When No. 6 LSU faced off against No. 8 Florida Saturday night, it was a matchup of an unstoppable force (Leonard Fournette) meeting an immovable object (the Florida defense).
Fournette came into the contest as the Heisman favorite. His 1,022 yards in just five weeks and the 8.6 yards-per-carry average made him the focal point of every Tigers game no matter who their opponent was. But, even with a player like Fournette, offensive coordinators never want to get too one dimensional.
Even though Fournette had one helluva game against Florida (180 yards rushing, 2 touchdowns), it was the play of quarterback Brandon Harris that gave the Gators an added concern they couldn’t handle.
Let’s look at how Tigers offensive coordinator Cam Cameron used both Fournette’s ability and reputation to aid Harris and build an early lead Florida just couldn’t overcome.
Baiting Florida’s Defense
Cameron spent a lot of time in the film room leading up to the game, and that was obvious in how the Tigers chose to run the ball with Leonard Fournette. Physical ability and talent while carrying the ball can obviously go a long way, but what gave Florida so much trouble early on was that it was doing exactly what it wanted to do against LSU’s blockers, and still little worked.
Behind that statement was a brilliant strategy by Cameron. The Tigers’ coordinator knew Florida was going to have to be more aggressive in the box than it preferred. So instead of seeing a 4-2-5 set with both safeties in coverage roles, Florida was going to have to somehow get more bodies to Fournette near the line of scrimmage in order to slow him down.
But it happened in phases. Gators defensive coordinator Geoff Collins didn’t abandon his five defensive back lineup right away, knowing it was the strength of his team.
Here we see just that as defensive back Marcus Maye is up guarding the closed side of the line (the side where the tight end is) in an attempt to contain any sort of Fournette run.
However, with a dual-threat quarterback in the backfield, Maye’s assignment was strictly behind the line, either Fournette or Harris. Cameron figured this might be the case. The Gators’ top game plan was surely to make Harris be the one to beat them — getting pressure on him was the obvious first way to try to disrupt that.
But, as you see in the Vine above, the offensive play call countered the assignments to perfection as Fournette took the attention of both linebackers to the right side of the field. Maye was drawn up to pressure Harris, and the LSU tight end was able to roll off his block into wide open space knowing there was no safety or linebacker help for a short throw.
But the baiting didn’t stop there; Cameron continued to use Florida’s strengths against it on certain run plays. Here’s what that looked like:
This looks like a play Florida could’ve had bottled up, but just couldn’t get a player in space for the tackle. That should be a win for the Gators defense, right? Well, not exactly. Let’s watch it in slow motion and break it down:
When you watch it from this angle, you can see the offensive strategy in place. LSU stacked the line to the left allowing Florida to outnumber it in the box with seven defensive players to the left of the center. At the snap, you watched the entire line move to the right. The key note here is that the right guard and the extra lineman on the right side didn’t help double team the defensive line. They immediately went to the second level and sealed off both linebacker threats leaving the fullback to block the safety.
If you go back to watch that play in real time, you see Florida’s line blow up the one-on-one matchups on the inside and to the left side of the play, but that didn’t matter. Florida still got disruption up front, but LSU called plays to negate that disruption from stopping success.
Fournette played masterfully with 180 yards and two scores, but without a few big-time plays from Brandon Harris, this game may not have ended with an LSU victory.
Building off the first passing video I showed at the beginning of the piece, Cameron did a fine job of getting Harris’ confidence up early. Confidence for a quarterback goes beyond just throwing the ball, and that’s evident below.
Note the movement by Florida’s defensive line before the snap; the Gators expected this to be a handoff all the way. Harris saw that, recognized the new space up the middle, opted to keep the ball out of his best player’s hands and erupted up the middle for a good gain. Harris had the confidence to pick up those yards thanks to some simple success early on.
This throw was impressive, but more importantly it was another well-designed play from Cameron. With all three receivers to his right, Harris didn’t have to scan the field to go through progressions, which was key since Cameron knew Florida was going to bring extra pressure on third down.
As Harris recognized the single coverage with no safety help, he let it fly to only a place his receiver could get it. Good distance with just the right velocity — it was then we knew Harris was dealing.
The short play-action passes, the simple progressions and a few other nice throws all led to the flea flicker. It’s important to note that not only was Harris called on to throw a ball 50 yards down the field, but he was asked to do so against the best cornerback in the country.
The sell of the fake, the step up into the throw and the deep-ball accuracy all came together for Harris, and if you were watching the game leading up to this throw, you shouldn’t have been surprised. Harris came into his own against Florida; he had the confidence to attack the Gators at their strength, and he came out on top.