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LSU Was Really Good This Year, Part 2: The Offensive Line

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With a Special Intro from Chef Justin Wilson

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NCAA FOOTBALL: NOV 19 Florida at LSU Photo by Andy Altenburger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

You know what else LSU is really good at? Blocking people. There is certainly a lot of contention around this so-called rabid, devoted, devout and, uhh, hydrophobic (???) fan base around whether the offensive line was actually good or not. They were pretty good. It’s kinda hard to be bad when you recruit so many 4 and 5 star prospects on the line. It’s the same as our defensive line. You recruit an abundance of big dudes and even if a few of them don’t pan out you’re still going to have a base of excellence.

The Numbers

Adjusted Line Yards (ALY): Statistic that attempts to, even to a small extent, separate the ability of a running back from the ability of the offensive line. Adjusted Line Yards begin as a measure of average rushing yards per play by running backs only, adjusted in the following way:

-0-4 yards: 100% strength

-5-10 yards: 50% strength

-11+ yards: not included

-runs for a loss: 120% strength

LSU finished fifth in this category. Though this metric isn’t perfect, it is one of the better overall offensive line metrics based off the play by play data. Louisville finished 2nd in Adjusted Line Yards and we know how bad their offensive line is. As much as ALY tries to seperate the backs from the o-line, running back play will naturally find it’s way into this metric.

Adjusted Sack Rate: An opponent-adjusted version of a team's sack rate -- sacks divided by (sacks plus passes), presented on a scale in which 100 is perfectly average, above 100 is good, below 100 is bad.

Another stat that tries to separate the offensive line from the quarterback, LSU finished 44th here. It probably looks a bit better if you take away the Brandon Harris snaps as Danny Etling’s sack rate was 5.9% and Harris’ was 7.4%.

We then move to the more film based grading system that Pro Football Focus uses:

Best offensive line

LSU

Pos. rank: 1

As a collective unit, no offensive line performed better than that of the LSU Tigers in 2016. The group finished atop our offensive line metric, largely because all three starting interior players had overall grades of at least 74.5. The Tigers were led by C Ethan Pocic, whose overall grade of 82.7 was bolstered by his pass-blocking performance that saw him yield just 11 total pressures with no sacks or hits allowed. LG Will Clapp was also outstanding in pass protection, as he was responsible for just nine total pressures, with two hits and no sacks. RG Josh Boutte was the only member of the interior trio to give up a sack, but his lone sack charged to him was accompanied by just seven other pressures.

Not surprisingly, the success of LSU’s run game can be directly attributed to the outstanding play of the offensive line. Tiger runners averaged 6.6 yards per carry on the season, and earned 46.8 percent of their yards before initial contact. By comparison, Alabama and Clemson runners gained 40.7 and 40.1 percent of their yardage before contact, displaying perfectly just how much more efficient the play of the LSU offensive line was. With Pocic and Boutte both graduating and onto the next level, the Tigers are unlikely to duplicate this year’s effort in 2017. However, this year’s group can take pride in knowing the unit put together a truly elite 2016 campaign. — Josh Liskiewitz

As noted, the interior of the line was dominant. The tackle play left a little bit to be desired but as a whole the unit was great. As I noted in my first LSU Was Really Good Article, it’s hard to get the taste of certain games out of our collective mouths **cough Alabama cough** but over the course of the season they were dominant. Just having a look at Alabama’s defensive footprint this season and I’d think we can forgive the offensive line from creating gaping holes in that game:

The numbers say the offensive line was really good but how did it create these big holes for our running backs?

The Scheme

For most of this past off-season, I defended Cam Cameron’s offense. I felt like being burdened by a sub-par quarterback hampered the efficiency of the offense. It’s hard to call plays when teams know you have no choice but to run the ball on first down. With that said, while the running game hummed along, it was built on pure brute force. There wasn’t a lot of scheming. LSU would come into a game with zone (and it’s variations like zone read and midline read) and power. That was really it. It was simple but considering Cameron had been an OC in the NFL, it was a little too simple. When Les Miles and Cam Cameron were fired after Auburn, Steve Ensminger came in and added some spice to the LSU running game. Ensminger showed us that each week you can create a game plan that, while still relying on some ubiquitous classics, has enough wrinkles to keep a defense off balance.

Pin n Pull

At home against Ole Miss, LSU brought out a nice pin n’ pull scheme that sprung Leonard Fournette for a record breaking day.

At it’s base level, the pin n’ pull calls for any lineman or tight end to down block if they have a defensive player inside of them and any lineman or tight end to pull if they have a defender lined up outside of them. LSU ran it with their fullback leading through the hole, so they didn’t need to get as many pullers to the play side.

This is the first long Fournette touchdown:

Ole Miss has to box this instead of spilling it because LSU runs this to the nub tight end side and No. 10 has to force everyone back inside as he is the last defender. With a player inside of Jeter, he down blocks the end giving Teuhema the job of pulling and kickout out the first defender. With Ole Miss boxing the run with No. 10 the linebacker (#43) who has to take on the block of Mouton must keep him inside to let his linebacker friends come help him. He does a bad job, No. 3 gets held a bit (okay a lot) by Boutte and it’s a long gainer.

The next touchdown looks more like a classic pin n’ pull as you’ll see two linemen pulling to the right side:

Jeter is looking for someone to down block but there are no linemen so he moves up to the second level. The Ole Miss defensive end is way too horny and gets caught upfield too far making Teuhema’s block pretty simple. Jeter blocking the backer means that Pocic can work for outside and ends up essentially kicking out his player. LSU kicks out 2 Ole Miss players, which isn’t supposed to happen, and Fournette is gone again.

Here’s the 3rd long touchdown:

No. 10 for Ole Miss is caught between two minds here, I think. He has to run with Jeter if the tight end goes out for a pass but also has to play defensive end if it’s a run. Jeter downs to the inside so #10 has to step down and replace that gap that is being created. He has to shuffle down on the heels of the tight end and not just turn his shoulders and cover him. No. 43 comes out to the meet the puller and tries to force it inside (because now he has to contain as he’s the only man outside). Mouton’s job is made easy for him by the bad technique of 10, and No. 3 is slow and can’t scrape over the top (seemingly a theme for this linebacker)

Wham

Ensminger and co. brought up this wham scheme and it destroyed Texas A&M. The first Derrius Guice touchdown run was on a wham play from a bunch tight end set (that LSU was in a lot of that game).

Wham is an inside trap play where the trap comes from a non-offensive lineman. Usually either a fullback or tight end. This one comes from Colin Jeter. You can also see two linemen pulling to the near side which influences the Aggie linebackers. LSU let’s the A&M 3-technique free to get trapped and then Guice is free. Maea Teuhema does a great job in driving the defensive end.

The cool thing about this sheme was how LSU used play-action off it. It had such a different backfield action that a lot of the Texas A&M defenders had their eyes sucked into the backfield, opening up plays like this:

Zone Split against Alabama (NSFW)

Watching clips from this game is going to suck so I wouldn’t blame anyone for skipping over this or clicking the back button on their browser. I actually didn’t mind the gameplan the staff put in place for the Tide. They tried a lot of stuff. It’s just that everyone lost their one on one battles. This is what Alabama does, they’re well coached and they beat you physically. What Ensminger broke out for this game was Zone Split (trying to give Alabama a taste of their own medicine) and the aforementioned wham

The idea behind zone split is that sometimes the offense doesn’t want their QB to have to read a player and then have to run and take hits. With Etling at QB, who really isn’t a bad athlete, LSU wanted him to give the ball and have Dupre or Jeter whack the backside end. The problem is that you still have to win your zone blocks up front to give the running back a chance.

The right guard and tackle (Boutte and Teuhema) have to double No. 56 and eventually one of them has to come off, most likely the guard, and cover up the linebacker. The double team gets no movement and it forces Moore to have to pick up that linebacker. No. 26 is now free to make the play.

No one gets beat clean here and there are enough stalemates that Moore can get on the backer easily. He then destroys him for maybe the best run of the night for LSU.

The slant by the Alabama d-line doesn’t help but Moore ends up on a linebacker and just whiffs. If Fournette can slip through that sliver of daylight without having to bounce it, he probably gains a couple yards instead of losing them.

All of those runs to set up the pass to Dupre. Super amazing linebacker Reuben Foster gets sucked into the run action and Dupre has a nice gain. I wish LSU had run this a few more times.

You can see that over the course of the season Ensminger really opened up the playbook. Besides the Alabama game this line was dominant. With the interior of the line graduating and going to the NFL this off-season, new OC Matt Canada will have to keep build on the ideas and successes of the Ensminger run offense as he breaks in some new starters in 2017.