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Spring Game 2016: Thoughts and Observations

Tell me what this looks like to you...

Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Well, if I may quote myself for a minute...

It was a pretty bleak day in Baton Rouge in terms of weather, just gray and overcast, and I have to say, the spring game kind of matched it. Just blah.

Not to say it was a bad game at all. Or a good game, really. There just wasn't much to draw conclusions on. LSU's lineup was short thanks to injury, which led to a format change for the first half; by going 1s vs. 1s, 2s vs. 2s and 3s. vs. 3s, nobody was really overtaxed, but it also meant each offensive unit sat down for significant periods in between series, so nothing ever really got into rhythm.

So the result, to touch back on what I said on Friday, was just kind of a Rorschach test of however you view LSU football. If you're the sort that believes quarterback will always be a problem here, you'll probably point to Brandon Harris throwing for just 106 yards with no touchdowns. If you wanted to view it positively, you'd probably note that he completed a pretty good 11-of-16 passes without any turnovers and very few negative plays.

In terms of substance, there wasn't very much to observe, so people will (and have, based on a quick sifting through some reaction on message boards and other locations) say what they want to say. No questions were answered, but that doesn't really happen in a spring game anyway.

It's just a very controlled scrimmage, and a limited one at that. LSU's players worked much harder in any of the closed ones than what you saw on Saturday.

Still, given that I was there, I might as well note a couple observations:

  • Quarterbacks first, right? There wasn't a lot to see from Brandon Harris -- he might have attempted two passes longer than 15 yards all day. But he was efficient with what he was doing, and seemed to operate the offense smoothly. To my eyes, it seems like he's tightened his release up a bit, which should help with timing a little. He looks like he could learn to anticipate a little better still, and he had one noteworthy bad read on one of his deep throws -- he chucked up a post-route to D.J. Chark with a safety in the middle of the field, which is a no-no. And while I can understand while some would love to see LSU chuck it all over the yard in this environment, the short game has been the big issue for Harris, so I can understand focusing on it.

  • Aside from the 70-yard bomb to Dee Anderson, not much to brag about with Danny Etling, who had some accuracy issues overall. The big play was nice, but Anderson ran by a walk-on corner easily and was wide open. What was nice to see was some quick feet on the Purdue transfer. His skill-set isn't all that different from Harris, which is nice because in case of injury there wouldn't need to be much of a change in terms of play-calling.

  • In terms of play-calling, one thing that was a bit difference was the use of pace and Run-Pass Option plays for Harris and the No. 1 offense. The basic one was an inside zone run/bubble screen combo to the slot man, which resulted in a couple of quick catches for Jazz Ferguson.

RPO from Spring Game

Offensive line steps for a zone block, Harris reads the play-side curl/flat defender, either an outside linebacker or nickel back, and either hands it off or snaps it off to the receiver. LSU experimented with some RPOs early on last year, but never seemed to find a rhythm with them. Harris also completed a pair of balls to Malachi Dupre on another RPO that coupled a zone-stretch play with a quick hitch to the backside receiver in the boundary, with the QB likely reading whether that corner is playing man-to-man or an off coverage. That was the call on Dupre's nice catch and shake play for 30 yards to set up the second touchdown of the day.

  • The first-team offense was also moving at a nice brisk pace, something that I noticed in the Texas Bowl as well. LSU never went full-on Hurry Up/No Huddle, but they moved quickly, getting to the line either with no huddle or a quick sugar huddle and getting the next play in. Think less the all-out sprint pace of Auburn or Oregon and more of a brisk jog. Pairs well with RPO plays because the offense can use one or two plays multiple times for different results with minimal changes.

  • If the quarterbacks didn't impress, the wide receiver group looked much improved. The returnees look much more consistent -- D.J. Chark looked less like a lanky deep threat and more of a typical wide receiver, which is fine given that his speed isn't going anywhere. Anderson flashed some nice hands on a big frame as well. The bigger catch radii of guys like Anderson, Dupre or Stephen Sullivan can help make the quarterbacks look a lot better too.

    It says something that a former five-star recruit like Tyron Johnson can catch 4 passes for 44 yards, but still drop two balls and the thought process is "he better get with the program or he'll be passed by" instead of worrying about his contribution.
  • Dameyune Craig and Cam Cameron are going to have some interesting choices with the slot receiver position. Ferguson is a big, physical target and could be an interesting matchup against smaller defenses out there. But players like Johnson or Derrick Dillon give you a little more speed down the field. There's no reason they can't all get in on the act as of now, so it will be interesting to see how Craig sets his rotation in the fall.

  • For Leonard Fournette, 9 carries for 49 yards gave him just enough of a chance for a highlight play, trucking Dwayne Thomas like he played safety for Auburn, without putting him at much of a risk.

  • In terms of the offensive line, with Ethan Pocic, Will Clapp and Toby Weathersby out and a few other players gimpy, depth was stretched thin. The No. 2 line featured multiple walk-ons. You also saw a lot of third/fourth-year defensive linemen taking advantage of freshmen and sophomores.

  • Maea Teuhema struggled with Arden Key in the buck linebacker position, but I have a feeling most tackles Key faces will as well.

  • Chidi Okeke probably has the best feet of any of LSU's offensive linemen, especially for a 6-6, 311-pound guy, but he still needs some upper-body work. Struggles with his punch.

  • In terms of the defense, this was more about getting guys lined up right and executing a couple of basics, and the players seemed to have it all down. No busted assignments, and everybody seemed to understand their fit.

  • One of the interesting choices in some fronts was sliding Davon Godchaux to the nose tackle position and sliding Christian LaCouture to the field-side 4i/5-tech end position. That gives you a bigger body to the wide side of the field to help set the edge against the run, while Godchaux gives you more of a disruptive, one-gap type of nose tackle, similar to what Drake Nevis did at times in 2010. It won't be a regular thing, but it's an interesting change-up.

  • Isaiah Washington also caught my eye at the buck position. His interception as a very athletic play -- he dropped into coverage with Darrel Williams on a stop route, and dipped his body inside a bit on the throw but was able to readjust to the tip back to his left and make the interception. The whole "off the bus team" thing is clichéd, but Washington definitely looks the part of that tall, angular, tweener edge rusher type.

  • LSU also had some success with nickel defenders crashing the backfield -- Thomas, Xavier Lewis and even Tre'davious White at times. They likely have similar assignments to the F Linebacker role on the field side of the defense, and a lot of those pressures are probably key to the protection or the tight end's release. On one of Thomas' sacks, you could see him come after Foster Moreau released vertically.