LSU football: Tigers find their offense in absence of their quarterback
The loss of their quarterback helped LSU find their offense in their 52-24 victory over South Carolina on Saturday.
The loss didn’t cause the discovery, but the Tigers’ collective approach to it did.
Myles Brennan couldn’t play against South Carolina because of an injury suffered in LSU’s last game two weeks earlier against Missouri.
In Brennan’s absence, head coach Ed Orgeron, offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger and passing game coordinator Scott Linehan took a long, hard look at their two freshman options as a replacement – TJ Finley and Max Johnson.
But the Tigers’ brain trust didn’t just evaluate the two freshmen. They also evaluated their offense under Brennan while they envisioned their offense without Brennan.
The team’s 1-2 start couldn’t be attributed to any shortcomings of Brennan’s. After all, he’s the first LSU quarterback to pass for 300 yards in each of his first three career starts, in addition to completing 60.3 percent of his passes and having 11 touchdowns to 3 interceptions.
But the Tigers hadn’t been consistent on offense, and they hadn’t been balanced, either.
Injecting a quarterback who had never taken a snap in a college game into the starting lineup made the need for greater consistency and balance even greater – whether that neophyte was Finley or Johnson.
The Tigers’ evaluation began more than a week ago, when they realized Brennan was unlikely to play against Florida. Then that game was postponed, and the preparation turned to South Carolina, though Brennan was no more likely to be healthy enough to play.
The competition between the freshmen was close before Finley prevailed.
LSU prepared to start Finley against South Carolina essentially the same way they would have prepared to start Johnson against the Gamecocks.
They planned to lean on their offensive line, to provide a boost to the running game, to make Finley more comfortable by minimizing the duress under which he would have to operate.
They planned to lean more on running backs John Emery Jr. and Tyrion Davis-Price than on Finley right out of the gate.
It wasn’t going to be Finley’s responsibility to match Brennan’s numbers. It wasn’t going to be Finley’s responsibility to set the tone for the offense.
It was going to be the offensive line’s and running game’s responsibility to set the tone and make things easier for Finley. It was going to be Ensminger’s responsibility to utilize the running game to get Finley into comfortable down-and-distance situations, then call high-percentage pass plays to expand his comfort zone.
The Tigers drove 75 yards for a touchdown on Finley’s first college series. They ran for 56 of the yards. Finley had to throw just 3 short passes, and he completed each one and produced 19 yards.
LSU would rush for 276 yards, which made everything significantly easier for Finley.
The freshman took advantage by completing 17-of-21 for 265 yards. He threw 2 touchdowns to Terrace Marshall Jr., though he did throw 1 interception.
Johnson eventually got in for mop-up time. There was mop-up time – essentially the entire fourth quarter – because the line, the running game and Finley performed so well that the Tigers had the game in hand.
It remains to be seen what will happen with the quarterbacks.
Clearly, Finley remains ahead of Johnson in the pecking order because of his performance. We don’t know if Brennan will be healthy enough to play at Auburn on Halloween.
Regardless of whether Brennan or Finley starts, or Brennan and Finley both play, or Johnson squeezes into the picture somehow, the Tigers need to duplicate the formula that they used against South Carolina.
The line has to perform at the same level, the running game has to be effective early and throughout and the quarterback or quarterbacks have to take advantage of the opportunity as Finley did Saturday.
LSU found what it was looking for from its offense in Brennan’s absence.
Now it needs to build on that regardless of who is under center.