LSU’s 2018 offense will look drastically different than then 2017 version under Matt Canada. Steve Ensminger is back to hopefully continue some of the work his started in 2016. Everyone will point to the dud against Alabama (and even Florida) as marks against Ensminger but I actually liked what he did with the offense that year. He took a simple, run heavy, outdated offense and added some modern ideas to it.
I was waiting for Chef Billy to e-mail me asking me to write my thoughts on Ensminger and to take a look at the 2016 offense so I started to took some vicodin and put on the 2016 Alabama game. At the moment that I was debating whether I needed some stronger than prescription drugs to watch this game (heroin? opium? krokodil?) Billy e-mailed me asking to write about what I think the offense should look like in 2018. Whoa. You don’t have to tell me twice. I put away the opium, brought out the cocaine and haven’t looked back since.
Empty is pretty en vogue right now and it can help show a defenses true intentions before the snap.
One of the things that Brian Daboll brought to Alabama from the NFL was getting into 10 personnel (1 RB, 4 receivers) and then motioning the running back out as a receiver. We’ve seen Sean Payton do this for years and I find it fascinating that it hasn’t trickled down that much to the college level. The idea is that if a linebacker (or bigger body type defender) splits out with the running back, the defense is in man coverage and if the defenses just bumps everyone over, they are in zone. This helps accelerate the decision making of the quarterback. In an empty formation, usually you are going to have a concept that beats man coverage on one side and a concept that beats zone coverage on the other. The motion to empty gives the quarterback a good pre-snap read on where to go with the football. Our goal as coordinators/QB coaches is to speed up the decision making of our players. It’s funny because teams that have been doing this for a while, the Saints and Patriots, for example have quarterbacks (Brees, Brady) who already have incredible brain processing speeds yet Payton, McDaniels still helps their quarterbacks out by clearing up the defensive picture a bit. If Brees and Brady are getting the benefits of this why shouldn’t lesser brained college quarterbacks.
From what I saw with Alabama, Daboll would motion the back out and then run a paired stick/tosser concept. “Stick” to the frontside and “tosser” to the backside.
In fact, here’s Ensminger running this motion to empty concept in 2016 against Alabama.
Motioning Fournette out wide and linebacker Foster not following him is a p clear indicator of zone coverage. LSU is running a weakside option route for Dural *cough* Alvin Kamara *cough* and Dural finds space but Etling and him aren't on the same page pic.twitter.com/CrPUAjkcnE— Seth Galina (@SethGalina) January 12, 2018
What Ensminger is running to the two-receiver side is a what’s been referred to as a “weakside option” route. When Fournette motions to wide receiver and runs a go route, he’s taking away the corner who has to cover him deep. Now, the slot receiver works against the Will linebacker wherever the Will is, the slot runs away from him. In this particular play, Etling and Dural are just not on the same page.
Another nice concept out of empty is the Juke route explained by Bill O’Brien here:
It’s good against two-high defenses because, now the Mike linebacker can’t just sit in the middle of the field
And when you go 2 high the Mike moves out a bit
I saw SMU run a similar concept against TCU last year with future LSU hall of famer Trey Quinn:
Ok, so this weakside option route business is also trendy right now. Most teams are using this route with their athlete running backs. Think Kamara, Sproles or, unfortunately, McCaffrey:
You could motion the back out or just go into trips and have him run it from the backfield like the Panthers do above. The goal for the running back is just to make the person covering him wrong. LSU recruits exceptional athletes at running back and it would be nice to finally see them be used in the passing game. This would be one way to use them.
Now we get to the trendiest of football concepts. The RPO. Simply put, the Run-Pass Option is a way for a non-mobile quarterback to make an “easy” read on a single conflicted defender without having to use the quarterback as a runner. If we take a look at the ubiquitous “zone read” we can see how teams attack a conflicted defender to run a “Run-Run Option”
The defensive end is conflicted because if he chases the running back then the quarterback is left alone and if he sprints at the quarterback then the running back runs right by him. The end is conflicted in stopping two running threats
With the RPO you read a defender who is conflicted between stopping the run and the pass. The classic example is running a backside slant and then reading the Will linebacker.
You can see the Will is conflicted because he has to stop the run in the b-gap but the slant route is coming to where he would drop to in his zone coverage. LSU has run this in the past.
One of the ways that the team I coach ran our RPOs this past year that I hadn’t seen before and credit to our offensive coordinator for showing me the light is that we could tag a pass concept with any run play and if the space was there to throw it, we would. A good example is our four-verts RPO. If a team played Cover 3 and was vulnerable in the seams, we would ride the running back and read the overhang/cover down defender
The point being that even if we have a run play called we can still attack a defenses weakness anytime.
Multiplicity in the Run Game
I feel like at some point in the ‘aughts there was this idea that you had to decide whether you were a zone running team or a gap/man running team. You couldn’t do both. At this point in football evaluation in the college/high school game we’re know our offenses can be multiple in the run game. It seemed to be that by the end of the Cam Cameron era LSU was very zone heavy. Even the patented “LSU toss play” was recreated from a power toss to a zone toss.
The Saints have always been multiple in their rushing attack schemes but it’s become so clear with Ingram/Kamara that with certain players you’d want to be more zone heavy and more man heavy with other players. With Kamara it’s all zone and he’s so good at cutting it against the grain where all big plays in zone come. Ingram gets his man blocking DUO scheme and they pound defenses with double teams. LSU will have the shiftier Edwards-Helaire and the more powerful Brossette to work with next year (plus a billion other backs) so I expect a lot of different run schemes.
Teams who can recruit great athletes are running a ton of man coverage these days. Ohio State, Alabama, Georgia are manning up and telling teams to beat their great athletes one on one. Saban has called Cover-1 Rat In The Hole defense the best defense in football. Kirby and Georgia were able to curtail Mayfield, Riley and the Sooners in the 2nd half of the Rose Bowl by running a lot of man coverage. What’s interesting about that is that Lincoln Riley is the king of man coverage beating concepts but obviously Georgia has pretty good players in their secondary.
A lot of concepts designed for man coverage are going to be double moves. Get the defensive back to think one thing and then break it off. Hook n’ go’s, post-corner’s, etc. What I liked about Riley was that he had double move routes as part of a 2-man concept that initially looked like a regular concept that the defense had seen on film all week.
This is slant/flat, one of the most used concepts in all of football
Riley’s progression off it is to show the slant and the flat route but have the flat break back inside.
Another trendy man beater is the slot fade. You get the deep ball aspect of the fade route but now the quarterback and receiver have more leeway to the outside to gain separation.
Against man the slot fade is generally where you want to go with the football. Against an off corner in say Cover 3, you throw underneath on the hitch route. But what if the slot is covered in man? The hitch route is not a good route against man coverage. Riley has an answer for that:
If I was coaching this, the slant/hitch route would be a read from my receiver. If the corner is off, you know you’re getting the ball at 6 yards so just hitch up but if the corner is close to you when you get to 6 yards then you stutter and break it off inside.
Even just a nice pivot route from the slot is cool.
The other way to beat man coverage is to run create separation by picking off defenders with other receivers. This mesh screen is a form of that:
The corner on the weakside receiver has to chase him through all sorts of traffic to get near him.
I’m excited for the 2018 offense. If Myles Brennan is who we think he can be, we could see a ton of fireworks. The offensive line was young in 2017 but gained, hopefully, valuable experience. There are some unknowns at the skill positions but, of course, there all 4 and 5-star athletes so cupboard is not bare.