Matt Canada’s first game as a play-caller came in Brownwood, Texas.
Don’t feel bad if you don’t know where Brownwood, Texas, is or if you’ve never heard of the university there, Howard Payne. Canada worked for Butler then, a 20-something-year-old serving in his first ever role as an offensive coordinator.
Butler played Howard Payne to open the 1997 football season.
“The pressure we put on ourselves is real,” Canada said Monday in his first school-sanctioned news conference since his hiring last December. “First game I ever called was at Butler. There was probably 100 people there. I felt a lot of pressure that day to make sure I did a good job.”
The actual attendance, according to Butler records, was 2,741. But you get the point.
“I understand where we’re at, understand everything about it,” Canada said. “No disrespect: I don’t read anything you guys write and don’t worry about anything you guys say. We’re going to do our job, focus really hard, focus on our kids and our offense. We’ve set a standard: Drive for perfection and settle for excellence.”
Canada, the Tigers’ first-year coordinator, spoke to a room full of reporters on Monday following LSU’s practice, less than two weeks before what some might call his most pressure-packed game of his career. No. 13 LSU meets BYU in Houston on Sept. 2.
LSU opened its doors to reporters for the first time this August on Monday, ending its black…
Canada touched on several topics during nearly 20 minutes of fielding questions. Yes, he spoke about the pressures of the job compared to his first every game as a player-caller (Butler won that game 10-9, by the way). After all, he’s paid $1.5 million a year to overhaul LSU's offense, but he also discussed one of his “favorite” players (running back Darrel Williams), how far along his offensive installation is and how he attacks opposing defenses.
There was quarterback talk, too, of course.
Freshman Myles Brennan made a “tremendous jump” from the second to the third scrimmage, he said, and rookie Lowell Narcisse has digested the offense “very, very well.” He called the quarterback competition a “tremendous battle,” presumably being waged by Danny Etling and Brennan.
D.J. Chark has mastered his position, Canada said, and greatly improved on his route running, and, no, the offensive line’s camp troubles (depth and injuries) have not affected his installation.
In a rare news conference with both of LSU’s coordinators, defensive signal caller Dave Aran…
A full Q&A from Canada is below.
Check out the story version here.
You talked in the spring and summer about finding an offensive identity. Now a couple of weeks out, where is that identity at?
It’s coming along right where we want it to be. I’m probably not going to give it to you before we play a game. We’re where we want to be. We’re looking for those things coach talks about, looking to stress a defense both horizontally and vertically, be a physical offense that runs the football, looking to be an offense that, if you take away the run, make passes and make plays down the field.
I feel like our identity is coming along. We’re excited to reveal that here in a couple of weeks.
How close are you to name a starting quarterback?
Coach O is going to handle that whenever he’s ready to do that. I’m coaching them all and they’re all doing a great job.
Matt Canada isn’t running the toss dive any time soon.
Can you talk about Lowell Narcisse?
Sure. He’s done a tremendous job. You look at what he’s gone through injury wise before he got here. The best thing I can say about him coming in, as all athletes, would be he was pretty confident in his abilities. The offense, which I always say is super easy to learn, but as a freshman quarterback am I going to learn the offense?
He’s learned the offense very, very well. At times, his physical traits have come out and been exactly what he wants it to be. Sometimes, he hasn’t been quite as consistent as he wants to be. We talked about it a couple of days ago. How awesome is that? The part he was the most concerned about it (learning the offense), he’s really done a great job with.
He’s coming physically. He’s been banged up a couple of years. To think you’re going to jump out of the sky and be ready to play is a challenge. Really happy with him and really love coaching him.
What have you seen from Myles Brennan?
Myles has also done a great job. Myles has come in and worked hard in the summer, ready to go when he got here. First week was figuring the offense out, figuring the tempo out. There’s a lot more to do at quarterback than just line up and play. Myles has gotten better every week. Had a half scrimmage that first week. Got after it the second week. Myles, first day in Tiger Stadium. Had big eyes. Made some plays, missed some plays.
I thought he made a tremendous jump Saturday with his play, looks calmer and more in charge of the offense. His curve is going faster because he’s just getting started. I think he’ll keep working at it. Really, really pleased with what he’s done. He’s an awesome, awesome guy.
For true freshmen, they’re living up to all the expectations that we have for them and not worried about anybody else’s.
After you name a starter, do you believe in letting that guy go start to finish or do you give another guy a shot here or there?
I’ve done it all ways. That’s a Coach O question. We’re going to talk about how we’re going to do it. He certainly directs our team, directs our offense. I’m going to certainly follow his lead on what he wants to do with that. I’ve done both. Got a tremendous battle going right now. Whenever he’s ready to do that, we’ll move forward with it.
Has the shuffling on the O-line and the injuries affected the installation?
Not at all. It’s been awesome. It’s never good to have anybody nicked up, but we’ve been able to get some depth. Had some young guys come on and play well. We’ve challenged them with … they’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do. Is it always perfect? No. We’re pushing them really hard. Going against some really good players on the other side. They haven’t blinked. Coach O talks about it – we’re going to put 11 guys out there and go play. We’re not going to look around at why, who or what.
Our players, starting with our senior leaderships, have almost demanded those young guys to step up, pushed them to do that. They’ve done a great job. You don’t want that to happen (the injuries), but we’re always going to find the best positive situation and that’s what happened there.
Dave Aranda strikes you as the kind of cool hand you’d want handling a crisis in a disaster movie.
What have you learned about the guys behind Derrius Guice at running back?
Darrel has a tremendous spring, as some of you guys saw. He’s backed it up with a great summer, leading our offense, in my opinion. He’s had a great camp. He’s doing a lot of things for us, sees the holes, plays very hard, do anything you ask him to do. Darrel is one of my favorites.
You mention Clyde (Edwards-Helaire). He’s come in as a freshman and shown why he’s here. He runs very hard, is low to the ground. I don’t know, but I think that presents a little challenge. He comes out the front of all of his runs. Nicholas (Brossette) has done a great job, too. From Scrimmage 2 to 3, he really came in there and did a great job, ran the football hard. We’re pleased where we are right now.
What’s different about Danny Etling throwing the ball since the back surgery?
There’s more velocity on the football. I think he trusts it a little more. I don’t think any of us can really, unless you guys have had that situation ... I can’t relate trying to do everything he was doing and not being able to have feeling in certain parts of your foot. Even though he was looking like he was doing it, he wasn’t sure, wasn’t confident. There’s more confidence in what he’s doing and more velocity in what he’s doing. It’s a combination of all those things and getting more comfortable.
Can’t ask for anybody to try any harder than Danny does.
What are the expectations for Game 1 of the offense?
I expect us to play at a very, very high level. We’re not going to settle for any … we’ve been working on it since spring. Would expect us to go out and execute it. That’s the great thing Coach O does. We have these preseason games. We turn the intensity up pretty good. We want practice to be harder than the games. We’re playing a tremendous opponent in BYU, and they’re going to create a lot of challenges for us. There’s no wiggle room. Standard is the standard.
At receiver, who have you seen makes the biggest improvements?
I think Chark has really mastered his position. He’s the leader of that group. His talent level is what it is, ability to make plays is what it is, but I think his route running has made some really, really good steps.
I hate to single them all out. Russell (Gage) has done a great job, really has worked very hard to do everything we ask him to do and be everything he’s supposed to be. The depth at that position has come on strong.
Steph (Sullivan) has had a good day once in a while. Drake (Davis) has had a good day once in a while. They’ve all had their moments. You’ve got to have more than one guy, which we all know and believe in. (Defenses) could take one away if they want to, and they can do that. They can take the run away. Got to be able to spread the football around. By no means, we’re where we want to be yet.
The media think LSU is a top-15 team, too.
Darrel Williams has caught several passes this camp in scrimmages. How much do you see him adding to the passing game?
We’re going to use our running backs, use everybody we can. Scrimmages, we’re working on certain things on certain days. Our situation scrimmages … there’s reason guys are in there.
Darrel, he’s such a great player. He does everything we ask, runs the ball, catches, protects. He’s open and on special teams. I can’t say enough about him. I’m leading his fan club right now.
Is there a percentage of where you think your offense is that you’re installing?
Our offense kind of evolves all the time. The core is in. The wrinkles and extra things we’ll do we’ll add as the season goes on.
What have you seen from converted safety JaCoby Stevens since making the switch to receiver?
Very good athlete. Very willing to play. That was a move that was made and he wanted to come over and saw a chance for him to get on the field and play sooner. We had a need, a depth there. Made a tremendous play on Saturday. Made a couple, but he made one that he went up and snatched the ball like you want to see a guy do. There’s a reason everybody went after him (in recruiting) so hard. We’re excited for him to be with us.
Guys like Chark, Gage and Dillon say they’re playing all three receiver positions (X, Z, F). How do you expect to use those guys outside of the downfield passing game?
All the ways we always have. We’re going to get those guys the ball. Those are the three guys to show the versatility to do a lot of things. Hopefully we don’t just line up and (say) ‘Here we are.’ We’re going to try to make it a challenge. Not saying we’ll do that, but our goal is to make it a challenge for the defense, so they don’t know what we’re going to do next. Those three guys have done a great job of moving around and being a big part of what we do.
Matt Canada’s voice rings in Will Clapp’s ears, and the words are always the same: “Quick! Q…
Ed Orgeron has raved about Foster Moreau. Where do you see him fitting?
The tight end position as a whole has been great. Coach Steve (Ensminger) has done a heck of a job. Those guys are playing hard, blocking, catching passes when we ask them. They’re working very very hard. That position is one that does a lot of things for us as well. Your ability to learn and buy into the system has a big thing to do with it.
Foster is leading that. He’s a physical, physical player. We’ve been happy with him too.
How much have enjoyed working with Steve Ensminger?
I think Coach Ensminger is awesome. Coaches really, really hard all the time, great guy to be around. I’m thrilled I get to work with him. He’s the LSU legend. I’m just hanging out with him.
Some of the guy, like JD Moore, say your offense is tough to learn. With this being the first day of school, does it bring any challenges?
No. It’s all how you look at it. I think JD was trying to make you guys think it was hard so it looks like he’s working hard. He’s doing fine. It’s the easier offense in America.
They all know what they’re doing and done a great job at it. They’ve got to go to school — that’s their job. They’re here to get an education. They’ll handle it well, handled everything else well.
Any tackle come to you trying to convince you that they’re the guy for a TD pass?
We’re not quite there. They’re looking. We’ll see.
What’s your routine as a play-caller on game day?
Yeah. We’ve got a dart board up there and I throw it at it. Whatever it is, is what comes out.
I don’t know. I try my best to be creative, try my best to take what the defense (give us). If we have something we’re trying to do, the defense can decide how they want to stop you. We’re going to try to adjust and adapt. Sometimes, you do a good job of that. Sometimes you don’t. Players win games. My job is to facilitate our staff to put our players in position to make plays. Through the course of the game, you’re going to see those matchups. We know what they did before they played us. We have a plan. They’re going to change and we have to adapt to that.
That’s where having multiple guys who can make plays and multiple guys you can get the ball to in different ways gives up an advantage.
LSU’s quarterback competition is winding down, and it’s clear who the top two passers are on…
None of the players have said it’s the easiest offense…
Drake (Davis) did! I think they’re doing OK with it, I really do. We’re really pleased with … we had some things Saturday that didn’t go quite as well, but the scrimmage before, as far as pre-snap alignments and those things, we’re doing a really good job. Never know. Lights will come on in a couple of weeks.
When you have a guy like Derrius Guice who succeeded in the previous system, is it tricky in selling him in your system?
I’ve been to a few places with very, very good players at different levels. That certainly is sometimes an issue. There’s some guys where that’s been harder. He’s not been one of them. From the moment I got here, he just wants to win. He certainly has individual goals. No one is naïve to that.
First thing he asked me is how the (pass) protection works. He wants to learn the protection so he never gives up a sack. First thing he said. Obviously, he’s going to get the football. We know who he is. Tremendous player. Exceeded expectation for how hard he works. He loves the game, plays it 1,000 miles an hour.
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How did the 8 sacks in the scrimmage look on film?
Didn’t look good. We didn’t do a very good job. There’s reasons. We had some third-and-long situations. It’s a situation scrimmage. There’s things we’re doing OK at and things we’re not doing very good at. I didn’t do a very good job with the protections. I didn’t do a good enough job. Kids are doing great. It falls on me.
Can you talk about the flexibility of your offense and the different roles you have players in.
I think our guys like it because it gives them all a chance to play. It’s not like we line up and the only guy who gets the ball is the tailback and we’re going to throw it to his one receiver. We’re going to throw it to the best players, give the ball to our best players. But trying to teach them a system where they call can move around a little bit, where they call have a chance to be involved, we believe keeps them engaged, keeps them excited. Everybody likes to be involved.
Everybody wants to have a chance. We think we’ve done a good job at places of spreading the ball around. We’ve had places where a guy ahs caught 80 balls or whatever so we understand how to do that, but we do believe it’s harder to defend if we’ve got 5-6 guys catching 40 balls.
Beyond appreciating his attitude, now that you’ve had him at practice, how would you describe him as a running back in terms of what you want to highlight?
He’s fast, physical. He runs on a mission, a mission to go. He’s going to run downhill, put his head down. I’ve coached some pretty good guys. Guice has some things different than those guys have. He’s a really special player.