Turns out LSU has been doing it wrong all these years. For more than 100 years, the minds behind LSU’s offense told us that if we just run it a few more times, the passing game would open up. Just one more toss dive they said. Just one more battering run into a loaded box. It’ll make it easier on the quarterback! Just one more run, baby! Just. One. More. Run.
We have been hoodwinked, bamboozled, run amok and flat-out deceived!
The run does not set up the pass. The pass sets up the run. LSU’s 2019 offense is proof of what the nerds have been saying for a few years now at the professional level. Passing is king, play action works no matter what and you should throw on early downs. A lot of these studies only make sense when looked at through the lens of having a professional quarterback making those passes. Quarterback play in the NFL keeps getting better so the gap in efficiency between running and passing keeps getting bigger. But what if your college team had a professional quarterback? What if they had one who might win the Heisman and go #1 overall in the NFL draft?
LSU’s pass first approach to moving the football this season has led to the Tigers putting up gaudy offensive numbers. All Joe Burrow has done is go 148/186 for 2157 yards and 25 touchdowns. Not only will this go down as the best quarterback season in LSU history, if he keeps this up this is a top 15 season in all of college football history.
What Burrow’s passing acumen is doing is creating opportunities for the running game. No longer is LSU slamming its proverbial head against the wall. LSU’s 2019 running game exists when the passing game allows it to and Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s 39-yard touchdown explains LSU’s running game better than anything else.
LSU presents defenses with this line up most of the time: three receivers (Chase at short side receiver, Jefferson at slot and Marshall at wide side receiver when he’s healthy), one tight end (Moss or Sullivan) and one running back (pick your poison). Very often they are aligned in some sort of Trips formation. The base running plays from this are Zone Lock and Duo (usually run from Trips bunch). It looks like this:
At the 10,000 foot level stopping the run is easy. All things being equal, if you play with 1 high safety, you will have enough underneath defenders to stop the run. The offense presents 3 gaps to plug on either side of the center and extra one outside the tight end. If you play 1-high you can plug all of them.
This is all fine and dandy but you can only play certain coverages out of this look. This is going to get me in trouble but all one-high coverages eventually just end up being man to man. Can’t really live in a man to man world against LSU’s receivers and quarterback. The biggest issue is how you handle the backside receiver. With the safety in the middle of the field, he can’t get to the short side to help his cornerback in one-on-one situations against the offense’s best receiver. The answer is to play with two safeties and effectively double that receiver:
This works because it nullifies any in-breaking routes by the receiver. LSU runs a lot of in breaking routes by that receiver as part of their RPO package. They are looking for the space in the weak-side B-gap. If the defense is in 1 high, they have it when the weak-side B-gap defender fits into the running scheme.
Against two high, the safety can get into that window from depth.
This two-high look is how Florida decided to play against LSU’s offense. It’s a very trendy way to play defense right now. The safety is both responsible for the RPO post and the B-gap in the run game. If the safety comes up too quickly, Ja’Marr Chase catches a first down behind you.
If you stay deep, the B-gap is open and LSU can run through it because the defense does not have enough people to cover all the gaps. Florida tries to mitigate this by having their wide side linebackers and defensive lineman play in 2 gaps. The lineman fire out of their stance into their main gap but stay tight to the offensive lineman and try to flip to the other gap if the run goes to that side. The linebackers also try to mirror the path of the running back. This is the cat and mouse game the offense and defense play with each other on every snap. If one play could represent all of college football in 2019, this is it:
This same concept played out all over the field on Saturday and Florida was playing catch up for most of the game. LSU passing game is setting up the run is a sentence I’d never thought I’d write but here we are and it’s beautiful.