You’ve seen it more times than you care to remember. Joe Burrow drops back and he gets sacked. Danny Etling drops back and he gets sacked. Brandon Harris drops back and he gets sacked. For a program that talks about taking care of the football and staying away from negative plays, the amount of sacks Tiger quarterbacks take is an eye sore.
LSU gets sacked a lot. For the past two years (2018, 2017) they’ve ranked in the 100s in sack rate allowed. The two prior seasons (2016, 2015) saw them place in the 50s but the year before that (2014) they were dreadful, finishing 117th.
A lot of this has to do with personnel. Everyone has their own ideas of why LSU’s offensive line hasn’t gelled or why these highly rated recruits haven’t panned out but the common plan that LSU has used over the years to mitigate their supposed lack of talent is to keep as many extra players in protection as they can.
I wrote last month about the Foster Moreau problem and how he was never really able to flex on people like he could have because the staff thought they needed him more as a pass protector than receiver.
LSU has also kept the running back in for protection often. This has led to some of our best athletes not getting the ball in space.
You have to go back to 2006 to find a running back with over 30 catches. That was Jacob Hester with 35. Usually our leading pass catcher at running back has under 20 catches.
The idea is that the more people you keep in to block, the harder it is for the defense to penetrate you. Now, you can get the ball downfield and not worry about pressure. LSU gets sacked a lot so this hasn’t worked in practice.
Pass protection is broken down into three schemes: man, slide and half-man, half-slide.
Aptly known as “Big on Big” or “BOB” schemes, full man schemes are as simple as they come. Against a 40 defensive front, the five offensive linemen are responsible for the four defensive linemen and the Mike linebacker. The “big” guys versus the “big” guys. The running backs are responsible for the other linebackers. Usually you’d see this protection when you have two running backs/fullbacks in the backfield or a running back and a tight end.
Half Man, Half Slide
This is the most common six-man protection there is. It’s a way to put three guys to one side and three guys to the other side to even out the protection while using a running back from depth. The “slide” side half of the line is first responsible for the gap they are sliding to and then you block whoever comes your way. On the backside, because the running back is blocking from depth, he is responsible for the linebacker, like in BOB protection. The two remaining offensive linemen take the 2 remaining defensive linemen.
Against certain fronts this becomes a 4 man slide to deal with the nose tackle.
This can be run with either six or seven men and puts the entire offensive line in pass protection to one side and the backs/tight end at the opposite end. All the linemen will prioritize the first gap the their play side and the backs/tight ends will cover their backside.
LSU, like all teams, runs all three schemes. The problem is the distribution of the schemes. The Tigers run full slide more than most teams.
This mean the Tigers can only send three receivers on routes. It means the backs and tight ends can’t help block a player that slips through an offensive linemen. It means the defense can make the five offensive linemen block air while they send pressure to the backside. It means LSU’s tight ends and running backs are blocking SEC edge rushers. It means our slide side tackles aren’t getting depth in the pass set.
- Not being able to help when an interior player gets through on the slide slide:
- Sending pressure away from the slide side:
For years, LSU has been a full slide, often 7 man, protection team. This means you should be solid in pro right? The problem is that against a 4 man rush you often get 5 o-line against 2 rushers, a tight end against an SEC edge player and a running back on a d-tackle. Yuck. pic.twitter.com/5f4ROXciPW— Seth Galina (@SethGalina) November 26, 2018
- Backs and Tight Ends against elite SEC edge rushers. Moreau gets beat by Montez Sweat who is very good while full slide means Mississippi State just sends one extra guy away from the slide and he’s free.
- To the slide side, the tackle usually doesn’t set as far back because he’s usually more concerned with his gap rather than setting a nice pocket for the quarterback. He can get beat by speed:
The benefit of going full slide is to deal with stunts and games from the defense. Instead of playing man and letting the defense set picks and rubs to free up people, you full slide and just gap everything. It works in those situations.
I spoke to former LSU offensive linemen T-Bob Hebert about how he felt about the pass protection schemes.
I asked T-Bob whether he felt the conservative approach (ie. more blockers = better protection) has hurt LSU in the passing game?
“I think we are in agreement here, I always refer to it as a great example of the path to hell being paved with good intentions, you think you’re protecting more but you end up with a net negative for the reasons you mentioned, next year I’d like to see them beat the rush by giving Burrow options... put more on his shoulders and give him options, they were good in two minute last year for that reason, in my opinion. Plus really stress that receiver group and see how good they can be.
“There is more risk which can open you up to losses but there’s also a higher ceiling... I think O likes his offense conservative but we’ll see.”
Hebert stressed that this would be a big change in Coach Orgeron’s philosophy.
“It is riskier strategy and has drawbacks, I’m flippantly talking about a big change in philosophy”
This has been a tough world that LSU has put themselves in. The protection schemes have not mitigated the onslaught the rest of the league has put on LSU’s quarterbacks. For LSU to get more out of their passing game, I believe they need to pare down their number of blockers and turn them into receivers.