This LSU offense starts up front. Everything they do would be inoperable without not just a good, but great offensive line. Their ability to force defenses into conflict between their run game and pass game depends entirely on their ability to win up front without a lot of help.
(Video credit to @DoABarrowRoll on Youtube)
On the Ground
In case you haven’t noticed, LSU is running the piss out of the ball. So much of the attention has gone to Daniels, Nabers, Thomas Jr, and the LSU pass game, but the LSU run game has arguably been the best in the country so far this season. Through week 5 (so before this game), LSU averaged an ABSURD 0.319 EPA/Rush, which was good for 3rd in the FBS and 2nd in the Power-5 behind only Oregon. For comparison, LSU’s vaunted passing game ranked 19th in the country in EPA/Dropback through week 5.
LSU’s run game, like the Eagles in the NFL, is built around using spread formations and the QB run to create light-boxes and win the numbers game.
Textbook execution by the Eagles on this inside zone read from a spread double stack set. 6 man box vs 5 blockers, they read the backside end to even numbers. Take note of the two double teams inside. Inside zone is a good call vs this look with the 3 technique to the back. pic.twitter.com/AN32pW2Gek— XandOJunkie (@Spread_it_Out) September 13, 2021
The QB’s legs allow you to leave the edge player, either a DE or a blitzer, unblocked as a read player whenever LSU runs inside zone (again like the Eagles, it’s their base run play). The spread formations force 2nd-level defenders out of the box. The problem with running from spread looks is that it places a lot on the shoulders of the OL. With fewer blockers, you create a lot of 1-on-1s and force them to win individually at the point of attack. Keep in mind that the defense only needs to force a stalemate up front for a run play to be stopped. Despite the light box, this play doesn’t happen without Campbell digging this 4i out of the B gap and the LG getting off his double and sealing the Mike off. Because the OL can handle these tough jobs, LSU is in a great position to run the football to punish teams selling out for the pass or, like they did on Saturday, when they want to keep their defense off the field.
A common way to deal with inside zone is to trigger your LBs into gaps quickly so that they can get in before the uncovered OL has time to come off of his double and climb to the 2nd level, which is the key to successfully running IZ. The quick trigger of the RG to come off of his double before expected and pick up the inserting LB is great and prevents a TFL. Additionally, you see the impact of the QB read on the numbers at the POA.
2022 Eagles— Pace N Space (@PaceNSpace2) February 14, 2023
-QB Draw w/ Y-Stick—Speed Out RPO
-PST Sets 9tech, PSG & C Fold Tech 2 w/ Center Wrapping to Mike
-5 Man Box = NO to Throw & QB Gets Busy Running Draw Cutting this Back from Mike Pursuit pic.twitter.com/DjJE53m33H
Defenses aren’t even safe from the run when LSU is in empty. Again, like the Eagles, the QB allows you to screw with the numbers. The defense is a bit different than what KC is in so disregard that, but this RPO is designed to conflict the overhang defender. The empty formation creates a ton of space, but the line has to win up front because this can get gummed up pretty easily. Domination on the line opens a big lane.
In Pass Protection
The biggest difference between Jayden Daniels a year ago and Jayden Daniels now, besides the deep-ball accuracy, is how much he trusts his protections and reads things out. He’s been given clean pockets all year, which has allowed Denbrock and Sloan to spread the field and flood coverages with 4-5 routes in the concept.
Because of the line’s ability to hold up 1 on 1, teams have had to blitz to try to affect the quarterback. The problem is that LSU is un-blitzable. As seen in the Miss State, Arkansas, and Ole Miss games, they will turn the 1-on-1s that blitzing creates in the slot and out wide into touchdowns. It starts up front though, with a line that is incredibly smart and well-coached in blitz pickup. They pass off stunts, they identify threats, are always in the right protections, the backs make the right reads and hold up, and they clearly have a good sense ahead of time of what the blitz paths will look like.
Here, the LSU staff sniffs out Missouri’s double edge 0-blitz and walks the back and TE to wing alignments to seal the edges. The line’s job here is simply to block the DL threats in front of them. Everyone holds up and LSU is able to get the ball out to the slot-fade for what should have been, and usually is (the play was right after Daniels’ rib injury), a touchdown. It’s really unreal how good their film study, preparation, and rules are in protection. With no safety help, 0-blitzes are particularly vulnerable to LSU’s (and the Eagles btw) favorite shot play, the slot-fade, because the DBs are not only locked man to man but have to play inside leverage with no middle-field safety.
As widely-discussed as LSU’s skill players have been, the offensive line is as much of a weapon as any of them. They’re talented, they’re physical, but most importantly, they’re well-coached. The offensive line is more influenced by coaching than any unit on the field. Talent matters, but it won’t even help you a little bit if you don’t have a good grasp of pass-protection rules, run-game techniques/calls, and overall synchronicity. There is no covering this up with talent. Alabama’s offensive line is one of the most talented in the country, but they have been awful in every facet while Oregon State’s line dominates. The Eagles have maintained this level of dominance for years up front because of OL Coach Jeff Stoutland’s ability to replace and develop starters seamlessly. The LSU line is firing on all cylinders. They lost their center during the game, and nobody noticed, they have game-ready 5-star RT Lance Heard unable to crack the starting lineup. and nobody notices. Nobody’s talking about the OL, nobody notices. This is a good indication, but we should change that. This is a deep, young unit operating at the highest level in the country. For all the Jayden Daniels Heisman talk, it’s time to start some discussion about LSU winning the Joe Moore Award.