There's no denying the importance of Kayshon Boutte to this offense. He has been the one of the most impactful receivers in college football and a favorite target of sophomore quarterback Max Johnson over the last eight games the two have shared the field.
But the harsh reality set in on Monday that Johnson and this offense will have to move forward without Boutte's services because of an ankle injury. It's another piece of adversity that Johnson will have to overcome as the quarterback of this team. In the five games that Boutte played, the sophomore was targeted 53 times by Johnson, accounting for 24 percent of Johnson's pass attempts.
That's a huge chunk of throws that will now need to be divvied up throughout the rest of the offensive weapons.
Smooth sailing has not been the way to describe this offense through five weeks. The offensive line has been unable to keep Johnson upright, the lack of a running game has put all of the pressure on his arm and confusion with the playcalling has led to indecision and choppiness as an offense.
Saturday's loss at Kentucky is a game Johnson would love to have back as he admitted after the game to not being his sharpest and misfiring a number of throws to open receivers. The sophomore was critical of his play and was emphatic after the game that this offense will get it turned around.
Coach Ed Orgeron was much more positive on Johnson's play this season when asked about it on Monday during his weekly press conference.
"I think Max is an outstanding quarterback, outstanding young man. There's some things he's done very well, there are things he can improve on," Orgeron said. "Getting rid of the ball quicker, maybe identifying protections and getting them in the right protection. Overall I think he's done a very good job."
There's been so much pressure on Johnson's arm because of the inefficiencies of this offense that it's hard to truly shoulder much of the blame on him. Moving forward without Boutte will only compound the issues on this offense as freshmen like Deion Smith, Jack Bech, Malik Nabers and Brian Thomas will all have to step up, as well as Devonta Lee and Jontre Kirklin according to Orgeron.
It doesn't seem like the Tigers will be getting veteran Myles Brennan back anytime soon either. After initial optimism that he'd be available after the open date at the very beginning of November, Orgeron said there's much more hesitancy on that front.
"I don't know if Myles is gonna be back. I don't know if we're gonna get him back for the open date like we thought we would," Orgeron said. "I'm unsure of that and we'll have to play it by ear. I don't think he'll be back for the open date, that's my gut feeling."
This will still be Johnson's job even when Brennan is cleared to return though it'll be interesting to watch how the next few weeks unfold. If the Tigers continue to slide, would it be prudent to see freshman Garrett Nussmeier a little bit just to see how the freshman handles significant snaps?
All options should be on the table at this point for an offense that is now without one of the best players in the country and still searching for some consistency.