LSU is moving on to its third quarterback of the season as coach Ed Orgeron revealed on Thursday that it "looks like" Max Johnson will get the start over TJ Finley against Florida. After taking most of the first-team reps this week in practice, Orgeron and the coaching staff felt it was the right time to give Johnson an opportunity behind center to start the game.
If Johnson does indeed start against the Gators on Saturday, it'll be the first time since the 2008 season that LSU has started three different quarterbacks in the same season. That year the Tigers went with Andrew Hatch, Jarrett Lee and Justin Jefferson at different times during the season, going 3-5 in conference play during that season.
So, needless to say, having quarterback woes doesn't translate to wins and with Johnson getting the nod this week, it'll be interesting to see what kind of effect he can have on the game. A more mobile quarterback than his freshman counterpart Finley, it's likely fair to assume the Tigers will put some effort in having Johnson use his legs on design quarterback runs.
It's a skill that has proved very important in the college game and might be able to keep a formidable but susceptible Florida defense on its toes. He's been solid this season when thrown into games but hasn't made much of an impact as most of his work has come with the Tigers already well out of position to compete.
In his four appearances this season, Johnson has thrown for 395 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for an additional 22 yards. Orgeron feels that Johnson is coming off his best game of the season against Alabama, tossing for 110 yards on 11-of-17 completions against the Crimson Tide.
"I thought he looked his best against Alabama. I thought he was crisp. I thought he went through his progression well. His ball came out very well, threw very catchable balls. He can scramble, run. I think he's tough. He's a hard worker," Orgeron said.
It's hard to know exactly what to expect from Johnson because of the turnover on the offense. In his limited action throughout the season, he built a nice rapport with Terrace Marshall, Arik Gilbert and Kayshon Boutte and now only one of those three remain on the team.
Boutte will likely absorb a fair amount of the targets but a few under the radar names to look for include Jaray Jenkins and Jontre Kirklin, who are arguably the No. 2 and No. 3 receivers after the departures of Gilbert and Marshall.
It'll be important that Johnson makes quick decisions, much like Finley has shown the capability of doing, but cut back on turnovers. LSU's offense will have a difficult time keeping up with the Gators without throwing in one or two costly turnovers.
Establishing drives early in the game will be important as keeping the ball away from Florida should be a primary goal, even if not all of the drives end in points. LSU will need Johnson to be much more than the game manager he's been to this point as airing the ball down field a few times and taking some necessary risks early could prove beneficial.
Playing in the Swamp with a depleted crowd should also be a benefit for a young freshman making his first start though Orgeron feels he's ready to handle the atmosphere either way.
"Obviously playing in the Swamp is gonna be new for every young player but I think those guys are ready to handle it," Orgeron said. "Not having 100,000 people doing that Gator chomp is gonna be an advantage for us."