We’re gonna talk entirely about pass protection.
Going into this year, I had confidence in the OL but was concerned with how this offense would be able to handle itself when defenses sent more guys than the 5 up front could account for. Jayden Daniels has had a bit of weakness when pressured in the past due to his tendency to drop his eyes and go into creation mode instead of IDing the pressure and finding the weakness in coverage on time. There’s room for creation mode against the blitz, look at guys like Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes, but Daniels has created more sacks than positive plays by doing this in the past. Additionally, backs and TEs are important in protections when blitzed and their ability to diagnose and make their pickups was an unknown heading into the season.
The backs and TEs have answered the call in a major way, and LSU’s had no issues whatsoever in protection, but the coaching staff has been able to construct a protection framework for obvious passing situations that, because of 3 and 86s ability to hold up in protection, allowed them to keep the QB clean and comfortable even when the defense sends the house.
Leaning on 3 and 86
Against blitz looks from the D, LSU is checking into this double-wing formation, which allows the OL to take the highest-danger rushers in the interior. Normally, it’s tough to hinge your protection on the RB and TE holding up 1 on 1 like this, but Logan Diggs and Mason Taylor have been excellent all year, and the trust that Mike Denbrock has in their ability allows him to close all the interior rush lanes and get all the rushers picked up. The result, despite the house being sent, is a totally clean pocket.
If there is no outside threat to their side, one of the wings can add chip help to assist the tackle on the DE. LSU usually pairs a slot fade, dig combo concept with this to provide answers against any kind of coverage. If the coverage behind the blitz is Cover 1 or Cover-0, the QB can work the slot fade. If they run HOT or EYES coverage behind it (3 deep, 2 seam defenders), the QB can work the hitch outside of the slot fade. If the defense drops to a 2-deep fire zone coverage, the QB can hit the dig. Auburn’s clever here, and anticipates the slot fade, adjusting their man coverage to roll the safety over the slot. Because there’s no safety to possibly drive on it, there’s a big void in the middle of the field for the dig that Daniels exploits. In summation, if you take away the slot fade, you’re probably giving up the dig behind your pressure.
If you drop out of the blitz and only send 4, the wings can check release into the concept and hold the 2nd level defenders underneath the dig. The QB can work from front to back and hit the dig if nothing is there frontside. The OL stonewalls as usual and Daniels has forever to get his eyes to the backside dig.
If you’re blitzing and pockets are still clean, you’re going to get gashed. LSU has weaponized its excellent auxiliary pass protectors and reliable OL to easily account for 6-7 rushers at a time. The result is a Daniels who isn’t panicking himself into sacks and can comfortably find weaknesses in blitz coverages. The result is a team that frankly you cannot afford to blitz, which limits the ability of defenses to affect the passer and puts incredible pressure on coverages to hold up against a QB who is seeing things well and receivers who are very difficult to cover.