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Brian Kelly breaks down Max Johnson's decision to transfer

Simon Gibbs01/04/22
Article written by:On3 imageSimon Gibbs

SimonGibbs26

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Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images.

Brian Kelly, LSU’s new head coach, will have to start anew with the Tigers, as the university’s decision to part ways with former head coach Ed Orgeron left the program in turmoil.

Surely, Kelly won’t have a problem filling all the open scholarships, and filling them with talented recruits. However, there will be a myriad of openings at LSU, and many are at critical positions — quarterback being one.

LSU quarterback Max Johnson, who started for the Tigers in both 2020 and 2021, recently decided to enter the NCAA Transfer Portal. In doing so, Johnson opted out of LSU’s bowl game against Kansas State, so the Tigers were left without a scholarship quarterback in their final contest. That meant wide receiver Jontre Kirklin, who had not logged a snap at quarterback in college, started under center in the Texas Bowl. Kelly, interviewed during the bowl game, was asked whether he got the feeling that Johnson would leave right after the two first met.

 “No, I didn’t get that feeling right out of the gates but look, it’s a transition,” Kelly said of LSU’s coaching change. “There’s a lot of uncertainty and you really can’t fault kids for that. They don’t know. And so when uncertainty is in front of them, they’re going to look towards something that’s a little more stable for them. So I don’t fault him for those decisions. And then we just have to move on and find the young men that want to be here and are ready to move forward.”

Johnson finished the season with 2,815 passing yards on a 60 percent completion rate, coupled with 27 touchdowns and just six interceptions. Johnson played the role of LSU’s hero in the regular-season finale against Texas A&M, Orgeron’s final game before the Kelly era began, orchestrating a game-winning drive to upset the No. 15 Aggies. In that game, Johnson threw for 306 yards and three touchdowns on a 57.9 percent completion rate.

Last season was a similar story for Johnson, who was not named LSU’s starter until starting quarterback Myles Brennan suffered a season-ending injury. Johnson started in LSU’s last five regular-season games, and after a slow start, he ended the year with back-to-back wins against No. 6 Florida and Ole Miss. Of his 1,069 passing yards and eight passing touchdowns on the season, 674 passing yards and six touchdowns came in the last two wins of the season.

When Johnson left, Kelly lost more than a potential starting quarterback. He lost a potential star tight end, too.

Johnson’s younger brother, Jake Johnson, is a four-star recruit via the On3 Consensus, a complete and equally weighted industry-generated average that utilizes all four major recruiting media companies. He committed to play alongside his brother, Max, while Orgeron was the head coach. But when Orgeron was fired and his brother entered the portal, so too did the 6-foot-5, 225-pound tight end, who ranks as the No. 2 tight end in the 2022 recruiting class.