Whenever there is a coaching change, everyone demands just that: change.
In the case of LSU, the dismissal of coach Les Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has everyone anticipating a new look offense.
Interim coach Ed Orgeron is even playing along, telling the media at his introductory press conference “you can expect a new coaching staff, a new style of offense.”
But how much can a new staff — particularly one that has been on the same campus as those recently fired — actually change in such a short period of time? And what should LSU’s new offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger implement to get the Tigers’ offense moving?
When have you ever heard reports about a new coordinator coming in mid-season and making things more complex?
Stripping everything down and simplifying the offense is a must.
Now, it’s important to note Ensminger’s last job outside of Baton Rouge was seven years ago, when he was coaching at the high school level. Prior to that, his last FBS job came in 2008, which is a relative lifetime ago by college football standards.
That means he’s been fully entrenched in the Miles LSU culture, especially the team’s elongated verbiage. To switch that up in such a short period of time is close to impossible. This is true given that almost every player on the roster has spent his entire LSU career under one offensive coordinator.
Ensminger’s focus should not be on overhauling the language or design of the system. Instead, the focus should be mastering a small number of concepts and developing a quicker play-calling system.
On the field, changes should be made to the Tigers ground game, with even more emphasis placed on Leonard Fournette.
First, there’s his usage. In Miles’ do-or-die game vs. Auburn, Fournette ran the ball just 16 times. I understand there were some lingering injury concerns from earlier in the season, but just 16 carries for the team’s best player is a shockingly low total.
Beyond that, the staff needs to put more trust into Fournette as a decision-maker, as well as simplify its blocking system. This would start by moving away from more intricate man and gap-blocking designs and toward to a system built mostly around zone-blocking principles.
Zone systems put more of a demand on the running back, rather than the offensive line. For the line, blocking assignments are simplified and combination blocks built-in.
Running backs are charged with reading the blocks and finding the correct cutback lane, rather than being put into a “see hole, hit hole” system. The backs’ depth in the backfield is increased to give them more time to scan blocks and to see developing cutback lanes.
Fournette is a bruising, powerful runner with tremendous field vision, making him great on one-cut and go, outside-zone and stretch concepts. Increasing the volume of zone plays will not diminish his production and will take some burden off the offensive line.
Furthermore, with less rushing concepts, the offense can increase its tempo.
LSU currently sits at 126th in the nation in adjusted pace, per Football Study Hall. Increasing the tempo forces the defense to stay in the same personnel grouping and will allow the offense to pick on favorable matchups and generate splash plays.
Opting for simpler play designs, as well as running fewer concepts, will allow the offense to move at a much quicker pace, without needing to install anything new.
Like the run game, LSU needs to focus on players, not plays, in its passing attack.
Through four weeks, they simply haven’t got enough out of Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural. They’ve targeted Dupre just 25 times, and Dural 23, per Football Study Hall.
The previous staff even moved Dupre into the slot for the past two games, a desperate attempt to get him more touches. But the team remains hamstrung by ineffective quarterback play.
One way to simplify things for the quarterback is for the team to run a higher dosage of isolation formations — one receiver isolated to one side of the formation.
The goal of isolated formations is to help the quarterback identify mismatches pre-snap. They do so by putting the offense’s best receiver on that side of the formation. The defense is then forced to show its hand; whether it’s playing man- or zone-coverage, and whether it’s double-teaming the offense’s biggest threat or not.
If the defense doesn’t show a double-team, the quarterback knows he has a 1-on-1 matchup with his best receiver. If the receiver is doubled, then the quarterback knows that the receivers on the other side of the formation all have 1-on-1 matchups. The quarterback then can read which matchup he is going to, pre-snap, and read one-half of the field, rather than the full thing.
LSU has two receivers who can be mismatch nightmares. With isolated formations, they can consistently generate 1-on-1 matchups and give the quarterback a defined read before the snap.
They can even take it a step further, following Lane Kiffin’s lead at Alabama.
Kiffin doesn’t just run isolated formations, he keeps his receivers on the same side of the field for close to every play. The theory being that it’s easier for receivers to line up on the same side of the field and learn pass patterns from one side. Additionally, it allows Alabama to line up quickly and play with tempo.
It’s impossible for LSU’s interim staff to overhaul a stale philosophy within a few weeks. However, with a few tweaks they can turn a laborious offense into an explosive one.