BATON ROUGE, La. — As LSU running back Derrius Guice learned Saturday, nothing heals an aching running back like great blocking and an awful opposing defense.
Guice announced his return to full health Saturday with a 276-yard showcase against Ole Miss. After fighting through injuries for a month, Guice played as well against the Rebels as he has since his record-setting performance versus Texas A&M in 2016. The breakaway speed and endurance that make him one of the nation’s most dangerous home run backs aren’t all there yet. But the instincts, agility, patience and improvisational skill were on full effect.
Yes, the Ole Miss defense can be easier to slice through than a microwaved stick of butter. But the Rebels were consistently stacking the box against Guice, with zero success. The man ran like the future first-round pick he is. He evaded tacklers, cut through holes that weren’t there and took advantage of a great run-blocking day from his finally-gelling offensive line.
In short, Guice was great. But great isn’t good enough for film study. So let’s look at why and how Guice was so great, starting with some data.
Jumping off the page
There are plenty of ways you can divide up Guice’s 276 yards. He played 41 snaps, carrying the ball on 22 of those. He forced 8 missed or broken tackles, averaging 13.7 yards per carry on those plays. He ran 16 times with Danny Etling under center and 6 times with Etling in the shotgun. Carve up his stats any way you want to, and they’ll always look impressive.
But the two subsets of his performance that stick out most are how he performed versus stacked boxes and what he did in certain personnel groupings.
First, let’s look at the defenses. On 14 of Guice’s 22 carries, Ole Miss had eight defenders in the box trying to stop the run. On three others, the Rebels had nine. That left only three carries where Guice faced the conventional seven-man front.
This didn’t faze him.
|Defense||Snaps||Guice yards||Yards per carry|
|7 in Box||5||25||5.0|
|8 in Box||14||234||16.7|
|9 in Box||3||17||5.7|
Guice thrived when Ole Miss brought a safety into the box. Some of this was a product of Matt Canada’s offensive scheme. With all the jet sweep motions and fakes, LSU doesn’t have to block every man in the box. Defenders take themselves out of plays following the wrong ball carrier.
But Guice’s success against stacked boxes was more than that. Specifically, Guice thrived because of great blocking days from fellow skill players. Canada varied personnel packages well, sending 10 different skill players to the field on downs where Guice carried. Here’s a breakdown of Guice’s success, divided by plays when certain teammates were on the field:
|Player||Snaps||Guice Yards||Yards Per Carry|
We’ll talk more about Guice’s 102 yards with fellow running back Darrel Williams on the field later. For now, let’s single out the performances of Moreau, Moore, Chark, Sullivan and Anderson. With a handful of exceptions for Chark, these guys weren’t working as jet sweep decoys. They were blocking downfield. This shouldn’t come as a surprise for Moreau or Moore. They’ve been in-line blockers by trade this season.
But Anderson and Sullivan deserve special recognition for their commitment to downfield blocking, Sullivan especially. The big-bodied freshman wideout lined up in a spot more like a wingback than a wide receiver on more than a handful of occasions. And he sprung Guice with huge blocks on at least two plays in the first quarter, including the first snap of the game.
Along with Williams (No. 28), Sullivan (No. 10) makes one of the two most important blocks on this play, opening the hole for Guice to earn a first down. Give Sullivan a lot of credit for his willingness to accept a role as a blocker.
But more than anyone else, Moreau deserves to be singled out. The tight end was on the field for 67 of LSU’s 68 snaps Saturday, missing one Guice carry in the first quarter. For his efforts, he did catch a touchdown pass. And Pro Football Focus graded him out as LSU’s fourth-best player, behind Guice, Arden Key and Williams.
Still, this undersells Moreau’s value. Fifteen of Guice’s 22 carries went to the side of the field Moreau lined up on. He’s not a perfect indicator for where the ball is going to go, but even when the defense guesses correctly, he tends to make the right block.
Between Moreau and Moore, I counted five “key blocks,” or blocks I deemed necessary for Guice to hit the hole. Sullivan and Williams added two more apiece. That’s unbelievable reliability from skill players blocking in space. Which isn’t to mention the added wrinkle of Williams’ mere presence.
The ever-dangerous LSU split backs
Guice’s fifth carry of the night might’ve been his most impressive. He took a handoff from Etling and went off-tackle left, cutting upfield between a seal block from left tackle Saahdiq Charles and an out block from extra tackle Toby Weathersby, who joined Charles on the left to form an unbalanced line, and gashed 59 yards for his longest carry of 2017.
But one factor of the play that made it particularly dangerous was Williams’ presence.
Williams motions across the formation before the snap. Coupled with a faux lead block from Moreau, Williams takes the two Ole Miss defenders circled in blue out of the play, minimizing the chance of Guice being tracked down from behind in the backfield.
But Williams wasn’t just a decoy. As mentioned before, he blocked rather well too. Just watch the block he makes on Guice’s touchdown.
That’s a 5-yard drive block from a running back. Savor that. You won’t see that much.
LSU fans have clamored for years about seeing more two-back sets. Guice and Leonard Fournette rarely saw the field together a year ago and, until the Ole Miss game, Guice-Williams sets were rare too. Now it seems as if Canada has figured out the right packages to use the pair together. It’s just one more thing to make Nick Saban and Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt think about for two weeks.
Let’s give Guice some credit
LSU’s perimeter blocking was superb. That’s not even mentioning strong performances from interior linemen like Charles and fellow freshman Ed Ingram, both of whom might’ve had their best games versus Ole Miss. But great blocking only gets you so far. You still have to have a ton of talent to rush for 276 yards.
Nowhere is this more evident than the following play, the only one where Guice forced multiple missed tackles.
Guice evades a diving defender in the backfield, bounces outside a so-so Weathersby block and through an arm tackle, jukes a defender out of his uniform after Drake Davis failed to block him and finally goes down after three Ole Miss defenders caught up to him. It’s a ton of work for a 9-yard gain. But it’s the sort of play Guice should be famous for.
Well, that and plays like this one.
Guice’s vision is subpar here. There are two holes on this play everyone can see. There’s the one between Charles (No. 77) and Garrett Brumfield (No. 78) to Guice’s left and there’s the one between Ingram (No. 70) and Weathersby (No. 66) straight in front of Guice.
Guice choose neither. A cutback into the hole to his left would be too risky with an unblocked defender hiding behind Charles. And he recognizes wide receiver DJ Chark (No. 7) is going to take his defender into the hole in front of him. So Guice bends through the hole in front of him behind Chark’s block, escaping all traffic for a 33-yard gain.
The play was the third of Guice’s four carries of 25 yards or more Saturday. Chark was on the field for all four of those snaps. Three of those carries went to Chark’s side of the field. Chark isn’t much of a blocker. Even on this play, he more suggests his defender which way to go than he does block him. But he gets the job done.
And Guice, to his credit, knows what Chark is going to do. He sees the hole before it’s even open. That’s one thing great running backs do. Now that he’s healthy, Guice is definitely one of those again.