I hadn’t watched Louisville very closely this year, beyond seeing highlights of Lamar Jackson, and I didn’t really know what their offense was all about. I went into scouting them for the bowl game with this expectation that I was going to be watching Alabama 2.0. I figured they’d be running the same offense everyone else does with an athletic quarterback. After watching the first quarter against Houston, I realized I could not be further from the truth and it hit me that this was a Bobby Petrino coached team that is more “pro-style” than “spread to run”. Not to say that they don’t find ways to involve Lamar Jackson in the running game, but they do a lot of stuff in the passing game as well.
Louisville boasts the 2nd overall offense according to S&P+. They’re 7th and 6th in explosiveness and efficiency respectively and 16th at finishing drives. The ground game comes in at #1 overall and the passing game is 24th. Obviously, this is an elite offense but I felt from watching the tape that the success of the offense rests squarely on the shoulders of Lamar Jackson. This guy is one of the best athletes playing quarterback that I’ve seen in a long time.
The first thing that stands out is how bad their offensive line is. Besides maybe Kansas, there are not a lot of worse units among major conferences. They can neither pass block effectively or run block effectively. It’s bad. Very, very bad. Lamar Jackson was sacked 38 times this year and had a sack rate of 9%. Jalen Hurts of Alabama, a similar athlete was only sacked 16 times and his sack rate was 4.5%. Both of those guys are elite runners but one is playing behind a great offensive line, the other is not. Of course, being that the quarterback is Lamar Jackson, sometimes it doesn’t matter how much pressure he has in his face.
It’s kinda disgusting.
Overall, their running game mostly consists of your run of the mill inside zone read play from pistol:
The LSU defensive line has been extremely disciplined this whole season when offenses have left one of them unblocked. They’re very good at squeezing and slow-playing the whole situation and not giving the QB an easy read. I think this is the way you have to play against the option because it muddies the read for the QB. If you either run at the quarterback or tackle the running back, you’ve helped the offense.
You can see how easy the read is for Jackson when #99 comes charging straight at him. With that said, Lamar Jackson is so athletic that even if you do your job pretty well, he can still beat you.
Sometimes athletes win no matter how you scheme to stop them.
What I noticed is that a lot of their big runs come from inverted veer. This is another read play but instead of the running back being the downhill running option, he’s now the outside option and the QB is the “between the tackles” runner. I like this play because you don’t have to deal with getting a good trap block on a defensive end since you are reading that player. We’ve seen LSU ends destroy trappers this whole season and ultimately destroy the conventional power play:
On inverted veer, with the end being “blocked” by the read, Jackson can knife inside for huge gains.
This was their big play in all the games I watched.
One of the things that surprised me the most was the lack of RPO’s that they run in the offense. I did not see many RPO’s whether it was of pre-snap or post-snap variety. I charted a few bubble throws but most looked like designed throws not reads.
You can see the whole offensive line cut block here, so this was most likely a called bubble pass.
This is one of the few times I saw an actual bubble RPO:
Because they don’t run a lot of QB power or QB draw schemes, they subsequently don’t run much if any post-snap RPO’s where the QB will read if a player is dropping into coverage (so he can run the ball) or hovering in the box (so he can throw the ball). They ran some QB designed runs but they weren’t RPO’s.
Louisville’s passing game is pretty fun, the problem is that Lamar Jackson is just not a very good passer. Yes, his touchdown to interception ratio is neat (30:9) but 57% completion percentage and only 7.5 yards per attempt is no bueno.
They run pretty simple concepts and a lot of nice quick game stuff. Jackson’s footwork is pretty good, but he’s just not very accurate. You’ll see a lot of slants, quick outs and hitches off their “punch 1-step” dropback.
I noticed they really like a quick “go + out” combination and a deeper variation of the same concept (sail).
But again, Jackson isn’t very accurate when it comes to throwing the ball down the field:
Stop Lamar Jackson and you can stop the Louisville offense. The problem is that besides Houston no one has really been able to stop him. LSU has the best defense that the Cardinals will see this year and the LSU defensive line will have a field day against the UL offensive line. I don’t see Dave Aranda blitzing that much but just rushing his 4 guys and playing coverage on the back end (think the Ole Miss game).