On a Thursday night in the PMAC, Ed Orgeron introduced his new offensive coordinator to the LSU High School Coaches Clinic. The man’s credentials, of course, are known: the only offensive coach to make the finalist list for the Broyles Award in 2016, running a Pitt offense that averaged 42.2 points per game, ranked fourth in the country in offensive S&P+ and in the top 25 in almost every meaningful statistical category.
Since the hire was announced, we’ve done our best to highlight some of the offense’s high points and what’s worked for Canada in the past, as a way of trying to project what changes could be coming to LSU’s offense under his helm. It’s a lot to take in, and given this program’s struggles, it’s become a popular narrative that the Tigers are undergoing some sort of radical shift or change in teaching over these spring practices.
“My offense is simple,” he said. “You keep your offense simple, and you do it better than everybody else.”
It seems counter-intuitive, because to most people, having a great offense is all about finding that perfect play-call that the defense isn’t ready for that sparks a big play.
“It’s all about players, not plays,” Canada said. “Get ‘em the ball and let them do what they do well.”
It’s the same process I wrote about six years ago regarding Chip Kelly and the University of Oregon.
“We’re going to run zone, we’re going to run power,” he explained. “We’re going to move the pocket and throw the ball effectively, and down the field when we have to.”
And through elements like wide receiver motions and formation shifts, a system that, with a foundation in place, has multiple answers for the questions of the game.
“We want to have plays off of plays. We want to show the defense different things the same way.”
The jet sweep/inside zone combo is the perfect example:
One formation, one motion, with two different handoffs and multiple play-action passes off it.
“We want to score points and play to our strengths,” Canada explained, noting that 40 points were the goal, 30 were the minimum, but “one more point than they score” was all that really mattered.
“Speed is our advantage and we want to change tempo to keep the defense uncomfortable. If you just go fast all the time, the defense can get used to that, so we want to mix that up. We’ll use various formations and motions that will be used to put players in the best position to make plays.
“We want playmakers who want the ball in their hands,” Canada added.
He is every bit the ball of energy that LSU’s practice videos have indicated. Canada speaks fast and bounces from topic to non-sequitur to topic. The lecture was more focused on big-picture thoughts and philosophies than actual X&O discussion -- a contrast to Dave Aranda a year ago.
Do What Your Players Do Well
“If my quarterback has a favorite play on third and 3-to-5 (yards), and the third play of the game is third-and-three, there is no reason his favorite play shouldn’t be my call,” Canada said.
During his time with the Indiana Hoosiers, Canada mentioned that he was able to spend some time with the Indianapolis Colts during the Peyton Manning years.
“Peyton Manning didn’t read the full field,” he said, describing how offensive coordinator Tom Moore narrowed the Colts’ playbook to a specific collection of plays that Manning and his receivers could execute better than the rest of the NFL (Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne even played exclusively on their respective sides of the field, the better to perfect running routes down to the direction).
“Nobody can multi-task,” Canada said. “We all think we can. We all think we can whip out our phone and talk to somebody while we look at it, but that’s not true. Before I came out on this stage, I had a phone call with my daughter Tori Canada. And when I’m talking to my daughter, I gotta worry about Tori Canada, not what I’m gonna call on first and 10.”
It’s an approach that focuses on narrowing player’s focus on a given play – an “if A, then B” choice for the defense that other coordinators have used to make throwing the ball much simpler.
It’s also an approach that has resulted in offenses that look very different from stop-to-stop for Canada. His Indiana teams focused on throwing more out of the spread. At Northern Illinois he had quarterbacks that ran and threw the ball well, so he took advantage of that. From Wisconsin, to NC State and then Pitt, the offense has featured more tailbacks, fullbacks and tight ends – which should transition to LSU’s personnel very well.
The mindset also translates to how he likes to attack a defense -- by making them multi-task.
“Cross your arms,” Canada said to the crowd. “Now cross them in a different direction. Looks the same, but you feel kind of stupid, right? Not comfortable. That’s how we want to make the defense feel.”
Before Canadas lecture, Orgeron indicated that its having its desired effect on LSU’s defense in practice.
“Pete Jenkins hates him!” Coach O exclaimed.
Beyond the simple, Canada noted that he’s not a huge fan of gadget plays, although he did illustrate two of the touchdown plays he designed for Pitt left tackle Brian O’Neill – the 2016 Piesman Award winner. On the throwback screen to O’Neill that went for six points against Georgia Tech, dubbed “London,” Canada noted that he’d told the offense during the week, that if Pitt had first-and-10 between the 18- and 25-yard lines, it was in the gameplan.
“I’m not a big trick play guy, but don’t practice them if you’re not willing to call them.”
Using O’Neill made sense to Canada, not only because he’s a converted tight end, but also because he’s projected as a high NFL Draft choice in the future, and was one of Pitt’s best players. It was the same thought process behind incorporating “The Barge” formation at Wisconsin, where Canada inherited three stud tailbacks in Montee Ball, James White and Melvin Gordon.
“Man, you’re at Wisconsin,” he said. “Seven of our ten best players were offensive linemen.”
As we’ve also previously discussed in LSU’s transition, this isn’t exactly a new language for LSU. The Tiger offense hasn’t had a problem focusing on what it does well in the running game. Teaching the passing game was another matter, particularly the full breath of Cam Cameron’s offense, which he never seemed to narrow or focus.
Likewise, Canada’s not going to get hung up on style.
“If we gotta run it every play, we’ll run it every play,” he said. “If we gotta throw it every down, we’ll throw it every down. I’ve done both.”
That no-frills, narrowed focus, Canada says, was imparted to him on his first OC assignment at Norther Illinois in the early 2000’s.
“Coach (Joe) Novak, in my first meeting said to me, he said ‘Matt, you offensive guys always try to get too fancy, so just remember one thing’,” Canada explained, before showing video of two back-to-back 60-plus yard touchdowns from Pitt’s wild 76-61 win over Syracuse last season.
“If the play works, run it again.”