The last time LSU started a freshman quarterback for an entire season and stuck with him for four years was 1986-89 with Tommy Hodson, who played well immediately and consistently throughout his career. He could have also played well in 1985 when he was red-shirted.
Hodson remains one of the greatest passers in LSU history, behind two-year starter Joe Burrow from 2018-19 who won the national championship and Heisman Trophy in his second season.
Since Hodson—who ran a very effective pro-style passing offense—only one quarterback has started for three seasons at LSU: Herb Tyler from 1996-98. But LSU was far from a passing team in those years, and Tyler was not a passer. Every starting quarterback since has done it only for a year or two.
The main reason for this is LSU has recruited poorly at quarterback over the years. The only true freshmen who were ready to play well in a passing offense on arrival since Hodson were JaMarcus Russell and Matt Flynn in 2003 and Ryan Perrilloux in 2005. All three red-shirted as there were very good and proven quarterbacks ahead of them: Matt Mauck entering 2003 and Russell entering 2005.
Until now. True freshman and five-star prospect Walker Howard of Lafayette is already nearly as good, if not better, than the quarterbacks ahead of him.
Junior Jayden Daniels started for three seasons at Arizona State (2019-21, though the Sun Devils played only four games in the 2020 COVID season) and will be LSU’s starter when the Tigers open the 2022 season against Florida State in the Superdome in New Orleans on Sept. 4.
Walker Howard Is LSU’s Future
Daniels was clearly better during August practices than sixth-year senior Myles Brennan, who left the team this week when he learned he would not start the opener and was third team. Daniels has put on a much-needed 15 pounds to get to about 200, but he has kept his speed and elusiveness. Brennan never had mobility and would have suffered behind what will be an average-at-best offensive line for the third straight season at LSU.
Daniels, though, does not have great touch or accuracy on his passes. Redshirt freshman quarterback Garrett Nussmeier does have good touch, a strong arm and can also move. He still remains erratic, but could develop into a very good quarterback before long.
Howard, meanwhile, has consistently thrown a better pass than all other quaterbacks this month. He has also been extremely competitive and wants to win every drill. He does not have the lax attitude of someone who may be red-shirted.
Howard is not ready to start against Florida State, but he could be ready by the Oct. 1 game at Auburn.
The plan is to work Howard in for the maximum of four games, so he can be red-shirted and begin 2023 as a freshman. That makes sense, particularly if Daniels and/or Nussmeier play well and LSU gets off to a good start. The problem is, it is not like there is anyone even remotely like Burrow or Hodson ahead of him.
If Daniels struggles against better competition than he is used to in the Pac-12, Nussmeier continues to be up-and-down, and LSU finds itself hovering around .500 in mid-October, I say go with Howard.
This LSU team is not going to the College Football Playoff this season. If it wins eight or nine games with that roster, first-year coach Brian Kelly should be SEC Coach of the Year.
LSU’s Roster Is A Bit Of A Mess
Considering the mess of a roster Kelly inherited and a program that is coming off 5-5 and 6-7 seasons, he should be under no pressure to win this year. That means it doesn’t make sense to go with sixth- fifth- or fourth-year seniors or experienced juniors if they are not clearly better than the youth on the team.
The more Howard plays this season, the better he will be in 2023. The more the youthful players play this season, the better LSU will be overall next year.
Howard’s dad Jamie was probably thrown into the fire too early in his freshman year at LSU in 1992, and he was 0-for-6 as a starter. He developed into a quality quarterback.
Kelly does not want to throw Walker Howard in too early.
But Howard is the future, and by mid-season the future may be now. It’s about time LSU had the same quarterback four three or four seasons again.