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Guilbeau: Is LSU QB Duel An NFL ‘Father Knows Best’ Situation – Pop Warner Style?

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Hopefully, it will not come down to which quarterback sells the most candy for the Pop Warner booster club.

Parents getting involved in playing time for their children is thought to be reserved for Little League and high school. But it happens on the college level, too.

Linda Clark Randall once called LSU coach Nick Saban on behalf of her son, quarterback Marcus Randall, who started in 2002 as a sophomore. She had a point, and Saban listened.

And she had never played in the NFL.

LSU’s present coach, Ed Orgeron, who was fired last month effective at the end of the season, just opened up a quarterback competition between sophomore Max Johnson, who has started all nine games for the Tigers (4-5, 2-4 SEC), and true freshman Garrett Nussmeier, who has played briefly in three games that were already decided.

Both have been getting equal snaps in practice with the first team this week, and both will play against No. 25 Arkansas (6-3, 2-3 SEC) in a 6:30 p.m. game Saturday at Tiger Stadium on the SEC Network. Both are expected to share time through LSU’s remaining two regular season games, Louisiana-Monroe and Texas A&M.

Johnson’s dad is Brad Johnson, who was an NFL quarterback for 17 years and started 137 times for five different teams between 1996 and 2008. He helped lead Tampa Bay to a Super Bowl XXXVII victory over Oakland in the 2002 season and made the Pro Bowl in 1999 and 2002. He has not called Orgeron. He has decided to stay out of any tit for tat.

Nussmeier’s dad is Doug Nussmeier, who is the quarterbacks coach for the Dallas Cowboys and a former offensive coordinator at Florida, Michigan, Alabama, Washington and Fresno State. He was on three NFL teams from 1994-98 and started two games for the Saints — one in 1996 and one in ’97. Neither was against Minnesota, which Johnson was playing for at the time.

Nussmeier could have become an offensive analyst for Orgeron at LSU in 2018 after getting fired by Florida in 2017 following head coach Jim McElwain’s firing. Instead, he caught on with Dallas as a tight ends coach. Nussmeier has been on the phone lately with Orgeron.

“I talked to his father (Nussmeier), who I respect a lot,” Orgeron said Monday when he announced the quarterback battle. “We had talked on Thursday (of last week).”

Nussmeier and his son were then apparently under the impression Nussmeier would play at No. 2 Alabama last Saturday. And both surely thought Garrett Nussmeier might have made a difference as LSU was within 20-14 at the 2:26 mark of the third quarter after an 8-yard touchdown pass from Johnson to wide receiver Jack Bech.

But LSU lost 20-14 as Johnson was 7-for-17 passing for 71 yards after that touchdown with a miss or two on passes that could have been touchdowns.

So, Garrett Nussmeier visited Orgeron on Sunday.

“He was mad,” Ogeron said with a laugh. “He was mad he didn’t play.”

Orgeron apparently did not do what the Nussmeiers wanted.

“I didn’t feel that it was time to throw him in there for a couple plays,” Orgeron said.

The Nussmeiers thought it was. Garrett could have played Saturday and still have his redshirt season and be a freshman again in 2022 with eligibility through 2025. College players can see action in four games and still redshirt. Originally, the plan was to try to save Nussmeier’s season so he could be a freshman again. Now, the plan is for him to play in the rest of LSU’s three regular season games and a bowl, if that happens. Make that LSU’s last four regular season games, according to the Nussmeiers.

“He (Garrett) came in the office Sunday and was adamant about playing,” Orgeron said.

Meanwhile, Doug Nussmeier called LSU offensive coordinator Jake Peetz on Sunday.

“His father called Jake and said, ‘Listen, hey, here’s the plan. He wants to play. Let him play,'” Orgeron said. “So that’s what we’re doing. Obviously, it looks right now that he may not redshirt. It all depends on how the games go. But that’s his choice if that’s what he wants to do.”

Wow. “Here’s the plan”? Is Nussmeier giving Peetz certain plays to call for his son as well?

Who’s in charge here?

And this is not the first time that it appears a Daddy is calling the shots. When cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. opted out of the last two games last season with a minor injury and decided not to return this season because of a foot injury that required surgery, it seemed as though Orgeron was getting information second hand and that Stingley’s father was calling the shots.

Orgeron was not even sure when Stingley’s surgery was, for one thing, and doesn’t seem to know whether Stingley wants to return. Usually head coaches know these things. Usually head coaches — not parents — also say, “Listen, here’s the plan.”

Two days later, Orgeron was asked on the SEC teleconference whether he needed to clarify how he depicted Nussmeier’s conversation with Peetz.

“There’s nobody dictating me on doing nothing,” Orgeron said. “I run this program.”

Temporarily, yes, but the Nussmeiers could be here much longer. And I tend to believe what Orgeron at first said about the Nussmeier-Peetz conversation – not the corrected version. Revised versions generally are not as truthful as originals.

And since Peetz is likely out of a job after this season, he may be making sure Nussmeier helps him land somewhere in the NFL or college, considering Nussmeier’s work history and contacts.

Further, I wonder if Doug Nussmeier’s next “plan” is to be LSU’s new offensive coordinator. Then he can do what so many Little League and Pop Warner dads want to do — coach their son.

Nussmeier, though, is more qualified than many Little League dads — and definitely more qualified than Peetz, which Orgeron would tell you for sure as he has continued to criticize Peetz, whom he hired. Had Nussmeier become an analyst at LSU in 2018 when Steve Ensminger was offensive coordinator, Orgeron may have promoted him to offensive coordinator in 2019 instead of hiring Joe Brady.

Johnson has performed admirably this season, particularly early when the offensive line was bad and so was the running game. Both have improved, but Johnson has seemed off at times lately.

“It’s mechanics sometimes,” said Orgeron, who has never coached offense.

Johnson is 178-of-296 on the season for 2,169 yards and 22 touchdowns with six interceptions for a 142.2 efficiency rating that is No. 7 in the SEC and No. 60 nationally. He has not thrown for more than 200 yards in each of LSU’s last three games.

Nussmeier has completed 11 of 26 passes for 150 yards and a touchdown against McNeese State, Central Michigan and Ole Miss. His efficiency rating of 103.5 would be 115th in the nation out of 117 FBS schools if he had played enough to qualify in the statistics.

But Nussmeier showed flashes in two August scrimmages as he threw three touchdowns in each one.

“I think he’s going to be one great quarterback,” Orgeron said at the time. “He’s dynamite.”

He also threw three interceptions in the spring game.

Whatever happens, Orgeron — or Doug Nussmeier — may have just made the rest of an otherwise dreary wrap to a lost LSU season much more interesting with this quarterback duel, Daddy-O.

May the best quarterback, regardless of his dad’s involvement, win and/or play more.

Written by Glenn Guilbeau

Guilbeau has been on the LSU beat since 1998 with multiple outlets in Louisiana, prior to that he had covered both Auburn and Alabama. He won first place for his game feature on LSU's upset at Florida last season from the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA). He was also named Beat Writer of Year, by Louisiana Sports Writers Association in July; placed in three Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) categories – Beat Writer, Explanatory, Game Coverage – last spring. Guilbeau was also the FWAA first-place winner for columns in 2017 and was also the top overall winner in 2016 FWAA placing first for his game story, second in columns, and receiving honorable mention for features.

2 Comments

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  1. Here’s what kills me. Why do you sign TWO guys like this? You don’t need TWO five star quarterbacks. Furthermore this is a stupid decision by both kids and parents if you ask me. Quarterbacks of their caliber shouldn’t be going to a school wondering if they’re going to be the guy. They could’ve signed at 10 big schools where they would be the undisputed starters right now, but chose to sign at LSU where nothing is certain and someone will be sitting the bench? One of them should transfer to another school where they are the guy, because they “should” be the guy wherever they are. I don’t know why you choose to go to a school where you’re going to have to fight for playing time when you could be starting at countless other programs. Simple solution is someone transfer. If you want to put up some stats transfer to Tennessee. You can start for the next two years brother.

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