Ah, the annual spring football game. We’re just desperate enough for football to watch, and just reactionary enough to draw poorly thought out conclusions.
We’ve said it before, but they’re more of a rorschach for a football team than anything. You see what you want. If one side of the ball dominates, that must mean the other side has problems for the coming season. If things get too competitive, your stupid head coach is risking injury over a practice. Too lax, and your team won’t be ready to compete in the fall.
That said, there are always some things to look for, and here’s what we’ll be watching for on Saturday Night:
The decision to play this game at night was made largely to drum up attendance and make this more of an event, which has obvious benefits for recruiting.
But it also raises some interesting angles from the angle of competition and stage presence. We always hear about "practice players versus gamers" and the like, and while a spring game is not a real game, it is in front of a live crowd, under the lights, in Tiger Stadium. LSU will not scrimmage under those circumstances, so there is some value in seeing how players respond to the situation. And with Thursday’s announcement that the game will feature the No. 1 offense and defense competing with each other, that appears to be Orgeron’s goal.
Where that gets complicated is the desire to avoid injuries. You want defenders amped up and on their game, but the last thing you want is a linebacker or safety cracking on a teammate over the middle on a crossing route, or an offensive lineman crushing some corner down field on a screen.
As it is, pass-rush is always a bit subdued in these games with the quarterbacks in a no-contact jersey. Yeah, you want to beat your blocker, but if the payoff is just a touch a few steps later you’re not exactly going to move at full speed.
Still, you want to see who puts forth that extra bit of effort, and who looks avoids being caught up in the moment a little, especially among the younger players.
New Show in Town
And of course all eyes will be on the offense, as usual, in our first glimpse at what Matt Canada has installed over the previous six weeks.
Chances are, unless things are really ugly, you’ll hear a lot of talk about how "totally different" and "more modern" things look, no matter how many times LSU runs a basic inside zone play or play-action pass concept.
Now, where things will be interesting is the pre-snap motion and shifts. There’s no doubt going to be a ton of the jet-sweep motion and a few basic unbalanced shifts that we’ll see this offense run very often. Beyond that? Orgeron and Canada will, no doubt, want to show things off a little bit, but make no mistake — other SEC coaches will be watching. From a fairly reliable source I can say that, at least one SEC staff has been looking up every assistant, GA and analyst that has ever worked with Canada to try and learn what they can. They won’t miss a chance to see some of it themselves.
Mano a Mano
If there’s one physical thing you can draw from these games — as a datapoint, not so much a true conclusion — it’s the one-on-one matchups. Corners on receivers, linebackers in the running game, and occasionally, some pass-rush situations.
In this particular case, I’ll be watching how the more inexperienced receivers handle man coverage from the likes of Kevin Toliver and Donte Jackson. Its one thing for a player like Drake Davis or Derrick Dillon to break a jet sweep for long yardage. Can they break a tight jam and win inside on a slant? Get separation to come back to a pass? That’s going to be the true indication of how much they’re really going to play on Saturdays this fall.
Outside of the significant margins, higher or lower, I wouldn’t draw too many conclusions yet. The list of Spring Game MVPs forgotten in the regular season is a long one. Still, its our last sip of the cool water of college football for four months. Enjoy what you can.