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Brennan vs. Johnson Part 2: The Tape

We’ve crunched the numbers, now let’s take a look at the film of LSU’s top two quarterbacks

Mississippi v LSU Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Once again, I would like to reiterate at the onset of the piece that my opinion, and any of our opinions, on this issue are incomplete. None of us are in practice, the games haven’t started, and we don’t really know if Myles Brennan is the same player after his injury, etc. I am still simply trying to prove the thesis that Max Johnson, in 2020, was a downgrade from Brennan. This piece will take a look at the tape, and examine the comparative strengths, weaknesses, and overall quarterback characteristics I could see in the limited samples. This is a continuation of the same thesis I laid out in Part 1.


Let’s start with a strength: Max Johnson seems to be pretty capable on touch throws.

This looks to be some form of Cover 1 or 3 although it’s hard with no All-22. Anyway, there’s not a lot to break down here but he does a good job holding the safety in the middle and lofting a BEAUTY that Boutte drops. His best throw of the season.

Another thing he did well at times was getting to the backside of a concept. This is a tough ask for a young QB behind a bad line, particularly here on 3rd and 7, but he put a lot of these backside dig completions on tape. Flood concept with backside dig. He sees the down safety fly back to take deep half in Cover 2, the corner stays just underneath to eliminate the sail, and the linebacker matches the check releasing Kole Taylor. He processes it quickly and nails the backside dig, which is opened by the 2-high structure and the occupied flat defenders. Eventually against Ole Miss they were giving the dig up so much he just started his read on it, if you watch the game again it feels like they completed a dig to Boutte like this on every single play.

The processing, however, wasn’t always quite as good as the previous play would indicate, particularly when the defense changed the picture on him. Here Florida aligns like they are going to play Cover 3 but flies into Tampa 2. Johnson doesn’t adjust from his pre snap Cover 3 determination and throws the hitch to Taylor, thinking it’ll be open. Not a particularly concerning mistake from a true freshman though, it happens.

This is actually something I think may be a problem— something that really held him back. Johnson really doesn’t adjust his ball placement to defender leverage and positioning, he just kinda puts it where you’d put it if there were no defender. The first ball needs to be put on a line to the back-shoulder, he just doesn’t give this a chance to be completed. The second needs to either not be thrown or left both to the back shoulder and a bit underneath to allow Boutte to come back. Adaptive placement is a critical skill if a college QB is to become any better than okay, you need to be able to create completions. If you can’t throw guys open, you’re not going to really be able to add anything that isn’t created by the receivers or the schemes.


Brennan’s season got off to a bit of a rocky start. All in all he had a nice game against Mississippi State but not one I found super encouraging for tougher tests to come (eventually?). The main problems I noticed were slow process and sketchy timing, which are obviously interrelated. Here’s a good example of this, it takes him far too long to work off the frontside of this smash/drive concept and get to the (sorta?) over route. He takes too long, throws late, and gets a touchdown batted away.

In the game a year prior, you can see what the timing is supposed to look like, and in the red zone it’s at even more of a premium. Joe Burrow gets off the front side at the top of his drop, throws in a little shoulder fake to hold the boundary safety outside, and delivers a ridiculously accurate ball. Brilliant procedure by a Jacob deGrom-esque scientist. In the first gif, you can see that Brennan both takes too long to get off the frontside smash AND takes too long to decide to throw to the route he does.

That game did, however, introduce us to the fantastic vertical passer that Brennan is. Beauty

By the end of the Mississippi State game he had looked far more comfortable, that continued into the Vanderbilt game. He eliminates the sideline vert very quickly (as it’s clearly being bracketed), does a nice job stepping up into space, sees the boundary apex stay low on the shallow, and throws in time and off platform into the window he vacated. Really good process, good timing, good sense of space, and good movement.

This may be the most impressive play by any QB in this piece. On this dagger concept, he gets off the primary (Marshall here) quickly and throws the ball while two defenders are still in the window. He determines based on their direction and positioning that the window will open and throws before it does to get it there on time. That is what is meant when people say a QB “throws with anticipation.”

Here is a really good example of reading defender leverage and adjusting your ball placement. The corner has clear inside leverage here so he puts the ball to the back shoulder. Good job staying light on his feet, drifting away from pressure, and throwing with some touch as well.

The Missouri game is where it all came together for him, and he looked like a top-5 pick. In that game, Brennan didn’t look like a good passer, or even a really good one, he looked like a future All-Pro. Here he holds the safety in the middle and rips the seam ball behind him. Simple in concept, but well timed and well placed.

Here we see a different side to Brennan. Chasen Hines gets bulldozed back into his face so he has to bail. On the move, he perfectly layers the ball over and away from the defender to Marshall on the sideline.

This is just a ridiculous ball. Realizes pre-snap the middle of the field would be open, knows the deep dropping linebacker isn’t gonna get the proper depth (so close bro), gets to the top of his drop, and wastes zero time letting it rip. PERFECTLY in stride, touchdown. Big boy throw from a guy who seemed to make a lot of them.

Another big boy throw, perfectly layered into a tricky window deep downfield. Brennan really was an incredible vertical passer last year, there’s no other way to say it. I wish LSU would run a much more vertically oriented pass offense.

Personally, I think the tape is even clearer than the data on who was the better quarterback last year. The main takeaway is the same as last time though, Myles Brennan offers you explosion, he threatens defenses all over the field, and he offers you efficiency. In 2021, that’s what constitutes upside, and what constitutes talent.

There are enough ways (heavy RPO use, heavy play action use, standard down passing) to simplify a QBs process nowadays that, unless processing is really sketchy, the things I listed are what differentiate you at the college level. You can go look at North Carolina’s offense, for example. Sam Howell doesn’t have to do a ton of thinking or processing, he does do a lot of big boy throwing. LSU’s offense requires a bit more, it is straight dropback heavy, the way they run play-fakes doesn’t really influence defenders as much as I’d like, and it is heavy on quick passing. Despite this, Brennan was able to operate quite well in it, and they do make you defend a lot by sending 4-5 guys out in the concept every time. Hopefully Brennan still has his physical abilities, because if he does, that’s the guy I want to ride into the season. If he doesn’t, I think Johnson is solid, but limited in what he can really give you independently. It’s not 2007 anymore, I don’t want LSU to operate with those limits if they don’t have to.

Once again, I’m not in the building, so who knows what Brennan looks like, who knows if my assessment of Johnson is dead wrong, I’m operating on less information than I’d like, to say the least. We will all find out the answers to our questions in due time.