Maybe it’s just me, but this offseason has seemed particularly long. And now it’s over. The 2017 College Football Season is here and it is time for Tiger football.
Our hearts go out to everybody in the Southeast Texas/Southwest Louisiana area right now. And here’s hoping that the games this weekend can provide some form of levity for those that need it.
For the third season in a row, we have seen an LSU game affected by the weather: the second-consecutive “home” regular season game (yes, this is a neutral site but LSU is designated as the home squad), and the second consecutive season opener for a new head coach, too.
If that’s not enough synergy for you, there’s the fact that Ed Orgeron is beginning his official tenure as LSU’s head coach at the site of his predecessor’s greatest failure: the Superdome in New Orleans.
What To Watch For On Saturday
A season opener always brings its own excitement. A chance to see your favorite established players, and watch some of the new stars emerge. For LSU, that’s Derrius Guice and D.J. Chark and names like Devin White and Rashard Lawrence, whom we expect to do big things as sophomores.
And on top of that, you have the great mystery of just what Matt Canada can do with this offensive talent.
If there’s one thing you can always say about Orgeron, it’s been that he’s had a sense of the pulse of the fan base, and how to play to that. He knows that people are hungry — achingly so — to see the Tigers come out with an aggressive and explosive attack. And I believe he’ll almost certainly have Canada come out with an aggressive script early on. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the Tigers take the ball, should they win the coin-toss, and try to make a statement on offense quickly.
People rarely forget a first impression, for better or worse. And after the campaign to get the job full time and the offseason of hype for the offense, Orgeron and the coaches would be wise to make that first impression a strong one.
The biggest mismatch here will likely be on the outside. BYU just doesn’t have the hosses at receiver to match up with LSU’s defensive backs. Although tight end Matt Bushman will likely test the Tiger linebackers and safeties.
To work around that, look for Cougar offensive coordinator Ty Detmer — the former Heisman-winning quarterback — to attack LSU with quick passes and concepts engineered to exploit man-to-man coverage like drive
Plus slants and stick routes. Detmer’s taken the Cougars back to their more classic West Coast Offense roots from the Lavell Edwards days. You’ll see a lot of multi-back and multi-tight end looks with zone/power running and some possession passing.
That’s also likely to mean high-percentage throws on early downs, with the passing game trying to take the place of a typical running play, in hopes of staying on schedule and setting up short-yardage runs. Keep the offense on the field, shorten the game and put the onus on LSU to make big plays on offense in a shorter time frame. In particular, watch for the tight ends and slot receivers on LSU’s safeties, particularly if the freshmen are playing a lot.
The key to counteracting it for LSU is to play tight coverage and create negative plays with the front seven. Create long-yardage situations and short passes won’t do the job.
No pressure, right Coach Canada? You’ll only be expected to get LSU over the hump to torch a defense that allowed just 19.5 points per game last year and held teams like Boise State to 28 and Mississippi State to 21 points in two overtimes.
The Cougars run a hybrid 3-4/4-3 scheme, and return one future pro in linebacker Fred Warner and a couple of big bodies on the line. It would be wrong to compare this unit to the Wisconsin group LSU opened up against last season, but the recipe to help supplement the running game is similar: use split-zone blocking and the jet-sweep motion to occupy the unblocked defender on the weak side and gain a play-side advantage.
The Cougar back seven looked pretty quick and aggressive playing downhill against Portland State, but it also doesn’t look like they can match up with LSU’s receivers either. In particular, if the tight ends and slot receivers make a play or two down the field, that’ll slow the safeties coming up against said jet sweep.
I know that we all want the Tigers to show us that smile again, but something to keep in mind: in the last 20 years of LSU season openers, I can think of maybe one game against a P5-caliber opponent that has really gone smoothly, and that’s the Tigers’ blowout of Mississippi State to open 2007. Yes, the Tigers beat up on Oregon in ‘11, but that game had fits and starts, and a pretty ugly passing game, before things really kicked in.
Sure, this is a new coaching staff and a new era, but there’s still going to be offseason rust. Penalties and mistakes. Dropped passes. Missed tackles. Not only is that par for the course on a team that will be using a lot of young players — but in some cases, like offensive line, we’ll be asking them to handle shifts and motions in this offense that they’ve never executed in a game before. Plus, there will be newbies at key positions: one freshman or another starting at guard, plus two more at safety and buck linebacker (either a true freshman or a redshirt). And a BYU team that has developed a reputation for needling and outright instigating opponents.
The degree to which we see those mistakes will give us some clues as to how this team has trained over the last few months and practiced over the last few weeks. And keep in mind; nobody wants to peak in week one.