LSU’s offense hasn’t quite looked like itself lately.
It’s not the struggling offensive line, the out-of-sync passing game or sophomore running back Leonard Fournette’s pedestrian numbers in back-to-back losses to Alabama and Arkansas. The difference is in the formation and personnel.
The Tigers (7-2, 4-2 Southeastern Conference) have strayed away from the I-formation, a staple in coach Les Miles’ run-heavy scheme. LSU, No. 15 in the new College Football Playoff rankings, has ramped up its usage of single-back and shotgun alignments since sophomore fullback JD Moore’s season-ending knee injury.
As far as Miles is concerned, the variety in formations is a good thing.
“I think that’s something that our coaches want to do,” he said. “I think we want to have the ability to push them around a little bit with two-back and tight ends and a little bit more physical brand of football, as well as use the finesse and the ability to throw and pop some really quality runs in one back.”
But the Tigers looked far more like a spread offense in their 31-14 loss to Arkansas on Saturday. They ran only five of their 32 first-half plays out of the I-formation and used a fullback on just two other snaps, both in the Pistol.
Sophomore quarterback Brandon Harris completed 21-of-35 passes — both career highs — in the multiple-receiver sets, though the Tigers were playing from behind for most of the night.
Regardless of the formation, LSU hasn’t gotten much push up front or continuity from the offense in its back-to-back losses. Next up for the Tigers is No. 25 Ole Miss (7-3, 4-2) and its athletic defensive front, which they’ll face at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Oxford, Mississippi.
Redshirt freshman offensive guard Will Clapp said the different alignments don’t significantly affect the offensive line and its blocking scheme.
“If it’s a run play, we’re going to come off the ball and open up those holes,” Clapp said. “In pass protection, we’re going to try to give Brandon some time. We’re not really changing anything that we do either under center or shotgun.”
A touching tribute
Every time Jalen Mills checked the news, the number had increased.
LSU’s senior defensive back had just gotten to his room in the on-campus Lod Cook Hotel, where the football team customarily stays the night before home games, when he first heard of the terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday. The death toll rose in the five-minute span Mills was out of his room.
When he returned from a team meeting later that evening, it had climbed even higher. More than 120 people died in coordinated attacks across Paris, and Mills wore an Eiffel Tower on his jersey during the Tigers’ game against Arkansas on Saturday to show support for the victims and their families.
“It was just crazy that you know that type of stuff is going on in the world,” he said.
Though LSU trudged through its loss to the Razorbacks, the team offered its own tribute to the people of France before the game. Junior left tackle Jerald Hawkins hoisted the French flag as he led his teammates out of the tunnel, and Tiger Stadium held a moment of silence for the victims before kickoff.
Miles said he needed to be talked into letting his team run onto the field with the flag, a decision he made “very late in the pregame.”
“The wisdom of connecting with people that are disadvantaged and suffered the terrible tragedy of terrorism, which is not only a national but an international issue, I felt like it was the right thing,” Miles said. “I had to hear the specifics, and once I did, it was the right thing.”
Mills said tragedies like the one in Paris make football seem trivial.
“Of course we love the game, but it’s also bigger than a game,” he said. “That’s actual people’s lives that are gone. Those are people’s lives that can’t come back. I don’t wish that on anybody.”