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The Saturday *Afternoon* Film Review: Vanderbilt

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LSU is spreading teams out and firing in the seams.

NCAA Football: Louisiana State at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

I need to come clean.

I struggled with really really bad offense and bouts of punts for many years. It was crippling at times and, I wasn’t ever gonna stop watching, but there were a lot of times where I didn’t want to be a Tiger anymore. For some reason I just accepted this as reality. A few months ago something dinged in my brain and I realized it didn’t have to be that way.

I started passing the football and legitimately felt better than I’ve ever felt in my life. What I’ve realized is what spread football does more than anything is it let’s you make easier reads. So when I would normally spiral in hypothetical or irrational thoughts, it helps my brain to go “hmm that doesn’t really make sense. Let’s throw the ball on first down.”

I wanted to share this because we have no problems updating everyone on our physical injuries and recoveries, but we become embarrassed to talk about our team’s offense. If you don’t feel like you’re as happy as you want to be, go talk to someone. It’s not being selfish to make throwing the ball a priority.


This revamped LSU offense is very close to an analytical wet dream. They use play action on a very high rate, they barely run the ball, they don’t huddle, they spread you out and they target the intermediate middle of the field. All they are missing is some more misdirection, especially with motion, and they’ll hit all the nerdly talking points.

One of my favorite concepts that LSU is doing this year that they have almost never done in their history is how often they go into Empty formations. 3 receivers split out against 2 receivers to the other side is a big part of their offense so I’ll break down the 3 main concepts they run out of it.

The first one is the Weakside Option (or Choice) route. This is one of the plays that we knew Joe Brady was going to bring from New Orleans. It’s always been an automatic completion from Drew Brees to any one of his running backs over the years and recently even to Michael Thomas.

The idea of the concept is to try to get your weak side slot receiver open underneath in the middle of the field where you have vacated the defense through spreading the formation. Almost all the big plays from this concept come from the slot receiver running a slant into the middle. Defenses, of course, know this is coming when you line up in Empty so they try to tell their weak side linebacker to stay inside of the receiver and force an out breaking route. Still, offenses can find nice completion to the sideline but there’s a ceiling on the amount of YAC as the receiver gets closer to the sideline. Ja’Marr Chase had a touchdown on the weak side option route against Vanderbilt when they tried to press him and it backfired.

There are two ways to bracket this route but the overall play design has answers for both. Teams will start playing the Will inside the slot receiver to force the route to the sideline and have the cornerback sit there in the flat. The route by the outside receiver running vertically helps mitigate this. If the corner traps the inside route, you can throw to the outside receiver before the safety gets over to the sideline. It’s not an easy throw because once the slot receiver runs his route at underneath 5 yards, the safety is taught to look right away to the sideline receiver and make a beeline for him.

A simple adjustment to get that outside receiver a little more wiggle room is to tighten his split. Now, lined up in a stack set, he can run directly at the safety and freeze him before running a corner route to the sideline (the same area of the field the normal go route would hit). You can only bracket the slot receiver this way by playing with two deep safeties.

The other way teams can bracket the slot receiver is with the other linebacker. Now, the weak side linebacker will play outside of the slot and force him inside to his buddy, the Mike linebacker. Teams can use this approach when they play single high safety defenses because there is another underneath defender. The quarterback has to read that Mike linebacker during his drop to see which way he opens and drops into his zone. If he goes to the three-receiver side then the QB can work the weak side option route, but if he opens to the two-receiver side, the quarterback will work the 3 receiver side on the whatever quick passing concept the offense has called. Usually this is a stick concept. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

LSU has another weakside pass concept that looks like the tight split weakside option one but is just a normal smash concept with the slot receiver running directly into the flat. The outside receiver runs the corner route. The QB just reads the cornerback, there’s no read on any inside defender. Simpler and still effective.

The third concept from empty is one that I didn’t expect to see from the Tigers. It’s not something that the Saints ran very much while Brady was in New Orleans. It is, however, a staple play from another NFL team that lives in Empty: the New England Patriots. “Hoss Y-Juke” is the Pats completion machine for Tom Brady especially in the underneath areas of the field. LSU and Joe Burrow have to tried to hit some bigger plays out of it.

You’ll notice that both main concepts have option routes built in. For Hoss Y-Juke that route comes from the strong side of the formation. The defense can try to control where the ball goes to by playing either single-high or two-high safety defenses. Against one high the ball will be attempted into the seams.

Against two high, there’s more room underneath so you can get the juke route matched up one on one.

Almost anytime Tom Brady gets two high versus this concept, he is throwing to Julian Edelman underneath. He’ll take a peak at the seams but NFL safety’s are superb at capping seams from half field. What has been nice for LSU is that even against two high, Burrow is making his reads and firing the ball into the seam window if it’s there. He’s not predetermining his reads.

The other long Chase touchdown shows this off:

The way Burrow has been executing this offense has been nothing short of astounding after four games. You rarely see quarterbacks develop like this even at this young of an age. With the arsenal of play makers surrounding him and the offensive mind of Joe Brady behind him, the sky is still the limit for Burrow and this offense.