LSU spring game preview: What to expect from the Tigers’ new-look offense
BATON ROUGE, La. — When the LSU offense takes the field Saturday for the Tigers’ annual spring football game, it might not be recognizable. And that’s almost certainly a good thing.
Led by new offensive coordinator Matt Canada, the revamped LSU offense is a faster, modernized, higher urgency version of what LSU has run for the past century, characterized by a variety of formations, personnel packages and rotations. Much has been made of the intense pre-snap preparation Canada expects from his players, but his offense is much bigger than that.
It’s a showcase in versatility and depth, as more players are getting looks and touches than ever before, according to interviews given by Tigers players. The team might well be 7 deep at wide receiver, 4 deep at running back and even a couple guys deep at quarterback.
With all that in mind, here’s what you need to know about LSU’s offense going into Saturday’s spring game.
All eyes on them: LSU quarterbacks
Let’s start this off with what you already begrudgingly know: Danny Etling is the front runner for the LSU starting quarterback job, despite the best efforts of the men behind him. Sophomore Justin McMillan is the most likely candidate to dethrone Etling, and there were points during the spring when it appeared McMillan had a better-than-significant chance to do so. But Etling pulled away heading into summer.
That said, there are a couple of quarterback notes to watch for this Saturday.
- It’s doubtful that the quarterbacks will face full contact during the scrimmage. They’ll probably be protected like they are in most practices. But if quarterbacks can go full speed and full contact, McMillan and Lindsey Scott will have a chance to separate themselves as threats to Etling’s job security.
- Early enrollee Lowell Narcisse might play and he might not. Narcisse is recovering from knee surgery last year and his viability of movement remains a question. He is another guy who would benefit from getting to go full speed — his athleticism is well regarded — but Narcisse is the least likely to earn it.
- It’s going to be interesting to see whether Etling or McMillan gets more reps against the No. 1 defense. Sometimes the No. 1 offense matches up with the No. 2 defense and vice versa, while other spring games match the first units against each other. That decision might set up the battle through the summer.
The Guice show: LSU running backs
Don’t be surprised if Derrius Guice doesn’t see much time on the field Saturday. LSU knows what a rare and talented commodity it has in Guice, and coaches won’t want to expose him to much danger. He’ll play a few series, but beyond that I’d be surprised to see him do anything more.
The guys behind Guice aren’t slouches, but they also aren’t proven. Darrel Williams is poised to get the bulk of the carries with his slimmed-down frame and veteran status. But Nick Brossette is a logical complement to Guice behind Williams, and as such should run a lot of the plays otherwise intended for Guice.
Beyond Williams and Brossette, Lanard Fournette is the Tigers’ other option at running back. While he earned extra reps in the past couple of spring scrimmages, he’s likely No. 4 of 4 right now. Things can change, of course, but the Fournette era in Baton Rouge is likely over.
A who’s who of who and who: LSU wide receivers
No position is under more intense scrutiny, or faces higher expectation, than wide receivers. Other than senior D.J. Chark, the Tigers don’t return anyone who was a significant producer last season. But the group is stuffed with talented players ready to contribute in a vast rotation that could feature as many as 7 men on Saturday.
Alongside Chark, LSU’s predicted starters are sophomore Drake Davis and senior Russell Gage. Davis and Gage are breakout stars of this year’s spring session, establishing themselves as reliable targets. But beyond Chark, Davis and Gage, LSU has sophomores Dee Anderson, Stephen Sullivan and Derrick Dillon, as well as early-enrolled freshman Mannie Netherly.
In terms of athleticism and physical ability, this might be the deepest position group on the LSU roster. Any team would mortgage its future for a 6-foot-5 speedster like Anderson, or a 6-foot-6 red-zone threat like Sullivan. LSU has these guys relegated to fourth- and fifth-string status. Because of the tempo at which LSU plans to run its offense, you’ll see all these players on Saturday.
A big performance could go a long way to earning fall playing time for a less-heralded wide receiver.
Don’t read too much into it: LSU offensive line
When watching LSU’s offensive line Saturday, it’s important to remember that you won’t actually be watching LSU’s offensive line.
Center Will Clapp and tackle Toby Weathersby won’t be available, leaving Canada and line coach Jeff Grimes without 40 percent of their presumed starters. Because of this, LSU will be extremely thin across the line, especially at center. Lloyd Cushenberry has been outstanding while filling in for Clapp, but he’s the only true center on the depth chart right now, meaning a guard or tackle will have to take snaps when Cushenberry is off the field.
Other than Cushenberry, newer players to observe are tackle Jakori Savage and early enrollee Austin Deculus, both of whom might be competing for starting jobs. Deculus impressed this spring with his blend of natural strength and positional versatility, something that bodes well for his chances to play as a true freshman.
Returning starters K.J. Malone and Maea Teuhema will be on the field, if you’re looking for some semblance of similarity. But it’s important to remember that LSU’s line isn’t what it will be in September, so don’t read too far into any struggles — or successes — players might experience Saturday.
LSU’s spring football game will be played at 7 p.m. CT Saturday in Tiger Stadium. You can watch the game on the SEC Network or stream it live through WatchESPN.