LSU football: My 10 favorite moments from the 2020 season
The 2020 college football season will be remembered primarily for the COVID-19 impact on it.
In LSU’s case, it will also be remembered for how far the team fell from its championship performance a year earlier.
From 15-0 to 5-5; from CFP championship to no bowl game; from a deep roster filled with NFL talent to a thin roster in need of significant replenishment; from a universally respected coaching staff to one undergoing an overhaul heading into 2021.
So the 2020 Tigers season will be remembered for a lot of negative stuff. But it was memorable for a variety of reasons: good stuff, bad stuff and mixed stuff.
Here are my 10 favorite moments from the LSU season:
10. Playing a full schedule
The Tigers, like everyone else, fought through COVID complications. And they managed to play the entire SEC-only slate of games that was scheduled under the unusual circumstances.
They overcame 4 changes along the way — losing a home game to Missouri because of Hurricane Delta and adapting to COVID-related postponements against Florida, Alabama and Ole Miss.
They didn’t win as many games as they would have preferred. But they found a way to play the entire schedule, and that’s worth remembering.
9. Terrace Marshall Jr.’s about-face
The wide receiver’s abrupt change in plans was symbolic of the ever-changing season.
Marshall gave his teammates an inspirational speech the week before the Arkansas game in mid-November. A bunch of teammates had quit on the team, but Marshall told his teammates he stayed because there was work to be done.
Less than 2 weeks later, he was gone.
He went from being a champion of selflessness and being team-centric to being just another guy who put himself ahead of the team.
It was emblematic of how quickly things could change.
8. The defense against Texas A&M
It was a terrible season for the LSU defense. It cost coordinator Bo Pelini his job.
The defense had a good 2nd half against Vanderbilt and some success against South Carolina and Arkansas.
But the game against the Aggies, even though it was a 20-7 defeat, was the best example that LSU can still play LSU defense.
The Tigers didn’t allow a 3rd-down conversion and barely allowed 100 passing yards against the No. 5 team in the country.
It was an important late November effort.
7. Eli Ricks’ pick-6s
If LSU is going to bounce back in 2021, they’re going to need young players who endured growing pains in 2020 to make a significant leap.
Ricks, like everyone on the defense, had some rough times during the season. But he also showed his talent on a pair of pick-6s against South Carolina and Florida.
LSU’s lack of depth and experience were evident, but Ricks demonstrated the talent that went along with that.
6. Blocked field goal preserves victory at Arkansas
There were too many times during the season when the Tigers needed someone to make a big play to make a difference, and no one was able to do it.
That wasn’t the case in the 27-24 win against Arkansas.
LSU was clinging to a 3-point lead with little more than a minute remaining when the Razorbacks lined up for a tying field goal.
Jay Ward broke through and deflected the kick, preserving the win and setting the tone for a winning record in the 2nd half of the season.
5. Jontre Kirklin’s heads-up play against Alabama
Freshman wide receiver Kayshon Boutte had a brain cramp against No. 1 Alabama.
He celebrated an anticipated touchdown by prematurely by dropping the football before he reached the goal line.
Most observers thought it was a touchdown because Boutte was all alone as he entered the end zone.
Senior receiver Kirklin kept his eye on the ball. He immediately realized what had happened and recovered the fumble for a touchdown.
It was a bizarre play that left Boutte hanging his head. But it was a heads-up play by Kirklin.
It was an example of how savvy veterans can negate youthful mistakes, a lesson that can serve the Tigers well going forward.
4. Boutte’s bounce-back
To Boutte’s credit, he quickly put the indiscretion behind him and finished strong.
He set an SEC record with 308 receiving yards in the season finale.
He’s going to be a major playmaker in 2021 and beyond.
3. Myles Brennan’s performance
The redshirt junior waited his turn. He sat behind Danny Etling and Joe Burrow. He didn’t flee the program as others did.
He was patient and persevered and worked for the opportunity that finally came this season.
And he was ready.
He wasn’t perfect, but he was very productive and a rare bright spot during a 1-2 start. He fought through what would become a season-ending abdominal injury to finish the game against Missouri.
It was a shame for him and the team that he couldn’t play more. But his performance when he did play provided encouragement for the future.
2. The Shoe Toss in the Swamp
LSU and Florida were tied at 34 late in the 4th quarter in Gainesville.
The heavily favored Gators seemed to get a defensive stop that would put the game in the hands of star quarterback Kyle Trask.
But Florida defensive back Marco Wilson ripped a shoe off the foot of LSU tight end Kole Taylor and hurled the shoe up the field.
It was perhaps the most bizarre play in the most bizarre of college football seasons.
It gave the Tigers new life.
The shoe-tossing would have been quickly forgotten if LSU had not taken advantage of it.
But they did take advantage.
The Tigers moved up the field in a dense fog, and Cade York drilled a 57-yard field goal that produced LSU’s signature victory of the season.
1. Max Johnson’s performance against Ole Miss
Johnson passed for 435 yards and accounted for 5 touchdowns as the Tigers followed the victory at Florida with a 53-48 home victory against Ole Miss to finish with a break-even record.
The performance gave Johnson a slight edge over fellow freshman TJ Finley heading into the offseason.
Brennan remains the starter, but Johnson’s performance validated the perceived level of talent and depth at quarterback.