The source of LSU's quarterback problem is recruiting, and the Tigers just missed again
BATON ROUGE, La. — Hiring Ed Orgeron was supposed to fix this.
Instead, LSU found itself Monday facing what has become an annual issue: Finding a quarterback who wants to play for the Tigers.
When Orgeron got the LSU job at the end of the regular season, he boldly spoke of going after the best offensive coordinator in football and using him to turn around an offense that gained a reputation for being stale and ineffective under former coach Les Miles.
So far, that plan doesn’t seem to be going very well, especially with quarterbacks.
Orgeron got ambitious and might end up striking out. After going for the big splash by offering 5-star Alabama commit Tua Tagovailoa, Orgeron and the Tigers are in danger of instead crashing and burning in the quarterback recruiting department.
Tagovailoa doesn’t seem interested, and LSU in the process disillusioned the two 4-star quarterbacks it already had in the 2017 signing class, as both Myles Brennan and Lowell Narcisse are looking elsewhere.
Brennan, a pro-style quarterback, is apparently not pleased about Orgeron’s stated preference for a dual-threat quarterback or the pursuit of Tagovailoa. Narcisse, it has been reported, is concerned with LSU’s lack of an offensive coordinator.
So if LSU ends up without its quarterback targets this year, it would be about LSU’s own bumbling. But how do you explain how this has been happening for about a decade?
The Tigers get beat for top quarterback prospects even it their own state (Narcisse appears to be the latest). And when they settle for lesser-known prospects, they miss.
Three-star prospects Chris Garrett, Stephen Rivers and Jeremy Liggins transferred and wound up as either marginal FCS quarterbacks or — in Liggins’ case — an offensive lineman after LSU brought them on. Meanwhile, 3-star Louisiana prospect Dak Prescott went to Mississippi State and became the best quarterback in that school’s history.
Is it a failure to evaluate high school talent? You’d have to call it that. Is it a failure to develop the talent that’s available? Yes to that too, because it’s been a while since a high school quarterback recruit has been a “home run” player for the Tigers. (You might have to go all the way back to Matt Flynn on the Tigers’ 2007 national championship team — and he was just a one-year starter.)
Much of this has been blamed on Miles and the offensive identity he built. LSU was a power-run program, not a place for a talented quarterback to show his wares. Orgeron was supposed to change that, but so far, it’s been more of the same.
Why is that? LSU is famously the most prolific producer of NFL talent in college football. Miles, and his reputation for running 1970s offense in a 21st-century world, are gone.
Yet, it’s still the same.
The current problem may well come from a lack of progress in the coaching staff front. NOLA.com’s James Smith reports that he’s hearing that LSU recruits are getting skittish about the lack of movement on the offensive coordinator front.
That’s understandable. When Orgeron was hired, it was likely not with a long leash. Expectations were that he’d turn perceptions around quickly.
And the perception right now, fair or not, is that LSU is not a place to go if you are a quarterback.
How did it become that way?
Any LSU fan will tell you it starts with Ryan Perrilloux.
He was the 5-star Louisiana prospect rated the nation’s top dual-threat quarterback who signed with LSU in 2005 and was groomed to replace Flynn, only to be dismissed from the team before he could take the reins in 2008.
Ever since, it’s been an adventure with none of LSU’s high school quarterback recruits panning out for pretty much a decade. Only two were ranked among the nation’s top 100 players per 247 composite rankings, which is notable because the Tigers routinely recruit players that highly regarded at every other position.
Here’s a look at who LSU has signed at quarterback since Perrilloux.
- Jarrett Lee (4-star) was the No. 117 overall prospect in the 2007 class and wound up splitting time with Jordan Jefferson in a four-year LSU career. He had some nice runs, but also a knack for throwing pick-sixes.
- Jefferson (3-star) was the No. 325 overall prospect in 2008 and spent his four years going back and forth with Lee. He gave LSU the running threat Lee lacked, but was not a consistent passer.
- Chris Garrett (3-star) was the No. 482 overall prospect in 2009 and burned out before doing little at FCS member Northwestern State.
- Russell Shepard (5-star) was the nation’s No. 3 overall player and top dual-threat quarterback in the 2009 signing class. But quarterback never worked out for him and he wound up playing as a utility wide receiver/running back and was the subject of this epic 2012 Les Miles rant. Shepard is playing in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Bucs as a wide receiver.
- Zach Lee (3-star) was the No. 352 player in the 2010 class, but opted for baseball, where he was a first-round draft pick with the Dodgers. A pitcher, he finished last season with the Seattle Mariners’ Triple A team.
- Jerrard Randall (4-star) was the nation’s No. 8 dual-threat quarterback and No. 186 overall prospect in 2011, but he never panned out for the Tigers. He went to junior college, then played sparingly as a backup at Arizona.
- Hayden Rettig (4-star) was the nation’s No. 9 pro-style quarterback and No. 152 overall prospect in 2013, but he never played and transferred to Rutgers, where he played sparingly. He announced he’s transferring after the season.
- Anthony Jennings (4-star) was the nation’s No. 14 pro-style quarterback and No. 234 overall prospect in 2013. He was LSU’s starter in 2014, but lost the starting job to Brandon Harris in 2015 and transferred to Louisiana-Lafayette, where he’s the starting quarterback for the Cajuns.
- Brandon Harris (4-star) was the nation’s No. 3 dual-threat quarterback and No. 75 overall prospect in the 2014 class. He became LSU’s starter in 2015, but lost the job in the second game of the 2016 season.
- Justin McMillan (3-star) was the nation’s No. 36 dual-threat quarterback and was not among the nation’s top 1,000 players in 2015. He’s yet to take a meaningful snap for the Tigers.
- Lindsey Scott (3-star) was the No. 25 dual-threat quarterback in the 2016 class and not among the nation’s top 1,000 players. He redshirted as a true freshman.
Two players not included on that list have been LSU’s starter in three of the past five years: Zach Mettenberger and Danny Etling. Both were transfers, Mettenberger out of junior college (via Georgia) and Etling from Purdue.
Both also came because LSU missed on high school recruits. Mettenberger’s arrival was in reaction to losing Zach Lee. Etling came after Jennings and Rettig’s consecutive departures left LSU a bit depleted.
Of course, shuffling quarterbacks around via transfer has become part of the college football landscape these days, so that’s hardly unique to LSU. The issue is more on LSU’s failure to find high school quarterbacks who can become the face of the program.
One can argue that the Jefferson/Lee tandem deserves to be called that for leading the Tigers to an unbeaten season and the BCS championship game in 2011. But their detractors would say that team got there despite quarterback play.
Who are some of the quarterbacks LSU swung and missed on in recruiting? Here are a few to chew on.
- In 2011, LSU slow played a little-known in-state quarterback, Prescott. Mississippi State got on him early while LSU wasn’t sold and got a commitment after his junior year. LSU finally dove in with an offer after Prescott’s senior season. It was too late. Instead, LSU ended up with Randall in that class.
- In 2012, LSU had a commitment from the nation’s top pro-style quarterback, Gunner Kiel, but he flipped in the last minute to Notre Dame. (Earlier, he flipped from Indiana to LSU.) That led to Miles famously saying Kiel “lacked the chest” to lead LSU’s program. He transferred from Notre Dame to Cincinnati, where, in his first season as starter, he passed for 3,254 yards and 31 touchdowns.
- In 2015, LSU had the brother of Shreveport, La.’s Shea Patterson, the nation’s top-rated pro-style quarterback in the 2016 class, on the coaching staff as an offensive quality control assistant. But the younger Patterson committed to Ole Miss and the older Patterson left LSU for the Rebels as well. Patterson made his debut as Ole Miss’ starter late this season and will likely hold that job for the next two years.
So, like in 2016 when LSU took the fast-rising Scott after losing on Patterson (and lost a commitment to Feleipe Franks, a dual-threat quarterback who flipped to Florida), LSU might end up having to scramble for an in-state fill-in if it can’t find a way to get Brennan and/or Narcisse in the fold on signing day.
The problem is, this year’s Scott may be Keytaon Thompson, a 4-star stud from New Orleans’ Landry-Waker High. Like Scott, he ascended in his senior season by leading his school to Louisiana’s Class 5A state championship.
But like Prescott, Mississippi State was on him when LSU wasn’t and the Bulldogs have a solid commitment from him.
So maybe Thompson will be the next Prescott in Starkville a couple years later. LSU has been looking for the next Matt Flynn for a decade now.
And even with a new coach, that guy is looking more and more elusive, for a lot of reasons.