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LSU wide receiver Drake Davis (14) makes the catch on an 87-yard reception thrown by LSU quarterback Danny Etling in the second half of LSU's 35-26 win over Syracuse, Saturday, September 23, 2017, at LSU's Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La.

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK

For LSU's group of wide receivers, the most telling offensive play of last week's game against Syracuse was an incomplete pass that had no effect on the result of the game.

With about 6:35 to play in the first quarter, receivers Drake Davis and Russell Gage stacked out wide to the left of quarterback Danny Etling, while Derrick Dillon went to the opposite side and DJ Chark went in motion, joining Dillon on the right.

The play was a bust. The Orange defensive ends forced Etling to flee the pocket. He barely escaped before throwing the ball up to Davis, who had no hope of catching the high ball along the sideline.

But the end of the play wasn't so significant. The start of it was.

It took a little more than 188 minutes of game time, 35 offensive possessions and 65 pass attempts, but for the first time all season, LSU lined up in a four-wide set.

Just a few weeks earlier, after a 45-10 win over Chattanooga, coach Ed Orgeron expressed a desire for LSU to run a four-wide set, then immediately said he didn't think his team had the right tools. A few days later, he said: "I don't think you'll see it much this year."

Orgeron’s major hesitation was that LSU didn’t have enough good receivers to put four of them on the field at the same time. With so many receivers entering the season with such little experience, it isn’t hard to see where those concerns originated.

But then offensive coordinator Matt Canada made the call.

And while the play itself was a failure, it seemed to show LSU’s faith in its receivers is growing.

“It's another good tool for us to use and another play that we’ve been trying to implement,” Etling said. “We wanted to make sure we had the right guys out there and good personnels.

“I think the receivers have been working very hard and continue to grow and keep getting better and learning all the plays and making sure we’re all on the same page. That was a testament to all their hard work last week. I think we showed them, if you do what you’re supposed to do, we have faith in you.”

But Orgeron’s worries haven’t been lifted entirely just yet.

He still doesn’t think the four-wide set will be something LSU runs often this season.

For starters, LSU still doesn’t have a group of consistent receivers.

The Tigers rely heavily on contributions from about five receivers: Chark, Gage, Dillon, Davis and Stephen Sullivan.

Canada mixes and matches the group to create different looks. Against Syracuse, LSU showed 10 different groupings, including the four-wide formation.

The majority are two-receiver sets, but the most popular group last week was Gage, Chark and Sullivan (eight snaps). It isn't unusual for LSU to run three-wide sets, but tight end Foster Moreau is almost always included.

Orgeron said he hopes to develop young players like Dee Anderson or JaCoby Stevens and include them in future four-wide looks, but they aren’t there yet.

Stevens is still learning the position after switching from defensive back during camp and moved around the offense the last few weeks to wide receiver, tight end and running back in the hopes of putting the ball in his hands one way or the other.

Anderson only recently returned to practice after battling injuries during camp and has not played in a game.

It also holds LSU back that Sullivan and Davis — the team’s two best deep threats — don’t go on the field at the same time. They both play the "X" position and aren’t equipped to move to any other spots.

“We're not ready to make a living out of that,” Orgeron said of the four-wide set Monday. “We're not well-versed in it. We haven't practiced it a bunch, and we feel like we can’t have a lot of success in four wides right now.”

Even if they aren’t running it in games, Chark said the Tigers are practicing it plenty during the week.


LSU wants to run the four-wide sets for the matchup issues it posses to the defense, making them choose between a bigger run stopper or a smaller defensive back to cover the expanded passing options.

With Moreau on the field, opponents can choose the bigger option.

On the other hand, LSU struggled with pass protection this season and Moreau is a valuable asset to an offensive line that can use all the help it can get.

Last week may have been only the first step down a long road to running the four-wide set on a consistent basis, but it’s where the Tigers want to eventually end up.

“It felt good having other guys in that are in the same room with me,” Chark said. “A lot of speed guys, so you can’t just cover me because there’s other receivers you have to respect. It’s something we’re going to try to perfect.”

Follow Mike Gegenheimer on Twitter, @Mike_Gegs.