If all goes as planned, LSU’s 2018 red-zone offense won’t look anything like the 2017 version.
The offense as a whole will make a drastic change as the Tigers shift from the Matt Canada era of play-calling to what’s being portrayed as a more simple, traditional scheme under Steve Ensminger. But the red zone, moreso than just about anywhere else, will undergo major alterations.
Change is needed.
The Tigers were not effective inside the 20-yard line in 2017. In 56 attempts inside the red zone, LSU scored points 43 times; of the 130 teams in Division I, only 25 had a lower conversion rate.
In the past decade, no LSU team has been less effective in the red zone than the 2017 Tigers. From 2008 to 2016, LSU averaged an 86 percent conversion rate with a low of 78.72 percent in 2014 and a high of 93.44 percent in 2011.
Of SEC teams' 132 seasons over the past 10 years, only 25 had a worse conversion rate than 2017 LSU.
LSU knows what the problem is and is on a mission to fix it.
“We’re opening it up in the red zone a bit more,” running back Nicholas Brossette said. “We’re not going to be this one-identity thing. That’s about it. Just getting more comfortable in the playbook and executing.
“We’ve been watching some pro teams, but we have to focus on us first. We have to get better at our craft and better at our offense, so we can execute.”
Running backs Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams shouldered the bulk of the red-zone workload last year. The duo scored 21 of LSU’s 33 touchdowns and ran the ball on 81 of the 145 total plays run in the red zone.
Even when they weren’t touching the ball, it was usually someone else taking the handoff. LSU only threw 33 passes inside the red zone with 23 completions.
Seeing as the run-heavy scheme didn’t work, LSU is looking to go to the air this time around.
Wide receivers coach Jerry Sullivan has been working with Ensminger extensively to install the new red-zone offense.
Wide receiver Jonathan Giles said LSU is experimenting with a variety of pass schemes, from bunch sets to five-wide sets, a potentially major shift for an offense that rarely ran four-wide sets from anywhere on the field in 2017.
Fans expecting to see a flawless offense in LSU’s spring game Saturday may be disappointed.
Myles Brennan is the only LSU quarterback on the roster with a red-zone passing attempt; he was 2 for 2 with a touchdown against Troy.
“Coach Canada did a good job in the red zone running the ball," Giles said. "We had good backs in Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams. This year, with all the talent we have at the receiver position, we can air it out. We’ll probably be doing different sets, five-receive sets and bunch sets.”
The lone bright spot in the red zone last season? When LSU managed to score, it usually was a touchdown.
Its 33 touchdowns were fourth-most since 2008, pushing them to No. 80 nationally with a 58.93 conversion rate.
So if touchdowns weren’t the problem, that leaves the bulk of the failures on the shoulders of LSU’s kickers, a group that took its share of beatings last season through near-constant turmoil and criticism.
Eight of LSU’s 13 unsuccessful trips to the red zone were missed field goals. For the most part, those misses didn’t alter the outcome of the game — except for when they did in a big way.
Two missed field goals against Notre Dame meant six missed points, which would have been enough for a bowl win, and a missed field goal against Troy was the difference-maker in a loss that haunted the Tigers.
LSU worked to address those concerns this offseason with the signing of Cole Tracy out of Division II Assumption. Tracy won the 2017 Fred Mitchell Award given to the top kicker in the FCS, Division II, Division III or the NJCAA. Tracy will join the team in the summer.
“(We’ll) continue to give Jack (Gonsulin) and Connor (Culp) a chance, but we’ve got to go get the best kicker available,” Orgeron said after the regular-season finale against Texas A&M. “We’re going to go find the best guy available. Getting tight on scholarships, but if we can find one that we think that’s great, that could take those guys’ place, we’re going to take him. If he’s not better, we’ve got to get those guys better.”
“Put 2-9 in,” a disgruntled Nick Saban said into his headsets.