LSU managed to accomplish what seemed to be impossible a few weeks ago, upsetting Florida and defeating Ole Miss to narrowly avoid becoming the first team to follow a national championship with a losing season. Though senior leaders like JaCoby Stevens played large roles in the wins, the spotlight shined on the play of the younger players.
What made the upset over Florida even more impressive was that the win came during freshman Max Johnson’s first career start. The freshman showed incredible composure, making minimal mistakes against a clearly superior team.
Despite Florida outpacing the Tigers in both yards and first downs, LSU was ultimately able to pull off the upset because it committed zero turnovers and led the game in time of possession, keeping the ball out of the hands of Heisman finalist Kyle Trask.
A single turnover would have likely resulted in the Tigers falling just short of spoiling Florida’s playoff hopes.
Johnson would follow that performance with a statistically explosive game against Ole Miss, finishing with a total of 480 yards and five touchdowns. In a shootout in which the teams scored a combined 101 points, LSU greatly benefited from his play.
Johnson’s biggest mistake of the two games came early in the fourth quarter. Deep in Ole Miss territory, he threw what appeared to be a costly interception, which the Rebels would capitalize on in the next drive to take an eight-point lead.
Rather than letting that mistake get to him, Johnson led two scoring drives and contributed to both of those scores, running for a touchdown and throwing for what would ultimately be the game winner.
With Johnson’s composure, lack of mistakes and strong play in both the air and on the ground, the LSU faithful were given hope for the team’s future at quarterback. However, the team would not have won had other freshmen not stepped up as well.
The departure of star wide receiver Terrace Marshall Jr. opened the door for freshman Kayshon Boutte to garner some experience, and he ran away with the opportunity. He led the Tigers in all receiving categories in the last two games and dominated versus Ole Miss with 308 yards and three touchdowns, breaking LSU’s single-game record for receiving yards.
Boutte now leads the team in receiving, and Johnson is very close to doing the same in the passing category.
On the defensive side, freshman Eli Ricks continued to impress and had his second pick-six of the season against Florida. Sophomore Jay Ward also stepped up tremendously, picking off three passes in the last two games and contributing a pick-six of his own against Ole Miss.
The Tigers forced an impressive nine turnovers over their final two games while only committing one of their own, an impressive stat that gave the Tigers the edge in each of those games.
While the Tigers’ future can be considered uncertain with all the coaching changes currently in progress, it certainly looks brighter than it did after their blowout loss to Alabama in early December. Their play over the last few weeks has reignited the hype that surrounded this team before the season started and gives the Tiger fanbase something to look forward to next season.