in less than three quarters of play. The tempo within this offense is what was so effective against the Chippewa’s, hoping to translate that to SEC play against Mississippi St.

Though strong the last two weeks, Orgeron understands there is still room for improvement for Johnson.

“Understanding protections, knowing when to run the ball, knowing when to step up in the pocket,” Orgeron said. “I think the biggest thing is locating his receivers and getting rid of the ball quick.”

The expectations are high heading into Starkville next weekend. As Johnson continues finding his rhythm, there are no limits to what this offense can accomplish.

Defensive Adjustments/Growth

This front four the Tigers have put together is something special, even with the loss of super-senior Andre Anthony. Orgeronpraised Coach Andre Carter for getting this group together and clicking before SEC play.

“I have to give Andre Carter credit,” Orgeron said. “He has come in as the defensive line coach and brought energy. He’s coaching those guys, challenging those guys on the little things and provides a lot of knowledge. BJ [Ojulari] is in an attacking style this year, we’ll have Ali Gaye back, then we moved Maason Smith to defensive end, so you’ll see a three-man rotation between [them].”

Starting safety Jay Ward is also hopeful to return Saturday in Starkville to give some help to a secondary who has some stiff competition against the Bulldogs. This defense has the chance to showcase their talent against Mike Leach’s air raid offense, where his team threw 67 passes in last week’s loss to Memphis.

As this squad clicks into second gear, there is hope within this unit. After a difficult start to the season where the UCLA’s run game was as dominant as ever, the defensive line is now showing their true colors.

Final Thoughts

Saturday proved what this unit is capable of, even down multiple starters, this team still came together to show how deep they truly are. In the secondary, we saw Major Burns get some snaps under his belt to give life to the defensive backs.

The loss of Andre Anthony hurts, but having young studs like Maason Smith makes stepping in to fill the void is a relief. So athletically gifted with the ability to slide to defensive end, it’s traits like that which make this team so special.

This LSU team has the chance to be special on both ends of the ball. As Johnson hits his stride and Derek Stingley Jr. leads the defense, it’s possible this 2021 team can surprise Tiger fans in Death Valley.