LSU has a quarterback problem, but it's in the best of ways after how much Joe Burrow's success positively impacted the program's recruiting power at the position.
The Tigers may never find another quite like Burrow who can replicate his historic achievements, but they've got one on board who shows plenty of potential to fit the bill. Freshman quarterback Garrett Nussmeier, the son of former NFL signal-caller Doug Nussmeier, showed the same type of promise in his level of mental processing, ability to make plays off-schedule, pocket awareness, discipline and tight-window ball placement over his high school career and showed flashes of it at certain points of an adverse 2021 season.
“I think I bring a very Joe Burrow-like mind to the table for LSU,” Nussmeier told me in 2020 before officially committing to LSU. “I see a lot of similarities in the way we play. I’d like to think that we think the same. I know that’s saying a lot. He did an unbelievable job. I’d like to think that I can learn and get to the point to do things the way he did.”
It's something former LSU Head Coach Ed Orgeron picked up on as well, though Nussmeier obviously has to win the starting job and continue to make progress before he can enter the same conversation as one of the greatest passers in college football history.
“I don’t want to put that on him yet because Joe [Burrow] was very special,” Orgeron told me during the spring of 2021. “I do see some similarities that Garrett [Nussmeier] has as far as leadership, as far as competitiveness, ability to make plays. I think he’s only going to get better here. I think he’s going to be a great quarterback here. I’m very pleased with him.”
Nussmeier has already faced some challenges in which that "locked-in mentality" has been put to the test in just one year with the program, which was filled with highs and lows and having to block out some incredibly loud noise with LSU and Orgeron parting ways, questions at quarterback and Title IX lawsuits unfolding.
"It wasn't easy and it wasn't what I expected as far as my first semester and first season to be like. The head coach parts ways in the middle of the season, dealing with a lot of drama and a quarterback controversy," Nussmeier said.
"It was definitely a cool experience, though, I had been working to get a chance to play. Even though I didn't get the chance to start a game, I got to play in a lot of games and got some real SEC experience. That was good for me in my development."
Nussmeier saw action in four contests, noting the 31-17 loss to Ole Miss when he threw his first college touchdown pass as the most memorable of the season. He finished out the year 29-of-57 passing for 329 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, going through some first-year growing pains but also giving glimpses of his impressive upside.
Looking at LSU's current quarterback room, Nussmeier doesn't have the edge where experience is concerned, but it's easy to make the case that he has the highest ceiling. Nussmeier has the most live arm between himself, Arizona State transfer Jayden Daniels and senior Myles Brennan, bringing an intriguing level of big-play ability that should come to light even more as he spends more time in the system and fine-tunes his game. He's shown mobility that makes one flash back to Johnny Manziel's days at Texas A&M, and though he could afford to hang in the pocket a little bit longest on certain plays, there's no question he can make things happen with his legs.
Nussmeier earned high praise from current LSU Head Coach Brian Kelly, someone who doesn't mince words about any individual player's performance.
“Look, there is a young man that has an incredible amount of confidence,” Kelly told reporters of Nussmeier back in the spring. “He’s going to [make] fit-it-in-a-phone-booth throws as well as anybody I’ve been around. He’s got the makeup of a great quarterback, but there’s been this development, technically, that has been, from my perspective, nice to see.”
Moving forward, Nussmeier says he is looking to continue that development and is just as focused on showing who he is as a quarterback where the intangibles are concerned as what he brings on the field.
"I'm looking to keep maturing overall, taking control of the game and just doing my part. Moving the sticks, I guess you could say," Nussmeier said.
"One of my best traits is my leadership and how I interact with my teammates. I think that's one of the most important parts of playing quarterback. It's not just your skillset, it's can you lead your team? Can you move the ball down the field? Do your teammates want to play for you? That's something I pride myself on."
The battle for the starting gig will continue into the fall -- that's when Kelly has said he expects the quarterbacks to begin to separate themselves, and Nussmeier holds his head high but also respects who he's up against.
"I'm looking forward to competing and I'm excited about the fall. There's a lot of great quarterbacks in that room and I'm excited about getting out there and taking advantage of that opportunity again."