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BATON ROUGE — LSU had a lame duck football coach in Ed Orgeron for the last six games of the 2021 season, and he decided not to coach in the bowl game.
New coach Brian Kelly, hired last week from Notre Dame, will also not be coaching in the Texas Bowl on Jan. 4 when the Tigers (6-6) play Kansas State (7-5). So interim coaching duties will fall to offensive line coach Brad Davis, who has only been on campus since June.
And now, starting quarterback Max Johnson has decided to exit LSU and enter the NCAA transfer portal, leaving the Tigers with no scholarship quarterbacks for the bowl, unless true freshman Garrett Nussmeier decides to lose an entire year of eligibility by playing in the game. Nussmeier told TigerBait.com on Tuesday night that he was unsure of his plans for the bowl game.
College players have five years to play four seasons, if they play in no more than four games in one of those seasons. This season, Nussmeier has already played in the maximum four games allowed to still be able to get an extra year, which is known as red-shirting.
Without Nussmeier, LSU’s next quarterback in line is true freshman walk-on Matt O’Dowd from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida. In the 2019 season when he was a high school junior, O’Dowd threw for 1,396 yards and 15 touchdowns. He has not played at LSU this season.
“LSU, thank you for allowing me to pursue my academic and athletic career here,” Johnson tweeted on Tuesday. “With careful prayer and consideration, I am entering the transfer portal.”
Johnson, a sophomore from Oconee County High in Watkinsville, Georgia, started LSU’s last 14 games — the last two in 2020 and all 12 in 2021. He finished this past season 55th in the nation in passing efficiency on 225-of-373 passing for 2,815 yards and 27 touchdowns with six interceptions. He completed 22 of 38 passes for 306 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions in the regular season finale against Texas A&M. His last pass as a Tiger was a 28-yard touchdown to wide receiver Jaray Jenkins with 20 seconds to go for a 27-24 win that made LSU bowl eligible.
Johnson met with Kelly in his office at LSU on Tuesday, and that was it. He is not dipping his toe in the transfer portal to see what is out there, then possibly stay at LSU.
“Max is done,” his father Brad Johnson, a former NFL and Super Bowl winning quarterback with Tampa Bay, told OutKick Tuesday night. “He told Brian Kelly of his plans to go into the portal. The meeting went well. Max spoke to all of the coaches in the building, trainers and support staff individually. Max loves his teammates. This was a gut wrenching decision. That’s all that needs to be said.”
Johnson’s younger brother Jake Johnson, meanwhile, decommitted from LSU on Tuesday as well. The No. 1 tight end in the nation from Oconee County High, Johnson had committed to LSU on April 15.
Nussmeier will be a redshirt freshman next season, should he not play in the bowl. LSU will also have Walker Howard — the No. 2 pro style quarterback in the nation and No. 26 overall prospect from St. Thomas More High in Lafayette. Howard plans to enroll at LSU in January and thus be able to participate in spring practice. He can also participate in LSU’s bowl practices.
Kelly recruited Howard while he was Notre Dame’s coach, and Howard visited Notre Dame on the weekend of Oct. 23 when the Irish beat USC 31-16. That was the Saturday after LSU announced that athletic director Scott Woodward had fired LSU coach Ed Orgeron. Within a week of Howard’s visit to LSU, reports say Woodward first contacted Kelly about becoming LSU’s coach.
Howard committed to LSU in June of 2020 — six months after the Tigers won the national championship at 15-0 behind Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Joe Burrow.
Johnson would have been the most experienced quarterback entering spring drills in 2022. Nussmeier was 29-of-57 passing for 329 yards and two touchdowns on the season. He played the most in a 16-13 overtime loss to Arkansas on Nov. 13, completing 18 of 31 passes for 179 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. His overtime interception set the Razorbacks up for the winning field goal.
Johnson was expected to beat out senior Myles Brennan for the starting job entering the 2021 season based on his strong finish to 2020 and play in spring drills and August practices. Brennan had a chance to start, but he injured his shoulder on a fishing trip just before practice started to end his season and he later entered the transfer portal.
Johnson completed 27 of 51 passes for an LSU freshman record 435 yards in a 53-48 win over Ole Miss to end the 2020 season. In his first start the previous week, Johnson became the first quarterback in LSU history to throw three touchdowns at Florida as he completed 21 of 36 passes for 239 yards in a 37-34 upset of the No. 6 Gators.
“Everyone in Baton Rouge has treated him and our family great,” Johnson’s father said.
Max Johnson either saw Kelly leaning to Howard or Nussmeier as the future at quarterback for the Tigers, or he didn’t like Kelly’s offense. Under Kelly the last five seasons, Notre Dame has had only one aerial attack in the top 35 in the nation as the Irish are currently No. 33 with 233.6 passing yards a game. In 2020, Notre Dame was No. 58 (237 yards), No. 49 in 2019 (252.2 yards), No. 36 in 2018 (257.5 yards) and No. 102 in 2017 (178.9 yards).
Notre Dame has also had just one quarterback finish in the top 20 in passing efficiency over the last five seasons. That was Ian Book at No. 17 in 2018 with a 154.0 rating when the Irish reached the College Football Playoff before a 30-3 semifinal loss to Clemson. Book, who was drafted in the fourth round by the Saints in 2021, completed 214 of 314 passes for 2,628 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2018 with seven interceptions. He also rushed for 280 yards on 95 carries.
Notre Dame quarterback Jack Coan is No. 31 in the nation in passing efficiency this season at 152.4 on 215-of-318 passing for 2,641 yards and 20 touchdowns with six interceptions.
LSU lost a second commitment to its 2022 class on Tuesday when No. 74 wide receiver Decoldest Crawford of Green Oaks High in Shreveport decided to reopen his recruitment.
LSU is down to 11 commitments, and its class dropped to No. 29 in the nation from No. 19 by Rivals.com’s rankings on Tuesday. LSU’s lowest ranked class this century by Rivals.com was No. 22 in 2005.
The Tigers also lost another player to the transfer portal in freshman wide receiver Deion Smith of Jackson Academy in Jackson, Mississippi. Smith caught 11 passes for 186 yards in the 2021 season.
Help is on the way for LSU’s roster as Kelly hired recruiting ace Frank Wilson, a former LSU recruiting coordinator, on Tuesday to be his associate head coach. Kelly may also be hiring Notre Dame special teams coach Brian Polian soon for that position at LSU as well as Notre Dame assistant strength coach Jacob Flint to be strength coach.