Texas A&M fans are suddenly learning what LSU fans and Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher already knew – quarterback Max Johnson can run.
Johnson, who transferred from LSU to A&M after starting 12 games for the Tigers last season, rushed for 84 yards on six carries – excluding sacks – with a 48-yard jaunt in the Aggies’ spring game Saturday won the by the Maroon, 30-24, over the White.
He also completed 13 of 31 passes for 127 yards and touchdowns of 40 and 13 yards with an interception against winds of 25-30 mph.
Aggie Nation knew Johnson could throw, though. He completed 22 of 38 passes for 306 yards and three touchdowns in a 27-24 upset of No. 14 Texas A&M in Tiger Stadium on Nov. 27. Johnson completed a 28-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jaray Jenkins with 20 seconds to go to win that one and send Texas A&M to a disappointing 8-4 finish after a 9-1 season in 2020.
“That’s what I’ve been telling you,” Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said Saturday. “He runs better than you give him credit for. Everybody thinks of him as a pocket passer, but he has really good mobility and good feel in the pocket, and he can run. He can do that. Like I said, it wasn’t a surprise to me because I’ve seen it every day in practice. But to some folks, they didn’t think he could move as well. He’s a very good athlete.”
Johnson also has good survival instincts. He ran for his life through most of LSU’s 2021 season behind a weak offensive line, which struggled under new offensive line coach Brad Davis. Davis was just hired the previous June. Johnson was among the top 10 most sacked quarterbacks in the nation last year with 33. He was also LSU’s No. 3 rusher with 387 yards on 78 carries, excluding the sacks.
And Johnson suffered under LSU offensive coordinator Jake Peetz, who had never held that title before last season and struggled to even get plays called and sent in to Johnson. LSU coach Ed Orgeron was also fired early in the season before finishing it out as a lame duck. Nevertheless, Johnson managed to finish eighth in the SEC and No. 51 in the nation in efficiency at a decent 144.4 rating on 225-of-373 passing for 2,815 yards and 27 touchdowns against only six interceptions.
“He has had a good solid spring,” Fisher said. “And last scrimmage, he really threw the ball well (against calmer winds).”
Sophomore Haynes King, who was the Aggies’ starter last season before breaking his leg in the second game of the season, completed 11 of 33 passes for 130 yards and no touchdowns with two interceptions. He rushed three times for 30 yards.
True freshman, early enrollee quarterback Conner Weigman hit 7 of 19 passes for 116 yards and a 32-yard touchdown while rushing once for a yard.
“Nothing spectacular,” Fisher said of the overall quarterback play. “But had moments early. When the wind wasn’t as bad, we made a couple of really nice throws. We have to play better at wideout, too. I wasn’t very pleased in that regard. Dropped balls. Whether it’s windy or not, you’ve got to be able to catch the football.”
Texas A&M will enter August practices in much the same way it opened spring football – wide open at quarterback. Johnson, though, has an advantage with his running ability. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds before spring practice.
Johnson’s running ability was what had him in the lead over Myles Brennan entering August practices at LSU in 2021 and would have likely won him the job. Johnson rushed for 65 yards on 18 carries in a 37-34 upset win at No. 9 Florida in 2020 while completing 21 of 36 for 239 yards and becoming the first LSU quarterback in history to throw three touchdowns at the Swamp. He also rushed for 45 yards on 14 carries in a 53-48 win over Ole Miss in which he completed 27 of 51 passes for an LSU freshman quarterback record 435 yards with three touchdowns.
Some say Brennan, who cannot run or move well, was going to be LSU’s starter last season. We’ll never know as Brennan broke his non-throwing arm on a fishing trip and was lost for the season. He is back for his sixth season at LSU and may be the starter in 2022. LSU will play at Texas A&M on Nov. 26. Could it be Johnson vs. Brennan?
Johnson hopes to benefit from Fischer, who is a more experienced quarterback coach.
“It’s been an easy transition and smooth transition coming to Texas A&M,” said Johnson’s father Brad Johnson, who was an NFL quarterback from 1992-2008 and helped lead Tampa Bay to the Super Bowl XXXVII title in the 2002 season.
“It’s been fun for him to learn from Jimbo Fisher,” Johnson said. “And he’s looking forward to the season.”