Gators notebook: LSU down another defensive starter, rematch with QB Max Johnson

Zach Abolverdi
Gator Sports
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LSU quarterback Max Johnson had a big game last year against Florida at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

For the second consecutive season, LSU is heading into the Florida game without several starters. 

The Tigers brought just 65 players — five less than the maximum of 70 for SEC road games — to The Swamp last year because of injuries, player opt-outs or transfers. 

LSU will be nowhere near full strength Saturday when it hosts No. 17 Florida (4-2, 2-2 SEC) at noon. Sixth-year coach Ed Orgeron revealed Wednesday that his defense will now be without five starters, as Eli Ricks joins fellow cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., safety Major Burns, defensive ends Andre Anthony and Ali Gaye on the inactive list. 

“Received news this week that Eli Ricks will be out, unavailable the rest of the season,” Orgeron said on the SEC coaches teleconference. “It was a nagging injury. It just kept coming and coming back, coming back. He and his family decided to get operated on, to get it fixed. ... He kept on playing with it, playing with it, and it just kept recurring.

“So that means we have to move maybe Cordale Flott to cornerback, Sage Ryan to nickel. We have a different combination we’re going to work this week.

The Tigers (3-3, 1-2) will also be without starting receiver Kayshon Boutte, who leads the team in catches (38), receiving yards (509) and touchdowns (9). Orgeron announced Monday that Boutte will miss the rest of the season with a leg injury. 

“It does make it tough,” Orgeron said. “We’ve lost several players, especially starters on defense. Some young guys, they’re going to have to step up.”

Rematch with Max

Boutte had a big game against the Gators in 2020, hauling in five passes for 108 yards (long of 41) and a touchdown. Last year’s matchup was also a breakout performance for LSU quarterback Max Johnson, the son of former FSU and NFL quarterback Brad Johnson. 

Making his first career start on the road as a true freshman, Johnson led the Tigers to an upset win with 239 yards passing, three touchdowns and 52 yards rushing. 

“Gutsy. Gritty,” Orgeron said of Johnson’s outing. “The same type of quarterback we had seen the whole time in practice. Found a way to win. The team believes in him. Thought it was a signature win for Max.”

The following week against Ole Miss, Johnson threw for a career-high 435 yards, scored five touchdowns and outperformed Rebels QB Matt Corral in a 53-48 shootout. 

Johnson ranks second in the SEC in touchdown passes (17) this season and has thrown for 1,729 yards, five less than Alabama’s Bryce Young. 

“I think that Max has done a really good job of developing himself from Year 1 to Year 2,” UF defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said of Johnson. “He kind of understands where to throw the ball both in the run game and then the pass game. Got a really strong arm. He can throw it from sideline to sideline. He has enough athletic ability that he can extend plays or he can get yards if he has to. 

“They can run quarterback runs with him to make it an 11-on-11 game. He’s confident in the 50-50 balls of throwing it up and letting guys go make plays, so he’s done a really good job of developing himself and being a guy that can make the hard throws, can make the throws into tight coverage. So he’ll be a challenge for us to go play.”

Florida-Georgia Hall of Fame

Ciatrick Fason and UF teammate Keiwan Ratliff and former Georgia players Thomas Davis and Jon Stinchcomb will be inducted to the Florida-Georgia Hall of Fame on Oct. 29 at the TIAA Bank Field East Club. 

After missing last year because of the pandemic, the Florida-Georgia Hall of Fame Luncheon will be held for the 25th time as part of Florida-Georgia week and the Bold City Bash. 

“The Florida-Georgia game is one of Jacksonville’s longest-running traditions and one of the most storied rivalries in college football,” said Mayor Lenny Curry in a statement. “Every year, the Hall of Fame Luncheon allows us the opportunity to recognize some of the most talented student-athletes and coaches and highlight the tremendous impact and strong connection this game has to our city.” 

Created in 1995, the Florida-Georgia Hall of Fame honors and recognizes the memorable players, coaches, and administrators involved in the long-standing rivalry.  Over the 25-year history of the Hall of Fame there have been over 100 people inducted including legendary Gators Steve Spurrier, Danny Wuerffel, Tim Tebow and Fred Taylor, as well as Bulldog legends Vince Dooley, Herschel Walker, David Pollack and Knowshon Moreno.

Hall of Fame Luncheon tickets are on sale through the City of Jacksonville Sports & Entertainment Office. Please visit Contact Chandler Fussell at 904-255-5418 or for more information.

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