BATON ROUGE, La. — Justin McMillan looked a bit surprised when he was told that LSU coach Ed Orgeron doesn’t think anyone has “taken the bull by the horns” to be the Tigers’ next starting quarterback.
For one, he can’t rule out the possibility of Orgeron’s phrase being literal.
“There’s probably (a bull) in his room, knowing him,” McMillan said, joking.
And second, as far as McMillan can tell, he and the rest of LSU’s quarterbacks are making pretty good progress this spring.
“I’m not the evaluator. That’s a Coach O statement,” he said. “I don’t really know what that means. But we’re doing the best we can.”
McMillan figures it is just a case of Orgeron doing what he’s best known for — motivating.
“He wants us to be the best we can be. He wants the national championship as badly as we do,” McMillan said. “He wants the best player out there, and he’s going to have the best player out there.”
That statement begs the question that’s been on many minds this spring — could McMillan be the best player out there behind center for LSU?
‘A family within a family’
If McMillan thinks he’s the man, he’s certainly not throwing any teammates under the bus in his quest to prove it. The picture he paints of the quarterback room is far from cutthroat.
“We don’t even see it as winning the job,” McMillan said. “Don’t get me wrong, we’re all going to compete. We’re going to be behind the starter 100 percent no matter whether it’s me or Danny (Etling) or Lowell (Narcisse) or Lindsey (Scott). We’re a family within a family. We all have to stay together.”
Etling entered spring as the presumed starter after taking over from Brandon Harris in Week 2 of 2016. A senior, Etling is still the favorite to be LSU’s No. 1 quarterback when the Tigers open the season against Brigham Young. But McMillan’s numbers in LSU’s first two scrimmages would seem to indicated he is gaining ground.
So far this spring McMillan is a combined 10-of-13 for 141 yards passing, while Etling is 9-of-20 for 230 yards.
But McMillan himself is quick to note that outsiders shouldn’t look too deeply into those numbers. He said the quarterbacks are put into scenarios that don’t necessarily mirror one another.
“It’s a lot of situational things,” he said. “It’s a lot of just grasping the offense to the best of our ability.”
For McMillan, this spring is about learning. Once that process is complete, then it will be time for someone to rise to the top.
“It’s us competing with the offense. It’s not really a battle,” he said. “It’s just getting a grasp of it and doing the best we can.”
Growing as a quarterback
LSU’s past three starting quarterbacks were thrown into the fire as true freshmen. Anthony Jennings started the Outback Bowl. The next year, Harris took his place midseason. Etling started as a true freshman at Purdue before getting benched and transferring to LSU.
McMillan, a redshirt sophomore, had more time to develop.
“It’s all just growing,” McMillan said. “I came in at 18 years old. I’m 20 now. It feels like I’m 45.
“I’m just learning from different coaches and Coach (Matt) Canada is teaching me right now. The game’s moving more slow. It’s fun now. Before it was more erratic. Now it’s the game I’ve always loved.”
To say McMillan is comfortable playing for Canada is an understatement.
“With the offense, it feels like we’ve learned it for years,” McMillan said. “He’s pushed us a lot. We can be good as we can make it be. We took it onto ourselves to learn the offense, and he’s made it a fun experience.”
No matter where he ends up on the depth chart, though, McMillan says he will take care of his business the same way he always has.
“My mind always prepared to play like a starter no matter if I’m second, third, fourth or fifth,” McMillan said. “Prepare like a starter. No matter where I’m at, compete like a starter.”