KJ Malone has practiced in Matt Canada’s offense since the very beginning.

The LSU left tackle was there for its first installation this spring, at every practice and every meeting, devouring this new scheme. He was there over the summer for the second phase of installation, mostly done in meeting rooms. He’s been there all preseason practice, too, for the system’s “reinstallation,” as Canada called it.

After all of this, after the hundreds of live snaps, after the thousands of mental reps, Malone is still confused – and it’s a good thing for LSU fans.

“I can see how it’s hard for a defense to game plan around it, just because you don’t know who’s going to get the ball,” he said. “I’ve been with the offense through the spring, and I still don’t know who’s going to get the ball sometimes.”

Meet another facet of Canada’s new offense: the triple option.

No, not the old-fashioned, I-formation triple option that the service academies make so popular or the one Georgia Tech has used for the last decade to gouge teams on the ground.

This is a new-fangled triple option, one operated out of the shotgun, mainly, or the pistol formation. This one includes passing, too, a feature referred to in the coaching community as “RPO,” or run-pass option. In this one, nearly every offensive player can be an option to get a handoff or catch a pass: H-backs, tight ends, receivers, the quarterback and running back.

This is the new triple option, a scheme that coaches like Rich Rodriguez, Urban Meyer and even Gus Malzahn have employed. It’s now coming to LSU, say players and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda.

You'll see it Saturday night in the Superdome when the 13th-ranked Tigers meet BYU to open the season. 

“The offense we went against in the spring, it would be what I would imagine if we went against Navy or Army,” Aranda said during camp. “It’s triple option.”

Triple option LSU

This is one of Matt Canada's shovel option plays he ran while at Pitt last season. Here's a helpful Key to the progressing images of a single play:

- Red (1): Quarterback (option)

- Yellow (2): Running back (option pitch man)

- Orange (3): H-back (jet sweep)

- Blue (4): H-bcack (shovel)

Canada’s most notorious option play is his “shovel option,” and he runs the play in variations.

On both plays, the quarterback, in the shotgun, has the option for a shovel pass (1) to a running back, H-back or tight end. He also has a jet sweep option (2), as a receiver, running back or H-back races pre-snap from one side of the field to the other.

On some plays, a third option (3) presents itself after the quarterback abandons those first two: the traditional option. The QB sweeps wide, with the running back as a pitch man a few yards away.

Canada’s Pitt-led offense ran this a host of times in a win over eventual national champion Clemson last season. Brian Griese, the former Super Bowl-winning quarterback who’s now an analyst, called that game for ESPN.

“We talked to (Clemson defensive coordinator) Brent Venables about this,” Griese says on air after a shovel option play gains 8 yards. “It’s almost like defending the Georgia Tech triple option when they run that right there.”

Triple option LSU

This is another shovel option in Matt Canada's offense. In this one, the quarterback, Pitt's Nathan Peterman, does indeed complete the shovel option pass. The black circle is the ball.

- Red (1): Quarterback (passer)

- Yellow (2): Receiver (jet sweep)

- Orange (3): H-back (shovel)

- Blue (4): Receiver (pass route)

The shovel pass is just a power-running play with a twist, Griese says. Instead of handing the ball to a running back for an inside zone run or calling a quarterback keeper up the gut, you flip the ball to a 260-pound tight end or a 225-pound H-back.

“It’s really the same play we see from a lot of spread teams that do it with their quarterbacks,” Griese said. “They’re just adding a shovel element to it because they don’t want to run their quarterback. … It’s just a power play. We see it every week in college football. It’s just a little bit different wrinkle.”

There is a passing element (4) in a few of these shovel plays to add a fourth option – that run-pass option that we discussed earlier. The quarterback can ditch that jet sweep, bypass the shovel play, ignore the running back and then, yes, pass down field.

“Even in the running plays, it’s got pass plays in it,” said receiver Stephen Sullivan.

Linebacker Devin White has battled the offense for the last few months in practice.

“It’s the hardest thing to defend in the world,” he said. “You’ve got so much different movements going on. You can say it’s option. He’s got options to run and pass in same play. It’s hard. They know what they’re doing, but I don’t know what they’re doing. That’s the glory of it.”

Discipline is key for a defensive player competing against Canada’s offense, Aranda says. It’s so easy for players to be fooled, and predicting the quarterback’s decision is not a good route either.

“There are so many people who can get the ball,” LaCouture said. “You think it’s going here and it’s going somewhere totally different.”

For defenders, they’re just ready to see it in action against someone other than themselves. For Aranda, he’s excited in knowing that no offense LSU faces this season, he suggests, will be as complex.

“Now that we've been through all that, you look at some of the people we’re playing,” he said, “and after playing Matt, you’re like ‘Oh, that’s all they do?’”


The Advocate has dived into Matt Canada's offense, writing a host of pieces on LSU's new scheme:

Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter, @RossDellenger.