Matt Canada didn't wait long.
LSU’s new offensive coordinator showed off his snazzy, shift-heavy scheme on the very first play of the spring game Saturday night in Tiger Stadium.
Quarterback Danny Etling opened under center but quickly shifted into the shotgun before the snap. During the formation shift, three receivers motioned from out wide to inside. There they were, all bunched up in the backfield, a trio of wideouts. Etling handed off to one of them, too, giving to speedster D.J. Chark.
And get this: Canada didn’t use a fullback in the first 20 plays of the spring game.
Indeed, change is here, but the result wasn’t what coach Ed Orgeron wanted.
“It was a defensive night, man. Tonight was defense,” Orgeron said. “It hasn’t happened all spring. The offense did a tremendous job all spring, but tonight is the defense’s night. I don’t think we played very well on offense. Coach Canada is a little disappointed in the performance, but I have confidence we’re going to get better.”
The fireworks were there if you were looking for presnap movement and jetsweeps.
At times, LSU shifted more than three players before the snap. Sometimes a single player shifted three times before Etling or backup quarterback Justin McMillan snapped the ball.
In the first 40 plays, LSU employed about 14 jet-sweep motions (handing it off about seven times), the package Canada is known for. The tempo changed sporadically, too, another Canada staple. LSU switched from a no-huddle, up-tempo pace to a slower huddle tempo — often times doing it in the midst of a drive.
There were so many other wrinkles that were rarely seen on this field the past decade. There was a rollout run-pass option for Etling near the goal line, and Canada flashed three different formations before a single snap at one point. Tackles shifted from one side of the center to the other, too.
The problem: The offense didn’t score much.
It was just a glimpse, really, a fleeting snapshot before the lightning began to menace Tige…
In about four series, the Etling-led first string offense scored just a field goal against the starting defense. Lightning then suspended play an hour in. LSU officials switched to their contingency plan: They moved the game to the indoor practice facility, where only media was allowed to watch.
The lightning suspension began at 8 p.m. Within 20 minutes, the game was restarted in front of a fraction of the 35,000 that filled the bottom bowl of Tiger Stadium in the first night spring game since the mid-1990s.
Players quickly loaded onto the bus for the short drive across Nicholson Drive to the indoor arena.
“The bus was delayed for a second. That was all that was delayed,” Orgeron said. “We competed. Gold team won, 26-7. Gold team eats steak on Monday. Purple team eats beanie weenies.”
Meanwhile, LSU’s quarterback battle will continue raging, the coach said in his post-game news conference. Players were not made available to reporters.
“Here’s the deal: Nobody has earned the starting spot,” Orgeron said of the battle between Etling, McMillan, Lindsey Scott and Lowell Narcisse. “You can see tonight. If we had to name a starter tonight, there’s not a clear-cut winner.”
Etling received most of the first-team reps for much of spring practice, and he was “awesome” over the last 14 practices, Orgeron said. He finished 4-of-11 for 53 yards on Saturday.
“Tonight with the pressure and stuff, didn’t protect him, balls were off, just didn’t look like we were in sync,” Orgeron said. “He didn’t play good. Bottom line. He didn’t have a good night. He’s had some good days, but today wasn’t one of his better nights. I don’t know if any of the quarterbacks played like the way we want them to play.”
Dave Scheib is to blame.
How would he like his quarterbacks to play? Like Joe Montana, Orgeron answered.
"I’d like the quarterback to be a dominant football player. I like the quarterback to be able to take over the game," he said. "I don’t know if we have that quarterback yet. So if we don’t have that quarterback, we’re going to have to have a quarterback that can manage the game, get the balls to the receivers, protection, short throws first and not make mistakes."
Etling didn't have his complete line. Will Clapp, set to be LSU's starting center, and Toby Weathersby, the projected right tackle, were out while recovering from offseason surgeries. Receivers — Russell Gage, Chark and Drake Davis started — dropped several passes, too.
And then there's defensive coordinator Dave Aranda's wizardry. You can't forget that, Orgeron said.
"I think defense was tired of getting their butts kick all spring," the coach said. "I think the defensive coaches did a tremendous job of getting them ready. Dave Aranda is an excellent play-caller. He’s had 15 practices to defend Matt. He knows what hurts Matt. He did it tonight."