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Scouting Report: The LSU Tigers Offense

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Auburn’s defense will have another chance this Saturday to prove they are one of the best in the land.

LSU v Miami Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Auburn finds themselves in another top 15 clash just three weeks into the season. While many are still skeptical that Ed Orgeron is the man for the job, there’s no denying his team has come out strong the first two weeks of the season. In fact, since that debacle against Troy last fall, LSU is 8-2 including a come from behind victory over the Auburn Tigers. Auburn must be ready for a fistfight this Saturday.

Today, we will take a look at LSU’s offense. Despite some of the preseason hype, it’s what we are used to seeing out of LSU. A game manager at QB, plenty of athletic talent at wide receiver but an offense reliant on a powerful rushing attack. Let’s take a closer look.

Personnel

As much flack as Auburn fans get about winning with transfer quarterbacks, not sure there’s a school more reliant on QBs from other programs than LSU. Once again, the Bayou Bengals will be trotting out a shiny new transfer QB savior this Saturday. Joe Burrow lost the Ohio State starting QB battle this past spring to Dwayne Haskins. He elected to transfer to LSU for his final two seasons in order to see the field. That transfer then lead to two LSU transfers. After learning Burrow had won the starting job, both Justin McMillian and former Auburn commit Lowell Narcisse elected to take their talents elsewhere. That leaves LSU with just two scholarship quarterbacks. For better or worse, this is Joe Burrow’s team.

So far it’s been for the better. Burrow has helped lead the strangely colored Tigers to a 2-0 start but I must emphasize the “helped” part. He’s been solid through the first two weeks but far from the impact player some hyped him to be earlier this fall. Burrow is completing under 50% of his passes and his longest throw of the year was a hail mary pass to 6’6” Stephen Sullivan at the end of the first half against Southeastern Louisiana.

In fact, his biggest play to date has been the audible he made during the Miami game that lead to LSU’s first touchdown.

A lot has been made of that audible and Burrow’s command of the offense. However, from what I saw on tape it appears that’s basically the extent of his checks at the line of scrimmage. In certain looks when he sees a blitz, he calls Outside Zone the other way. Obviously, having a quarterback who can get you out of a bad situation and into a good one is nice. But I don’t think he’s doing anything overly complicated at the line of scrimmage. Don’t be surprised if Auburn gives him some looks to try and bait him into checking into a play that ends up running right into the teeth of this defense.

While Burrow isn’t an elite playmaker at QB, he can be effective in the pocket when given time. I think he’s at his best in quick 3-5 step drops and throwing intermediate routes against zone coverage. No he doesn’t have the strongest arm and no I don’t expect to see him dropping dimes all over the field like Jake Browning two weeks ago but he can make some plays through the air when needed.

While Burrow received most of the hype leading up to this season, it’s been Nick Brossette who has carried this team through the first two weeks. LSU started the season with a running back by committee approach but that lasted about a quarter into the Miami game. It’s pretty clear Brossette is a cut above the rest.

The senior has waited his turn behind elite playmakers Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice. He’s a local kid that attended University Lab in Baton Rouge, LA which is literally on LSU’s campus. You know he’s been dying for this moment and he hasn’t disappointed. I’ve been very impressed with Brossette so far this sesaon. No he’s not a freak athlete like Fournette or Guice but he is a strong, quick back with outstanding vision. You better set the edge and you better have backside contain because he will punish you if you don’t.

Per usual, LSU has a ton of talent at WR but consistent production has been an issue. Drops have also loomed large as well. Through the first two weeks, Justin Jefferson has established himself as Burrow’s go-to guy with 6 catches for 86 yards. But the guy to watch in my opinion is former Auburn target Ja’Marr Chase. He’s the next elite WR that we will be asking ourselves in a few seasons how he didn’t put up video game numbers at LSU. Auburn was REALLY close to stealing him away late but Ed O was able to seal the deal. He’s been impressive in limited opportunities.

Surprisingly, Texas Tech transfer Jonathan Giles has been a non factor in this offense so far this season. He was the Red Raiders’ leading receiver two years ago with 69 catches for 1,158 yards and 13 touchdowns. Many thought he would be the Tigers’ #1 wideout in 2018. But for whatever reason he’s struggled to get going this season. Let’s hope that lasts at least one more week.

The wanna be Tigers often utilize a tight end or fullback in their offense. You will see both on the field a bunch too. Foster Moreau was bestowed the honorary #18 this season and is a leader on this LSU squad. He had some nice plays against Southeastern Louisiana this past weekend and I expect they will continue to try and get him more involved in the offense. Tory Carter is your classic fullback. Strong kid that loves contact. He was part of the random one game suspensions O gave out this past weekend but is expected back for Auburn.

An interesting x-factor to watch is the health of NC State transfer (noticing a theme here?) Thaddeus Moss. The son of legendary WR Randy Moss, Thaddeus has been battling a foot injury that’s kept him off the field the first two weeks. His status is still uncertain for Auburn I believe but I would not be surprised to see him trot out there Saturday. He’s got a skillset that could prove troublesome for this Auburn defense.

Finally, there’s the big boys up front. Like Auburn, the biggest question mark for this LSU team after two weeks is the offensive line. They’ve honestly been much worse than Auburn’s to start the year.

Injuries and suspensions have played a huge role in their early season struggles. Before the season even began, expected starter Ed Ingram was arrested for sexual assault and suspended indefinitely from the team. Then early in the 1st quarter against Miami, starting right tackle Adrian Magee went down with a leg injury. 2017 All-SEC Freshman left tackle Saadhiq Charles was also suspended last week for undisclosed reasons. He is expected back this Saturday.

There were concerns about this group already heading into 2018 and those concerns have only gotten worse after losing two starters. Badara Traore came in for Magee against Miami and started at right tackle vs SELA. He’s struggled MIGHTILY in that spot. So much so that LSU will more than likely move former blue chip recruit Austin Deculus to right tackle this week. He played in place of Charles last weekend and acquitted himself well. But as a unit, this group has struggled to get consistent push and protect Burrow this season including against an FCS team in Southeastern Louisiana.

This is where I think Auburn has a huge advantage in this game. The good looking Tigers’ defensive line is one of the best in the country. Add in the raucous environment of Jordan-Hare and I think it’s going to be very hard for this LSU offense to get their rushing attack going. Chances are pretty good we are going to find out this Saturday whether or not Joe Burrow can put this team on his back and carry them to a big time W.


Scheme

LSU’s offense is lead by...

checks notes

Well this can’t be right...

googles furiously

huh...

clears throat

The LSU offense is lead by none other than Mr. Steve Ensminger.

Yes that’s right, the same man that struggled to do much of anything with an offense featuring a backfield of Carnell Williams, Ronnie Brown and Brandon Jacobs has been given the reigns to this LSU offensive attack. Auburn won’t have to deal with the maddening shifts and constant jet sweeps of the Matt Canada offense but instead must contend with the “half a genius” playcaller Steve Ensminger.

But if there’s any fanbase that should understand coaches are not doomed to repeat their past failures, it should be Auburn fans. After all, the architect of the Tigers’ elite defense is a man that was once the laughing stock of college football after surrendering 70 points in the Orange Bowl. So while it seems like Ensminger calling the shots for LSU should mean great things for Auburn’s chances, I wouldn’t be so quick to assume he will fail.

However, the early returns haven’t been all that great. Somehow, LSU has scored more than 30 points in both games but has yet to eclipse more than 335 yards of offense. Great field position thanks to their defense and Miami’s punting woes have greatly helped this offensive attack. For the most part, when given those short fields this LSU offense has taken advantage (helped out greatly by their new stud kicker Cole Tracy, also a transfer) but there’s definitely some serious concerns about this group. The overall numbers aren’t pretty (huge shoutout to Bill Connelly for getting individual profiles up though still mad at him for his math hating Auburn right now):

  • Offensive S&P+: 62nd
  • Standard Downs Success Rate: 102nd
  • Blitz Down Success Rate: 110th
  • Yards Per Game: 106th
  • Yards Per Rush Attempt: 60th
  • Yards Per Completion: 53rd
  • 3rd Down Conversions: 122nd

This attack has greatly benefited from short fields early this season. It’s critical that Auburn does not turn the ball over on their own side of the field giving LSU easy points. Make them drive the length of the field.

Schematically, this LSU offense spends most of it’s time in 11 (one running back, one tight end) personnel. Against Miami they also used plenty of 21 (two backs, one tight end) looks but with their starting fullback suspended last weekend they moved to more 12 (one running back, two tight ends) personnel groupings. Unlike Washington, they won’t throw a ton of different looks at you though they do employ both Shotgun and Pro sets. For the most part, you can expect LSU to line up in one of these formations below.

This was probably their most common look when not trying to run time off the clock.

Same formation as the previous one but this time the back is lined up in the Pistol.

LSU likes to bunch their tight end, fullback and Z wide receiver with a deep tailback to run some different RPO looks.

Ensminger likes to overload one side of the defense to see if the opponent will over adjust. If not, then they will run right at you.

If Moss is healthy I would expect to see this look a lot.

In short yardage situations or when trying to bleed clock LSU used a lot of offset I formations.

This rushing attack is mostly built around zone blocking. The Tigers love Outside Zone (I suspect to help with OL struggles) and Auburn will see plenty of Inside Zone as well. They also run your standard Power play. But last week they found some success sneaking in some Counter Trey later in the game.

The passing game is mostly built around RPOs and quick 3-5 step drops. I haven’t seen them stretch the field much vertically though I think a lot of that has to do with protection breakdowns. They will also roll Burrow out a lot to get him away from the pass rush. He’s not a “Jake Browning annoyingly escaping pressure” type of athlete but he’s got enough wheels to move the chains when needed. However, he does need to learn to slide if he wants to make it through the season healthy.

LSU will punish soft coverage. They run a lot of RPO concepts that involve Burrow checking to see if his WR has a free release. If so, then Burrow will hit the wideout on either a quick slant or a quick out. If he’s pressed, they will run the ball the opposite way. LSU hit Miami on back to back plays with this type of RPO attack with a lot of success on one scoring drive.

Overall, I think this is a great matchup for Auburn’s defense. They faced a better offensive attack in Atlanta lead by a more talented quarterback to start the year. Auburn’s defensive line should dominate this game and force Joe Burrow to prove he can beat them consistently through the air.

However, LSU has talent and Auburn can’t afford to giveaway any points in this contest either. Expect LSU to try and win some 50/50 balls like Washington did. I also expect to see more screens than they’ve used in the first two weeks to get Brossette out in space and to try and slow down Auburn’s pass rush. With an elite kicker, crossing the 50 yard line will mean points for LSU so they will put some numbers on the board. But if this Auburn defense is truly one of the best in the country, they need to dominate this football game.

War Eagle!