The ghost of the 2020 season opener will continue to haunt my memory every time LSU gets a new defensive play caller. We’ve yet to see how Matt House will defend Mike Leach. Simply, you cannot stay in your more standard alignments, packages, and structures. You have to answer them in kind for selling out for the pass, playing with 6, 7, or even 8 DBs on the field at all times and dropping 8 (or even 9) into coverage at all times. This is a critical matchup for LSU and Brian Kelly to get their season back on track and prove that they’ve taken a step forward after losing to Florida State.
When LSU has the ball
Running the ball
Mississippi State loves to play a lot of lighter boxes with 3 high safety looks. While they have ways of fitting the run from these structures somewhat effectively, they still do invite the run to a larger degree than most defenses. It is important for LSU to be able to make them pay for these looks and force them out of them, so they can create more favorable looks for their passing game. Up front, Miss State likes to play a lot of odd (3 down) surfaces that are difficult to run inside zone against. LSU’s running game is mostly inside zone, so it’ll be interesting to see how their 3 down adjustments (which I wrote about this offseason) in both their run game and TE RPO game play out against Miss State. Against 3 down, the read on their TE RPOs changes from the edge defender to the MIKE linebacker.
Mississippi State’s defense is very hard to attack structurally because it is incredibly amorphous in structure. Their 3-3 stack type structure allows them to be extremely fluid with their fronts, pressures, coverages, and pretty much everything in general. It’ll be interesting to see how they try to attack this.
The OL is a critical unit this weekend, as it will be every week for the rest of the season. If LSU can’t run the ball and gives up a lot of pressure to a team that is committing major resources on the back end, this one’s likely over.
Passing: Jayden Daniels: 17/27, 205, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Jayden Daniels: 11 carries, 75 yards, 1 TD.
Receiving: Malik Nabers: 6 catches, 95 yards, 1 TD.
When MSU has the ball
Drop 8, Leach, and the Air Raid in its pure form
On a macro level, the blueprint for slowing the air raid to an inefficient grind is to drop 8 into coverage and sell out for the pass. In the mid-2010s, Matt Campbell at Iowa State started making drop 8 coverages the backbone of his defense instead of a changeup in obvious passing situations. In doing this, he was able to constrict windows, eliminate big plays, and make it extremely difficult for the air raid teams that populated the Big 12 so heavily at the time to be efficient and explosive in the passing game. In the years since, other teams have copied this approach against the raid. As a result, most air raid coaches aren’t really running the air raid anymore. They’re living in 11 and using 12 personnel, they’re running play-action and RPOs, and they’re effective on the ground when they need to be. Lincoln Riley, for instance, bases in 11 personnel, uses 12, and runs counter more effectively than anybody else in the country. They run the shit out of the ball when they want to and use RPOs and PA to create conflict for the defense. Not Leach, he hasn’t changed this thing a bit. He’s in 10 personnel almost all of the time. As a result, he doesn’t create much conflict for a defense that is now able to play with 6-8 DBs on the field at all times and drop 8 into coverage. If you don’t lean into that, you will get shredded, as Will Rogers is an excellent quarterback. You have to keep everything in front of you, let them check the ball down, and force them to string together long drives with no margin for error. I wrote a thread on Twitter about what I’d do specifically on a schematic level that you can check out here:
Here's how I'D defend the air raid if I were LSU on Saturday (Thread) 1/— Max Toscano (@maxtoscano1) September 15, 2022
That’s what it’s all about, stopping the raid.
Passing: Will Rogers: 43/72, 431, 2 TD, 1 INT
Receiving: Rara Thomas: 13 catches, 95 yards, 1 TD.