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LSU passing game coordinator Joe Brady provides instruction in a drill during spring practice, Thursday, March 14, 2019, at LSU's indoor practice facility in Baton Rouge, La.

The man tasked with vaulting the LSU offense into the new age took center stage.

The 28-year-old football coach epitomized newness by appearance: tightly-cut red hair, sharp black-rimmed glasses, an electric watch and lily-white Nike shoes.

Joe Brady was even introduced as LSU's "energetic" assistant coach as he climbed the platform at the LSU coaching clinic Friday afternoon.

Pacing the stage, LSU's new passing game coordinator told the crowd of Louisiana high school coaches "I'm not sure I'm too worthy to be on this stage right now."

But just over a month ago, LSU head coach Ed Orgeron called Brady a "game-changer," hiring him to a three-year, $400,000-per-year deal to help retool LSU's offense with the run-pass option schemes he learned as an assistant with Penn State and the New Orleans Saints.

And when spring practice began, as the cameras and microphones and tape recorders gathered to inquire about LSU's new-look offense, the Tigers turned coy, leaking out minor details that mostly pointed toward results instead of schemes.

You'll see more slant routes by wide receivers, Orgeron said. Playmakers will have more opportunities to make plays in space. 

You'll see more tight ends flexed out, said Thaddeus Moss, a tight end who added they'll be getting more opportunities to catch the ball.

When starting quarterback Joe Burrow was asked about some of the details in the new offense, he paused. Then laughed.

"I don't want to go too in-depth," Burrow said. "We don't want to give other teams insight into what we're doing."

And as the high school coaches listened Friday in a curtained area inside the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, Brady admitted everyone had been asking him about what he was going to say during his presentation.

But Brady committed to a lecture on offensive fundamentals, never saying the words "run-pass option," or its more commonly used acronym, "RPO."

So what, exactly, is the run-pass option? This term that's going to be frequently thrown out in press conferences and game broadcasts, turning into prattle while most of the public feign nods like English Lit majors sitting in on a physics lecture?

That question was better answered in another curtained area of the coaching clinic, where LSU offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger scrolled through film and pointed out reads and routes with a laser pointer.

Grab a seat and let's dive in.

The seventh defender

Imagine, if you will, a football field with six defenders.

Now, imagine you get six offensive players, evenly matched to block the defenders, one for one.

Simple right?

Now, the defense brings in a seventh defender. And no matter how you arrange your six guys, that pesky seventh defender just keeps getting through.

So how do you turn that seventh guy from a defensive advantage into a defensive liability?

The answer is within the root definition of the run-pass option offense — at least the one LSU is building.

See, like most offenses that have developed over football's history, there are several variations of the RPO, and their origins are blurry. Some reports say most of its concepts in modern college football likely were created on high school football fields.

Mike Kuchar, co-founder of X&O Labs, a research company for football coaches, agrees with that theory, citing eventual college coaches like Auburn's Gus Malzahn and Arkansas' Chad Morris.

But LSU's Brady draws his lineage to Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead, who, according to Sports Illustrated, essentially reverse-engineered his RPO offense while he was the head coach at Fordham, studying game film of Eastern Illinois.

Moorhead told The Advocate he can't pinpoint exactly where the genesis began; but the entire point of the RPO offense was to keep that pesky seventh defender from wrecking havoc.

"At the end of the day," Moorhead said, "what it came down to (was) if you hand off the ball to a tailback and there's an unblocked defender at the line of scrimmage, there's really nothing that running back can do except try to make him miss or run him over."

Perhaps you've seen this play out on your television. It happened to LSU frequently in 2018; the Tigers ranked 110th nationally with 89 tackles for loss allowed.

Teams like LSU have success with zone-read runs, when quarterbacks have the option to hand off the ball to a running back or keep it himself, depending on what a particular defender does. Defenses sometimes counter that option by blitzing an extra defender — that seventh player.

Essentially, Moorhead added a third option to the zone-read, playing off that seventh player with a playbook of different pass routes. 

For example, a quarterback could keep the football in a standard zone read, and when he noticed that seventh defender approaching, he could throw to a wide receiver who is running a pre-determined route that was placed right behind the defender.

Moorhead's RPO soared to success.

Moorhead led Fordham to three consecutive FCS playoffs from 2013-15. Then, as the offensive coordinator at Penn State from 2016-17, Moorhead's offenses averaged 39.4 points per game and vaulted the Nittany Lions to a 22-5 combined record with appearances in the Rose Bowl and Fiesta Bowl.

Brady learned under Moorhead as a graduate assistant at Penn State in 2016, and he still uses some of the same terminology.

At LSU's coaching clinic, Brady called his overall philosophy the "Chipotle Offense" — a Moorhead phrase, meaning "you can put a lot of stuff together and it can taste really good, but it's nothing really special."

And at the RPO's base, the most important part is identifying who that seventh defender is. 

Many teams defend modern spread offenses by using five defensive backs, while leaving six defenders in the box — the imaginary plane in between both offensive tackles — to rush the quarterback.

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On any play, a defense could introduce a seventh player into the box, and, as Ensminger pointed out at the clinic, it could be another defensive back or even a linebacker.

"Once we've identified who that person is," Moorhead said, "we find a way to read him within the scheme and find what the best route is to replace him."

Sometimes there can even be an extra option before the ball is even snapped.

Say the original RPO play is designed to go to the right. Burrow glances to the left and sees that the cornerback is playing off his wide receiver, permitting enough room for Burrow to sneak in a quick pass for a slant or an out or a hitch.

Burrow can then decide to forget the rest of the RPO, snap the ball, and throw it to his wide open receiver on the left.

If that quick route to the left isn't available — perhaps because that cornerback is pressed up tightly against the receiver — then Burrow can proceed to run the original play to the right.

It's the sort of pre-snap decisions that are common in most NFL RPO offenses, including the ones Brady ran with the Saints and with quarterback Drew Brees.

"I don't get bored at quick throws," Brady said. "I don't get bored at 5-yard routes. To me, this is a great drive-starter. This is a great way to just get some positive plays. You don't have to push the ball down the field."

'It's such an advantage now'

The RPO offense doesn't come without controversy.

One of the main reasons it has success is because defenders are anticipating a run play, and by the time they've already sold out on the run, it's too late to run backward to catch up with the open wide receiver.

Defenders have been historically trained to watch offensive linemen to tell whether a play is going to be a run or a pass: if they step forward, it's a run; if they step backward, it's a pass.

Offensive linemen are always run-blocking in the RPO, always accounting for that first option to run the football.

"You never know when you're going to run it or pass it," LSU center Lloyd Cushenberry said.

Ever since the forward pass was legalized in the early 20th century, rules have been put in place to ensure that offensive linemen don't get too far downfield before a pass is a thrown to gain an advantage.

In the NCAA, linemen can't advance more than 3 yards downfield. But the lack of enforcement of the penalty led to the destruction of plenty of headsets on the sideline, leading the NCAA rules committee to vote in 2016 to "stringently enforce" the rule.

"No one calls it anymore," Kuchar said. "It's such an advantage now."

"RPOs are cheating," ESPN analyst David Pollack, a former defensive end at Georgia, said before the LSU-Alabama game last season. "It's the worst thing in college football. This is why offenses go bananas."

The disguise at the line of scrimmage can also help solve two key issues for the LSU offense from last season: pass protection (LSU ranked 106th nationally with 35 sacks allowed), and red zone offense (119th nationally, with a 51.67 percent touchdown conversion rate).

RPOs help out struggling pass protections because defenders can get confused and quarterbacks are generally throwing quicker developing routes.

"We're getting rid of the ball quick," Orgeron said. "Our quarterback knows where to go with the ball, and we're not holding it."

And once a defense gets backed toward its goal line, its players don't have as much room or time to let a play develop.

"Constricted space forces defenders to declare their intentions and make quicker decisions," Moorhead said.

LSU: Penn State RPO

Big Ten Network

'The offense I finally want'

LSU will finish installing its RPO offense by the start of the 2019 season. But just how long does it take for a team to be successful at it?

Moorhead said it is "a little contingent upon personnel," and it requires an offense to be effective both as a passing offense and a running one.

Mississippi State struggled during its 8-5 season in 2018 in part because its offense was more dedicated to the run, while its quarterback, Nick Fitzgerald, passed for 1,767 yards, 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

X& OLabs' Kuchar said "quarterbacks making the decisions is the hardest transition in this thing," which bodes well for LSU's Burrow, who said he has been running RPOs since he was 13 years old.

"This is what I'm used to," said Burrow, who also ran RPOs at Ohio State before transferring as a graduate to LSU last year. "I can have a lot of input and have a lot of suggestions about where we're going."

But in order to get a defense to sell out for the run, Moorhead said, an offense must also be effective running the ball.

That's when defenses usually start adding that seventh defender.

LSU is returning Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who rushed for 658 yards and seven touchdowns in 2018, and adding incoming freshmen John Emery (the nation's No. 2 running back, according to 247Sports) and Tyrion Davis-Price (No. 8).

Paired with a receiving corps that returns every starter — including Justin Jefferson, who led the team with 875 yards and six touchdowns — the Tigers are set up with enough players to make a smooth transition. 

"I'm so fired up about our offense," Orgeron said. "I just see the offense I finally want."