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What To Watch For: Tennessee

How do you solve a problem like Josh Heupel?

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel Saul Young/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

This is such an interesting matchup due, in large part, to how much of a test it is for Tennessee. The Josh Heupel offense creates an insane amount of conflict just by doing a handful of things. The challenged LSU offense will probably have to score to compete, so let’s get into it.

When LSU has the Ball

Throw the damn ball

I don’t mean “call more pass plays,” I mean that Jayden Daniels needs to throw the football when he’s given looks for it. You’re going to have to match points here, which means that unless you can run for 350, you’re going to need in structure production through the air. Brian Kelly has called on Daniels to be more aggressive, he has to be. It’s also time to see more diversity in the concepts they run from bunches and condensed sets more generally, they need to be able to punish teams in man coverage.

Run the damn ball

LSU is facing yet another 4-down team and has continued to struggle to run inside zone, their bread, butter, and meal in the run game. Inside zone, zone read, and the inside-zone-based TE RPOs that OC Mike Denbrock likes to run are, in theory, much better against 4-down, but it hasn’t been as effective as it needs to be. The offensive line needs to do a better job calling and executing their combinations to make the inside zone run game more viable, which will open up that other stuff a bit more.

Stat Predictions

Passing: Daniels: 17/33, 205, 1 TD, 0 INT

Rushing: Emery: 14 carries, 105 yards, 1 TD (feed this man, idc about the fumbles)

Receiving: Nabers: 6 rec, 83 yards, 1 TD

When Tennessee has the Ball

Conflict, alignment, and the Heupel offense.

This is where the game gets interesting, and the only thing I’m looking for when Tennessee is on O.

The offense is ALL about spreading you out to an insane degree. They split their outside WRs out to the sidelines and their slots out to where most outside WRs line up. A lot of the time, they’ll even align in a stack with the outside WR.

The main things they do are

A: Vertical choice concepts in which the final number 2 receiver will run vertically up the middle or bend into more of an in-breaking route and the final number 1 will run vertically down the sideline or stop if he can’t get vertical separation.

B: Quick screens into the stack

C: RPOs to the number 2 receiver either on those screens or on glance routes (deeper slants) with, of course, a run option if the conflict player is too far outside in the coverage.

Here’s how they do things to defenses that try to deal with the conflict created by the alignments:


If you walk the overhangs (Sam and Will, basically) too far out, you’re out-gapped in the box even though they have just 5 blockers (6 gaps, 5 defenders in box) From there, they’ll run the football, and RPO off of your overhang forever to the number 2 receiver because he’s in a lot of space and conflict. If they’re in a position to deal with the run, the number 2 receiver is far enough outside him that he can’t get to him on a screen, hitch, or glance route.


You’re gapped out against the run bc you can have 6 in the box AND have 2 bodies on the two receivers (on either side) to deal with their quick screens and RPOs, but then they hit you with their vertical choice stuff and you have to carry it with no safety help, often off switch release from stacks and tight alignments.

Good luck, Matt House, fascinated as hell to see what you come up with. Personally, I think the best way to deal with this offense is by living in drop-8 cover-2 from a 3-high safety alignment. That way you can take away the vertical choice concepts by having a deep defender responsible for the sideline vertical-read route and the inside middle-read route. For the RPO and quick screen stuff, you still have 5 underneath zone defenders even if they are stressed a bit in space. We’ll see what they come up with.

Stat Predictions:

Passing: Hooker: 24/36, 377 yards, 3 TD, 2 INT

Rushing: Hooker: 11 carries, 57 yards, 1 TD

Receiving: Tillman: 7 catches, 135 yards, 1 TD