Yes, the buzzword surrounding the LSU offense heading into the Jan. 7 national title game in New Orleans with Ohio State is "versatility," and that starts at the top with the player who must touch the ball on every play.
The Tigers, seemingly disproving the old adage that if a team has two quarterbacks it really has none, have two quarterbacks who have each played in 11 games on the season in senior Matt Flynn and sophomore Ryan Perrilloux. Defensive players on No. 1 Ohio State say they're preparing for the BCS National Championship Game as though they will have to be able to stop both of them.
"It's tough knowing that you have two different quarterbacks that are going to come into the game and both are equally talented," said linebacker Marcus Freeman, who finished second on the Buckeyes with 95 tackles. "That's why we have 50-some days of practice. Hopefully we're prepared for both of them."
Going into last year's title game in Glendale, Ariz., against Florida, the Buckeyes had to deal with the same issue. Florida entered the contest with a quarterback in Chris Leak who mostly threw the football and a player under center in Tim Tebow who was known for his ability to run the ball.
Leak traveled to the desert having thrown 329 passes and 74 rushes. Tebow, on the other hand, was credited with 79 rushes and just 32 passes before the meeting with Ohio State.
The script was upheld during Florida's 41-14 win over the Buckeyes. Leak threw the ball 36 times for 213 yards and a touchdown while rushing the ball just three times. Tebow, on the other hand, had 10 rushes for 39 yards and a touchdown and completed his only pass for a 1-yard score.
This year, the roles of the LSU quarterbacks can vary based on the situation. The starter during most of the season, Flynn, is fairly similar to Leak in that he is a throwing quarterback who can run when necessary. Backup Perrilloux has shown that he can throw the football during stints as a starter – more so than Tebow did at any point a year ago – but also spends much of his time as a runner when he checks in to spell Flynn.
"It's a little bit similar (to last year)," cornerback Malcolm Jenkins said. "One quarterback throws, one quarterback comes in and they spread out and try to run it, but they're both talented and both can beat you deep."
A senior, Flynn started 11 games in 2007 and compiled a 9-2 record during his first year as a starter. He finished the season completing 183 of his 332 passes (55.1 percent) for 2,233 yards, 17 touchdowns and 10 picks.
When forced to run, he can do so with success; he has 88 carries on the year for 207 yards and four touchdowns. At 6-3, 227, Flynn isn't the most fleet afoot quarterback in the country, but he can get yards when necessary, as evidenced by the fact that he has rushed for 376 positive yards on the year.
"A lot of people talk about Perrilloux as a runner, but Matt Flynn makes a lot of plays with his legs, too," Freeman said. "He definitely can run and run for first downs. He's a tough kid. He's a definite leader."
Perrilloux, on the other hand, is no slouch in either category. An uber-recruit – as a five-star prospect, he was Scout's national high school player of the year in 2005 – who finally saw himself become a contributor this year, Perrilloux evidenced the skill with both his legs and his arms that made him so highly touted coming out of LaPlace, La.
Throwing the football, Perrilloux completed 51 of 75 passes (68.0) for 694 yards and piled up a quarterback rating of 175.5, which would have placed him third in the nation behind Sam Bradford of Oklahoma and Tebow had he tossed enough passes. On the ground, he ran 51 times for 203 yards and two touchdowns.
"Perrilloux is going to run, but he definitely has an excellent arm," Freeman said. "That's something you have to prepare for and make sure you're not just trying to key on him running because he can definitely throw it, too."
Flynn started 11 of the teams' 13 games, not getting the nod against Middle Tennessee Sept. 15 and in the SEC title game Dec. 1 against Tennessee because of injury, although he says he is at 100 percent for the championship game. Against the Volunteers, Perrilloux had a solid day, completing 20 of 30 passes for a touchdown and an interception during a 21-14 win.
Only twice – against Alabama Nov. 3 and against Arkansas Nov. 23 – did Perrilloux not see any snaps during a game. In most instances, he's brought in as the rushing alternative to Flynn. During his starts, Perrilloux has 17 rushes against 55 passes, but in backup duty, he's rushed the ball more times than when he's thrown it.
"With Perilloux, he's a very talented running quarterback who can throw the ball," LSU offensive coordinator Gary Crowton said. "Why we've decided to inject him in the process is keep two quarterbacks healthy and give two quarterbacks experience, one being the lead guy – which Matt is – the other guy is growing and getting better."
As for why the system seems to work when either is in, Crowton had a simple answer.
"There's good people around them. That helps," he said. "And these guys, they are both competitive and they both are preparing well."
This year, Ohio State did not face any teams who used two quarterbacks as part of their base offense. As a result, figuring out how to stop the multifaceted attack means one thing: extra time in the film room.
"It just all comes down to studying film, what they do with certain quarterbacks in the game," Jenkins said. "They do run different offenses whenever one of them is in the game. We just have to prepare and know what you're going to get."
OSU defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said that the multiple options under center employed by LSU show yet again just what makes the Tigers so dangerous: their versatility.
"The word I keep thinking about is multiple," Heacock said. "They've got two outstanding quarterbacks. … They give you a lot of problems, not only with the quarterbacks but in the running game and the throwing game and everything they do."