The omnipresent topic of this offseason has been has been Cam Cameron's mandate to fix the LSU passing game in 2015.
The first thing people need to understand is that there is no single key to it. No magic bullet. There need to be different approaches to coaching, physical and mental development from the players involved and some re-focusing on certain areas of LSU's offense. Streamlining of gameplan verbage, play call relays and check responsibilities were all worked on in the spring, along with more of the new constraint work we saw during the final games of 2014. In focusing more on the strengths and weaknesses of the individual players, we saw a small wrinkle in the LSU spring game that might yield some bigger dividends in the regular season: the use of sophomore Malachi Dupre near-exclusively in the slot when the Tigers moved to three- and four-wide-receiver formations.
The 6-3 Dupre worked from the position somewhat last year, but spent more time outside, where he struggled with his release against tight, physical coverage. He's the most talented wideout on the team, and this will allow him to match up on safeties, linebackers and third and fourth corners much more often, and put him in a better position to get a clean release by playing off of the line of scrimmage and getting more motion looks before the snap. And while Dupre may not be the stereotypical "smurf" type of slot player like a Wes Welker, using larger players inside isn't all that unusual. The Saints move Marques Colston into the slot often, and players like Cris Carter and Jerry Rice used to terrorize defenses from that position in three-wide looks as well.
And one of the plays that we saw the Tigers execute to great success in that spring game, and one that I think we'll see a lot more of this fall is the Corner, or "Smash" Concept.
The Smash is a play that gets associated with spread/air-raid teams, but it's an old staple of multiple playbooks, across varying levels of game from high school to the pros. A corner route from an inside receiver run over a short curl route from an outside one.
For the mechanics of the concept, the outside receiver runs your basic five-yard curl route. The inside receiver will run a corner route -- 12 yards, then a sharp cut on an angle that should run him out of bounds about 25 yards past the line of scrimmage. The inside receiver has two goals here: to get "across the face" of the defender over him, be it a safety or nickel corner and to make sure he's running to open space.
Here's a good quick explanation on how the quarterback's end of the play works from a pretty good former college QB who spent a long time in the pros: Ty Detmer.
It's a pretty basic short-to-deep read. If the corner crowds the curl route, throw the corner route behind him. The most important thing is for the throw to be high and outside for the deep receiver. In coaching terms, you want this to be an "our ball/no ball" pass. Either your guy can get to it, or it sails incomplete (obviously, if there's a defender in the path of the corner route, it shouldn't be thrown).
Receivers adjust their route multiple ways, such as with a stutter or jab step towards the post on the cut, in order to make the DB think they're moving inside. Sometimes they flatten the angle of the route slightly, or even round it off into almost an out cut, in order to make sure they give the quarterback a clean throwing lane. In the vine below, courtesy of this breakdown at Niners Nation, you can see the receiver flatten out a bit to create separation from a Jets safety.
The smash has a lot of benefits. It's a pretty basic one-man read that can be adjusted to a lot of formations and protections and modified to attack different coverages.
The version that most commonly shows up when you think of the smash is the mirrored version out of 2x2 receiver looks.
But it can work out of any slot look, such as a 2x1 look here with two backs in the backfield.
The high-low aspect of the play is mostly associated with attacking cover-two, with that deep sideline void between the safety and the corner in the flat. But versus other looks, there can be some adjustments. In tighter formations or bunch groupings, the curl route may be replaced with a flat route, such as in a two tight-end wing set. In the above picture, you see the outside receiver motion in and then run a basic out route. Versus press coverage outside, some coaches like for the outside man to slant inside off of the jam and then break to the sideline.
It's a relatively low-risk/high-reward type of play, with an easy read and a low-risk deep throw that should avoid any real chance of a turnover. At the risk of bringing up a sore subject, it was one of the go-to plays in Jim McElwain's offensive gameplan versus LSU in the 2012 BCS title game, which Chris Brown detailed at Grantland.com right here. A.J. McCarron's reputation from that game was largely based on his placement on a couple of those corner throws.
This video shows a couple of variants here, including the flat combo with a fullback.
Another variant that LSU used a lot in the past with guys like Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry that were especially dangerous in the slot, is the "choice" concept.
This combines the smash with a three-level look by deepening the curl outside and adding a flat throw. The deep receiver will have the option to break his route inside or out, based on where the open space is.
Against three- or four-deep coverage, the outside receiver may also break inside to try and attack the void created by the corner route. That feature was employed in this version of the smash, which resulted in a 35-yard touchdown from Brandon Harris to Dupre.
Video is available here, although the user has embedding disabled.
This version of the smash, in a 3x1 looks, adds a divide route from the tight end -- he runs deep and either continues down the field or sits down based on whether the middle of the field is open or closed. If you hit that corner a couple of times and the safety is maybe trying to slide that way a little too quickly, the quarterback can easily burn the defense down the seam. The backside receiver here is basically just running a post to exploit one-on-on coverage if the defense loads up on the front side.
The touchdown came on second down with two to go, so it made sense for Harris to take a chance down the field. In other situations, such as on third down, the better read might be to take the open crossing route over the lower-percentage throw. However, Harris' pass placement is excellent -- either Dupre's getting to that ball or it hits the turf, despite double coverage.
There isn't some magical fix for LSU's passing game in 2015. It's going to take a bunch of little things coming together. But using the smash concept could help put some of LSU's playmakers in better positions, and give the quarterback an easy way to make the handful of big plays that the Tigers will need to open things up a little more for Leonard Fournette.