While rewatching LSU’s 42-7 win over Missouri, I couldn’t help but think of the one and only Beyonce song I like.
I’m of course speaking of the 2007 classic “Irreplaceable.”
Without reading more into this analogy than I give you, think of yourself — the average LSU fan — as Beyonce, and of Leonard Fournette as the poor sap who must not know ‘bout Beyonce. This, of course, makes Derrius Guice the “other you” that you can have in a minute. And he punctuated this by modeling his play after the lyrics of the song. Except instead of putting everything Fournette owns in a box to the left, Guice made all of his cuts on runs to the left.
Now, I’m admittedly better versed in football than I am in Beyonce songs about infidelity. But I would like to point out that given Guice’s performance Saturday night, Fournette really should never get to thinking that he’s irreplaceable. I don’t want to harp on Guice’s night for too long. Our own Sam Spiegelman already did that for me.
So with Guice out of the way, here are my other observations from LSU’s decisive win over Missouri on Saturday night.
What’s up Steve’s sleeve?
Saturday night was the first game of new offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger’s tenure as LSU’s offensive play-caller. The talk coming into the week was all about the expectation of Ensminger and interim coach Ed Orgeron’s intent to spread the ball around more. While LSU’s offense didn’t transform into a Mike Leach-style air raid — the Tigers still ran the ball on 63 percent of their offensive snaps — it was more of an open attack than it was under Cam Cameron.
Some of the most notable wrinkles in the offense were the sort of things that were obvious in a first viewing. For example, Ensminger alternated wide receivers more frequently than Cameron did, which put players such as Jazz Ferguson and Russell Gage onto the field at a much more frequent clip. Beyond that, the entire philosophy of the passing game seemed to be turned on its head.
This could be seen from the first drive when the Tigers lined up for their first four snaps in a four-wide receiver set with no tight ends or fullbacks. But formations don’t win games; moving the ball does.
How did LSU try to move the ball on that drive? By targeting wide receiver Travin Dural from a position in the slot rather than the sideline. Since he arrived at LSU, Dural has almost exclusively been an outside receiver, which left him more susceptible to press coverage. Often he faced man-to-man coverage against an opponent’s best defensive back. Putting him in the slot freed him to find space in the coverage more easily and helped quarterback Danny Etling to find the open man.
This was a trend all night long. Dural and fellow starting receiver Malachi Dupre excelled at this, especially in the second quarter. When blocking broke down and Etling was trying to find his hot routes, Dural and Dupre did phenomenal jobs of finding gaps in the Missouri zone and working back to Etling to bail him out so he didn’t have to throw the ball away or take unnecessary hits.
Guice also showed a knack for this, turning a busted screen into a 21-yard gain by simply evading a couple of defensive linemen before the ball was even thrown.
Another trend worth noting was Ensminger’s frequent use of tackle-eligible formations. Without getting too bogged down in inside-football specifics, tackle-eligible formations are plays where an offensive tackle is the end man on the line of scrimmage, or the offensive player on the line of scrimmage closest to one of the sidelines. In a situation such as this, a tackle is an eligible receiver. By my count, Ensminger called seven plays out of tackle-eligible formations, one of which led to LSU’s final touchdown of the night.
More interesting than his use of formations was the way he used them. The first time LSU lined up with the tackle eligible, it was to put two tight ends, Colin Jeter and Foster Moreau, on the same side of the field to lead block for a D.J. Chark jet sweep. The play worked for an 18-yard gain, so on the next play LSU lined up in the same formation and brought a receiver in motion again to give the defense a read as if it was going to run the same play. But Etling faked the jet sweep and instead threw to Jeter, but the pass fell incomplete.
Later, in the third quarter, the same sequence occured. The Tigers ran a jet sweep to Chark with from a tackle-eligible set. The play gained eight yards. The Tigers line up in another tackle-eligible set, brought a receiver across the formation to give the defense a wicked sense of deja vu, but this time hand to running back Nick Brossette up the middle for six yards.
Here’s some advice to Florida for next week: If LSU is in a tackle-eligible set, chances are a receiver is going to get a jet sweep at least once. But they have at least four different plays to run out of the formation, so don’t sit on the sweep.
While we’re on the point of formations, I went ahead and counted all of the personnel groupings that LSU used before Etling came out and the second team came in to siphon time off the clock. Here is a bullet-listed breakdown of all the personnel groups that LSU used in the game.
These are not all the formations LSU used. These are just characterizations of where players were lined up. Here’s the breakdown:
- I-Formation with two WRs and one TE: 22 snaps
- Ace Set (1 RB, 2 TEs, 2 WRs): 18 snaps
- Singleback, three WRs, one TE: 18 snaps
- Four WRs, one RB: 11 snaps
- Tackle-eligible Ace/I-Formation: 7 snaps
- Tight-I/Goal-Line Package: 3 snaps
- Ace Set from Shotgun: 2 snaps
Now what’s there to glean from this? For one, LSU isn’t completely abandoning smash-mouth football. The Tigers still lined up with at least one tight end on the field on more than 85 percent of plays and used a fullback on a little less than a third of their snaps — that’s not counting the times that fullback J.D. Moore flanked out as a wide receiver to block on the edge.
Ensminger’s offense isn’t going to scoff at running the football, but he will spread the field out to create easier rushing lanes for his running backs.
With the exception of about half of the uses of the ace formation, LSU didn’t run any formations that were symmetrical Saturday night, making it harder for Missouri to line up in a base defense and crash straight ahead. Rather, the LSU used the flexibility of its tight ends, fullbacks and even wide receivers to force Missouri into nickel and dime defenses, which made it easier for the offensive linemen to block one-on-one and for the running backs to find lanes without the tackle box congested with defenders.
Overall, Ensminger deserves a commendation for his game plan, especially given his amount of time to prepare. That said, the offense is only going to continue to look less and less like Cam Cameron’s. As the offense continues to evolve, the personnel packages are going to evolve with it. Saturday night was simply phase one. Only Ensminger and his staff know where and when phase two will begin.
- To finish up with the offense before I shift to some defensive analysis, J.D. Moore just might have had the best game out of any fullback I’ve seen in a long time. I counted at least four plays where Moore’s block turned a down from a three-yard loss to either a first down or a touchdown. Let’s face it. Fullbacks are a dying breed. Within the next 10 years, I wouldn’t be surprised to see head-to-head lead blocking on plays banned by football because of the way they produce helmet-to-helmet collisions in an area where offensive linemen are prone to falling and ball-carriers make their cuts. But while the play is still a legal one, J.D. Moore is a master of it. And he deserves as much credit as the LSU offensive line does for Saturday’s 400-yard rushing performance.
— LSU Football (@LSUfootball) October 2, 2016
- Dave Aranda’s defense was hard to break down this week because it refused to make enough mistakes to stay on the field long enough for me to get a good look at it. But from a formation perspective, it was more of what I said last week: The team lined up almost exclusively in nickel packages like the 3-3-5 and the 4-2-5, which are almost identical except for whether Arden Key’s hand is in the dirt or if he’s standing upright.
- Just like last week, star cornerback Tre’Davious White alternated between playing nickel cornerback and sideline cornerback. In the first and third quarters, White played in the nickel. In the second and most of the fourth quarter, White played the sideline. When he was on the sideline, he was lined up against J’Mon Moore, the Missouri receiver who came into the game leading the SEC is almost every receiving statistic. White, and sophomore corner Donte Jackson, shut Moore down by limiting him to just one catch, which came when he was standing behind two other receivers who formed a convoy to make sure White couldn’t get to him.
- I know it’s a gimmick package and you don’t want to overuse it, but Missouri probably would’ve been smart to use its two-quarterback, five-wideout set a little bit more. The two times Missouri used it were the two drives that it was most successful, the last of which ended in a touchdown. Since Missouri wasn’t making substitutions and hurrying to the line, LSU couldn’t substitute either without leaving itself in danger of having too few or too many men on the field. But since there were two players on the field who knew how to throw, it was as if Missouri was substituting, leaving the LSU nickel package at a major disadvantage. Had the game been closer, this probably would’ve been a huge pain in Aranda’s side.
- Duke Riley and Kendell Beckwith are really good at tackling. They wrap up really well. You rarely see one of them make a SportsCenter shoulder tackle or take a player out at his ankles. They engage and bring backs and receivers down, which is a rarity in modern football.
- To end on my two favorite topics — blocking and wide receivers — give it up for Dupre for his blocking on the sideline. On a day where the team rushed for more than 400 yards, the receivers had to block well since so many runs ended up in the Missouri secondary. Dupre looked great downfield, often holding his blocks for 10 or 15 yards downfield with Guice or Darrel Williams trailing close behind with the ball. The only person who looked better blocking in space all day was J.D. Moore. We’ve already established that he had an MVP-caliber day.