Feels like we’re watching a dead season at this point doesn’t it? It felt like any chance LSU had to put 2020 and the UCLA game behind them as a program died last Saturday. Kentucky, on the other hand, is flying (undeservedly) high after beating Florida. Now, Kentucky got decently lucky to beat Florida, they only beat Missouri (who is horrific) by 7, they beat Chattanooga by 5, and South Carolina by 6. They were held under 30 by an FCS team and under 20 by South Carolina, who is terrible. They are not the 16th best team in the country. They may, however, still be better than LSU, who is very not good.
The LSU defense spends nearly all of its time in cover 1. They ask their corners to man up on receivers and they get an extra body in the box to fit the run. Kentucky’s OC is Liam Coen, a former assistant to Sean McVay. The new proliferation of the wide zone offense in the NFL has come as a response to and attack of the Pete Carroll style of cover 1/cover 3 structured defenses. The concern for them here is that they only have one player, Wandale Robinson, that is an effective separator in the pass game. It’s Liam Coen, so he’s going to have stuff in his offense to attack Cover 1. The question becomes whether or not they can execute it. Can they generate separation on the corners? Can Will Levis hit targets? Levis’ accuracy is suspect, if. Coen schemes gets open, if guys beat their men, he’s gotta hit them. Levis has to process very very little in this offense, so he kinda has one job right now, hit your targets. They will have opportunities over the top, they will call concepts that attack those opportunities, they have to convert them.
Attacking the second level
The wide zone offenses in the NFL have made their money putting stress on the linebackers that are granted significant coverage responsibility in Cover 1 systems. With only a single safety responsible for helping anything deep, linebackers have to be able to get depth and take away anything in the intermediate 10-25 yard level. The wide zone complicates this by forcing 2nd level defenders to flow hard in the direction of the blocking scheme. They punish this by popping athletic tight ends on crossing routes away from the flow. The 2nd level defender tasked with the TE is now in a ton of conflict, as recovering to get underneath the route is difficult, and on the route side, the outside linebacker has to worry about the QB tucking and running on the boot if he vacates the flat to ROBOT (roll over and back) under the over route.
Kentucky doesn’t throw to tight ends a lot even when facing cover 1, but it’s a great way to attack a defense that plays single high and man coverage. Kentucky would do well to pop their tight ends over the middle more off of wide zone, even if they aren’t that good.
Now that I’ve outlined how Kentucky may be equipped to attack the structure of the LSU defense, the question becomes whether or not LSU will adjust. Against UCLA, the answer was no, and they got absolutely worked. Kentucky runs a lot of inside zone, which is a good way to attack LSU’s over and under fronts if the OL can block up the DL. LSU’s DL is quite good, so they may not be able to hold their blocks well enough to succeed, but if they do, will LSU switch out of their even front structures into something more odd (center is covered, odd number on the line) like Dave Aranda’s specialty, tite? The goal with inside zone against even (center uncovered, 4 on the line) fronts is to get a double team on one of the interior DL and hit the cutback lane, often the backside A gap. There are also very basic things you can do in the option game like zone read, zone read arc, and power read. Now, if Maason Smith and co beat their men on the block it’s all pretty moot, but if not, will LSU adjust? The same goes for the back end, if they get shafted in cover 1, will they adjust? They may not have to because Kentucky’s offense isn’t that good.
The run game
I think we know they’re going to run the ball ineffectively, but it’s still something to watch. If Kentucky does the same thing Auburn does, dropping 8 and treating LSU like Mississippi State, they have to be able to respond and run efficiently. They have tried schematic adjustments like counter, outside zone, wide zone, to no avail. They just can’t block people at all, they have to start doing that.