2020 at a Glance
(All times are Central)
9/4: at UCLA (7:30 p.m., FOX)
9/11: McNeese (7 p.m., EPSN+/SECN+)
9/18: Central Michigan (6:30 p.m., SECN)
9/25: at Mississippi State
10/9: at Kentucky
10/23: at Ole Miss
11/6: at Alabama
11/20: ULM 11/27: Texas A&M
Much like last season, LSU’s plans have been forced to change due to a season-ending injury to quarterback Myles Brennan. Brennan appeared in three games for the Tigers in 2020 before a abdomen injury shut him down for the year. Despite appearing in just three games, Brennan was LSU’s leading passer with 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns. Also like last season, the quarterback duties fall on Max Johnson. Johnson, son of former NFL QB Brad Johnson, went 88-150 for 1069 yards and eight touchdowns last season as a freshman. Reports out of Baton Rouge imply Johnson is ready to take the reins this season, whereas last season he was kind of thrown into the fire. It goes without saying that LSU’s success this season is directly tied to Johnson’s success, and vice versa.
Defensively, the Tigers are led by perhaps the best defensive player in the nation in Derek Stingley. Stingley has racked up conference and national accolades in his time with the Tigers, and his third season will likely be even more of the same. Elsewhere on defense, defensive tackle Ali Gaye (Preseason All-SEC Second Team) will look to build upon last year’s 9.5 tackles for loss.
We talked with And The Valley Shook’s Zach Junda about some of the biggest questions facing the Gamecocks this year. Here’s what he had to say.
Robert O’Neill: Obviously, losing Myles Brennan for at least part of the season if not the whole season is a crushing blow for the Tigers. How do you think they’ll be able to adjust and move forward from that?
Zach Junda: Can I say something controversial? I don’t think it’s crushing, I think this gives LSU a readymade excuse to keep Max Johnson as the starting quarterback. Maybe I spent my summer drawing conclusions that weren’t there, but I felt the longer Coach O went not naming a starting quarterback the more it meant “Max is actually the guy.” If they were really sold on Brennan, wouldn’t they have spent spring ball giving him all of the first team reps? He was the starter last year and only lost his job to injury, surely he’d pick right back up where he left off right?
The bigger story with Brennan’s injury is now LSU only has two scholarship quarterbacks, one of whom is a true freshman. Max Johnson is a really good athlete and a threat with his legs, but LSU won’t be able to use that mobility as often as they’d like because they have to keep him healthy. Maybe when Brennan comes back, and it’s likely he will, offensive coordinator Jake Peetz can use the entire playbook but until then protecting Max Johnson will be the primary objective.
Robert O’Neill: To the common observer, it felt like last season was a letdown for LSU. But, at the same time, it kind of felt like a fairly big step back was to be expected after losing so many players from their 15-0 National Championship squad. Do you think this season could be a chance to get them back on the right track, or are you expecting another middling season?
Zach Junda: LSU will have a bounce back year for a couple of reasons. First off, it can’t really get any worse than last year. Second, and most importantly, LSU has one of the best rosters across all of college football and the schedule is pretty favorable. LSU gets Auburn, Florida, and Texas A&M all at home and draws Kentucky for its rotating East opponent. Now yeah there’s that whole “going to Alabama” thing and LSU will also have to go to Oxford to play a frisky Ole Miss team. But I’m not expecting another undefeated season, I think the absolute peak would be an 11-1 regular season.
But this year LSU will be answering another question: are they a championship program or did the stars align perfectly in ‘19. People like to dismiss LSU after 2020 and call them a one hit wonder but that’s false. LSU’s won three titles since 2000, second only to Alabama, and played for a fourth. Not only have they won three titles, they did it with three different head coaches.
Now all that said, if LSU is a championship program a season like 2020 shouldn’t happen. Alabama loses players to the NFL and watch coaches take bigger, more lucrative jobs every year and they haven’t missed a step. Same for Clemson and Ohio State. LSU has had some of the highest of highs since 2000, but the dips are downright baffling. This season needs to be the start of consistent excellence.
Robert O’Neill: Derek Stingley looks to be the next great LSU defensive back. What is it that makes him so good and dominant?
Zach Junda: He doesn’t look to be the next great one, he already *is* a great defensive back. He’s arguably the best corner in program history and for a school like LSU that’s saying something.
Stingley’s just a freak athlete but also so technically sound. He’s got great genes, his father played in the Arena Football League and spent some time in the Philadelphia Phillies organization, and his grandfather played in the NFL. And he’s getting great coaching at LSU from Corey Raymond, regarded as maybe the best coach at the position in the nation. He tested in the 97th percentile for NFL corners while in high school and reportedly runs a 4.30 40 with a 42-inch vertical. I don’t believe in sure things, but Stingley is as close as it gets.
Robert O’Neill: What are the best and worst case scenarios for the Tigers?
Zach Junda: Best Case: LSU has one of the most talented rosters in the country and are especially deep where it matters: receiver, defensive line, and secondary. The offensive line under new position coach Brad Davis takes a massive step forward, Max Johnson shows he’s the real deal, Derek Stingley helps restore DBU’s reputation and the Tigers go 10-2 with an appearance in a New Year’s Six Bowl.
Worst Case: LSU’s first-year offensive and defensive coordinators show their lack of experience; the LSU offensive line—which is noticeably lacking proven depth along the two-deep—is the same mess it was last season rendering the Tiger running game ineffective and gets Max Johnson and/or Myles Brennan killed; LSU’s questions at linebacker and safety keep the Tigers from reaching their ceiling defensively and it all adds up to an 8-4 type of year where the Tigers fall even farther behind Alabama and A&M in the SEC West hierarchy.
I certainly agree with Zach that things won’t be as bad as last year. LSU feels like a team that should be able to get 9-10 wins this season. They could even be 8-1 heading into November 6’s clash with Alabama, as the Tigers don’t play a particularly daunting schedule prior to that game. This should 100% be a bounce back year for the Tigers and they should be in good shape come bowl season.