Last year, the LSU offense was fine, good even. It did a good job of keeping itself on schedule, but I think we all felt and understood that it was a limiting factor on LSU’s ceiling as a team. In baseball terms, they hit for a high average, and got on base, but had a slugging percentage in the toilet and a middling OPS. When you rely on singles and doubles but can’t hit home runs, good enough defenses can tighten up and take away the things you do to stay efficient. The trade-off for them is that they risk being burnt over the top, but if you can’t connect, there’s no risk.
If Malik Nabers were eligible this year, I would take him in the top 10. This is why he didn't get a Biletnikoff invite this year. pic.twitter.com/wvySnndo5B— Max Toscano (@maxtoscano1) February 21, 2023
LSU always had the vertical threat to punish defenses that loaded the box or played tight to routes, but far too often, despite Nabers winning down the field with his elite speed, route acceleration, and physical strength, the ball would drift inaccurately out of bounds or back into the defender. LSU had to find a way to properly unlock their WR1 going into the year.
The stats bore this out. Per PFF, In 2022, LSU had an offensive success rate of 42.4%, which was good for 8th in the country, but an explosive pass rate of just 13.3%, which ranked 83rd. Daniels averaged a low 10.95 yards per COMPLETION last year. So when teams could take away LSU’s underneath stuff and run game, it became tough sledding to sustain drives, with LSU relying unsustainably on Jayden Daniels ability to scramble for first downs in high-variance situations (out of-structure production alone isn’t statistically stable). With a good run game and quick and intermediate passing game, LSU is built to be efficient, they just couldn’t be explosive enough to raise their ceiling, punish tight coverage, and have answers for everything.
LSU has two main ways of attacking single-high man coverage: The slot-fade and the stutter-n-go. LSU will align Nabers both outside and in the slot frequently, so they’re able to target him on both of these. These routes fit his skillset well, as his burst is very difficult for DBs to keep up with. The slot-fade is useful for LSU as it can exploit a mismatch between their best receiver and a nickel or rotated safety. Additionally, they can pair it with different concepts and tag it as an “alert.” An alert is a route outside the prescribed progression that the QB can choose to target if he sees a favorable look or matchup pre-snap. For instance, in clip 1, LSU has a “drive” concept (shallow+dig) called with a slot-fade frontside. Drive is best against 2-high structures, but paired with the slot-fade on alert, you can have answers to everything. Daniels sniffs out man-coverage and takes the matchup. The downside of a slot fade is that it’s usually a difficult, precise throw, needing to be dropped in-stride over the defender. If the ball is underthrown even slightly, the ball will carry the otherwise open receiver back into the defender. These throws are perfect, and if they’re on the table for LSU this year, tight coverage is not an option for defenses.
The same applies to their other favorite shot play, the stutter-n-go. The double move punishes aggression in corners who are in 1-1 situations with no help over the top. This is a Joe Burrow type of throw that would not get made last season. You’re asking for trouble if you don’t play your corners off or give them help over the top.
Right Where They Want Them
As I said in the intro, LSU’s offense is built to be efficient. The .300 hitter is still able to hit all those singles and doubles. The best elements of this offense are the quick and intermediate pass game, which punishes soft coverages, and the zone-read run game, which punishes 2-high safety looks.
When Miss State decided to back up and play Cover-2, LSU was able to punish them underneath by attacking holes in the zone. This offense is at its best when it can space out your underneath zones and hit digs, curls, hitches, choice routes, and other rhythm stuff that lets Daniels get the ball out quickly. They have good underneath concepts for every loose coverage, whether it be Cover-2, Quarters, Cover-3, Cover-6, and so on. Additionally, they can always punish light boxes with Daniels and the RBs on the ground.