Shortly after being introduced as LSU’s interim football coach Monday, Ed Orgeron promised to make changes to the Tigers’ stale passing game.
Five days later, Orgeron introduced LSU fans, who have been starving for a creative passing attack to complement the power running game the team has relied on for so many years, to some offensive diversity.
From its first possession on, the results were like night and day for LSU in a 42-7 Southeastern Conference bashing of Missouri in its first game since coach Les Miles was fired Sunday. In fact, LSU finished with 634 total yards, a school record against an SEC opponent.
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Orgeron said Monday there would be a new offensive style, and he and new offensive coordinator Streve Ensminger certainly delivered on a short week.
With Ensminger calling plays from the press box, taking the role previously held by Cam Cameron, LSU started its first possession with four passes in a row — which quickly caught the attention of the paid crowd of 102,071 in Tiger Stadium.
On the first snap to Danny Etling, LSU spread the field with four wide receivers — Travin Dural, D.J. Chark, Malachi Dupre and Russell Gage — with Dural catching an 11-yard pass.
While it wasn’t the longest completion by any means, it sent a message.
There would be more of that, especially early in the game when Etling was asked to make short precise throws designed to move the chains.
“Coach Ensminger was basically just trying to make plays,” Etling said of the four pass attempts to start the game. “He was just trying to get the offense jump-started.”
It was exactly what Orgeron promised in saying LSU would be more proactive in finding ways to use its playmakers to move the ball down the field and keep drives going.
Even though Etling misfired on his next three passes after connecting with Dural, forcing LSU to punt, it was a refreshing and encouraging look for players and fans.
In addition to four wide receivers on that first drive, Ensminger kept Missouri’s defense guessing all night long by mixing the run with rhythmic passing while sprinkling in a few deep shots down the field.
“Well, we opened up with the passing game,” Orgeron said. “We loosened them up a little bit, just what the game plan was. Then, we put the run to them.
“We have a tremendous run game. We know that … we’ve got some tremendous running backs.”
The short passing game and various formations set up the run for LSU, which played without star tailback Leonard Fournette.
With Fournette sidelined by an ankle injury, LSU piled up 418 rushing yards on twin 100-yard games by Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams to go with 216 passing yards.
“The coaches worked hard to improve the offense within the offense,” Orgeron said. “I thought (Ensminger’s) play-calling was excellent.”
It showed with the formations and new personnel groupings.
Gage, who was moved from defensive back to wide receiver this spring, saw his first action at his new position, while sophomore Jazz Ferguson was also heavily involved and caught the first two passes of his career.
Fullbacks J.D. Moore and Bry’Keithon Mouton broke out of the backfield and lined up as wide receivers, while tight end Colin Jeter also was sent out wide on a few plays.
Yes, there were even three completions to the tight ends.
In addition to some new personnel groupings, LSU relied on an old friend: a run-heavy formation that calls for two tight ends, two wideouts and a back to crank up a running game that netted 263 yards and 9.4 yards per carry in the first half en route to a 21-0 lead going to the locker room.
Guice pounded out a career-high 163 yards and Williams picked up 103 yards, which went hand-in-hand with an efficient passing game that produced 216 yards on a 19-of-30 passing night for Etling.
Guice and Williams had three touchdowns each to complete an all-around dominating performance for an offense that went into the game ranked last in the 14-team SEC in passing with 147.8 yards per game.
“When we spread the defense out early, they didn’t know if we were going to run or pass it,” Moore said. “After we hit a few passes, it opened things up even more.”
Chark was one of the beneficiaries with three receptions for 58 yards, including a 41-yarder in the final quarter when he wrestled the ball away from Missouri cornerback Aarion Penton.
“That was definitely something new,” Chark said of the four-wide sets. “But I wasn’t shocked by it. Coach Ensminger told us this week that would happen, so he told us to just go out and execute it. He told us coming in that we were going to move the ball, and he kept his word.”