It's been an offseason full of pressing questions for the LSU Tigers.
How is Danny Etling’s back? When will Arden Key be back? How will the offensive line hold up? How many freshmen will be pressed into crucial roles? Is there going to be a beer garden in Tiger Stadium?
No question is bigger than this one, even the one about the beer garden (the answer is non, mes amis): What will LSU’s offense be like under Matt Canada?
For that question, we sought answers from D.J. Chark. The senior wide receiver is sort of the poster child for the wholesale changes going on behind the high wooden fences surrounding the LSU practice fields this month.
Chark goes into the season bearing the mantle of the Tigers’ go-to receiver, given his experience and his chemistry with Etling, which goes back to their days together on LSU’s scout squad. But from the pre-storm snapshot we got of the Tigers during the spring game, Chark is also going to be bullish on jet sweeps, part of the literally new directions this unit is expected to take this fall.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron has said the Tigers have never been better conditioned than they are going into this season. Conditioning definitely has its place, but Chark said the mental game may be outpacing the physical in terms of importance for this particular campaign.
“The offseason was great, but nothing gets you ready for coach Canada’s offense. The first couple of days were terrible,” Chark said with a somewhat weary smile, “but now we know what to expect.”
Chark said the new offense was a bear to pick up at first, or at least the parts that pertained to him.
“It was hard knowing what part of the play to listen to and what to zone out,” he said. “It’s constantly going. We continue to add new plays all the time. For the most part, we’ve gotten the base of it, and we’re running it well.”
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Deception will be the watchword for this year’s offense. Keeping opposing defenses on their heels, guessing. Former LSU All-American Marcus Spears, now an analyst with the SEC Network, said he watched most of the games Canada called last year as offensive coordinator at Pittsburgh and said it will be difficult for teams to scheme against LSU with just one week to prepare.
Chark used fullback J.D. Moore and tight end Foster Moreau as examples of how unpredictable the Tigers will be.
“When J.D. and Foster are on offense, we’re not going to be one-dimensional, where people think these guys are just coming in to block,” he said.
Using the spring game as a starting point, the one significant public glimpse of LSU’s offense, Orgeron described his team’s level of confidence in running Canada’s scheme as “completely different."
“Matt seems very comfortable calling the offense,” Orgeron said Saturday after the Tigers’ second preseason “game” of camp. “I’d say we’re about 70 percent done in our installation. It’s mostly repetition and things he knows our guys can do.”
For most of the spring game, it looked like LSU’s defense was in charge of an offense still trying to find its depth in a new system. That wasn’t the case Saturday, Orgeron said, despite some less than stellar pass blocking that frequently had Etling on the run.
“We took it to the defense,” Orgeron said. “The defense was reeling for a while.”
Orgeron provided stats from Saturday’s scrimmage that had Etling going 8 of 18 for 114 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions — one of them, one assumes, returned by freshman Grant Delpit for a touchdown. Delpit sounds more and more like a starter every time Orgeron talks about him. Meanwhile, freshman Myles Brennan was 4 of 8 for 107 yards with a touchdown. Unlike Etling, Brennan spent most of his time with the No. 2 offense.
Despite the impression that Brennan may have slightly outperformed LSU’s senior quarterback Saturday, Orgeron was careful to emphasize that Etling is still the Tigers’ starter. Orgeron’s desire to fan the embers of a quarterback competition hasn’t abated, but he again gave no true indication that it’s going to be anyone but Etling taking the first snap Sept. 2 against BYU in Houston.
Where the LSU offense goes from there is anyone’s guess. After years of a power run-dominated attack that almost seemed predictable by design, leaving everyone with more questions than answers appears to be the plan.