Critics moaned for years about LSU’s former offense.
That archaic, run-heavy attack left Tiger Stadium partially full, an offense devoid of the fireworks that the rest of college football was launching. The old-fashioned, I-formation scheme was partially behind the sweeping changes administrators made last season.
The Tigers turned back to that offense this past week, reverting to the trusty scheme that helped lead the program to rousing wins over top-flight teams.
How did it work out?
“That wasn’t working,” tight end Foster Moreau said.
Troy delivered a blow to Ed Orgeron’s early tenure as LSU’s head coach on Saturday night, beating the Tigers 24-21 at Tiger Stadium.
The game itself painted a nasty picture alone. The offense did not convert a third down (it had eight tries) in a game for the first time in three years. Two players lost fumbles, and each quarterback threw an interception.
The postgame scene, in many ways, spoke to a deeper issue.
Dysfunction and disconnect appear to be growing on that side of the ball, potentially between the head coach and his offensive coordinator. In his postgame comments, Orgeron twice mentioned the play-calling.
“We’ve got to call better plays,” Orgeron said at one point.
In responding to a question about the team that won the Citrus Bowl and this one, Orgeron listed several differences including, “the way we called plays,” he said.
The coach lamented Matt Canada's alleged play-call on the game’s opening play — a run to Nick Brossette that the running back fumbled. Orgeron wanted senior running back Darrel Williams to get the carry.
“Our third-string back got the ball. I was not aware we were going to do that,” he said. “I think that’s not the way we ought to start the game.”
Pressed on the issue, Orgeron said each call is routed through him and that he “should have checked it.”
“No pointing the fingers at anybody,” he said. “If I could have had that call back, Darrel would have got the ball.”
As expected, LSU’s loss to Troy knocked the Tigers out of the poll major polls.
LSU isn’t just shuffling its quarterbacks. The Tigers are shuffling offenses, and five games into the season, they’re still searching for an identity — something in which the now-defunct system of Les Miles never had a problem.
LSU has failed to crack 175 yards rushing in three straight games for the first time since 2012. Even the program’s age-old rock — a physically overpowering running attack — seems to be withering away and at the worst time.
The Tigers, 3-2 and no longer ranked in either poll for the first time in a year, travels to No. 21 Florida (3-1) on Saturday to begin seven straight Southeastern Conference games.
Anonymous college coaches spoke to YahooSports! for a story posted Sunday morning on the website, all of them critical of LSU on both sides of the ball. One referred to the Tigers as “soft.” The only on-the-record comment came from former LSU defensive lineman and ESPN analyst Booger McFarland.
“My biggest fear when they hired Matt Canada was LSU getting soft, and it’s happening before our eyes,” McFarland told the site. “They’re not physical on the line of scrimmage. It’s a byproduct of the offense, which goes side-to-side. They’ve lost the ability to go north-south and be physical.”
LSU attempted to turn to that this past week at practice, something Orgeron referred to earlier in the week as a “simplification” of Canada’s scheme.
The Tigers trimmed the presnap shifts and motions and even worked some older blocking techniques for a struggling offensive line that played Saturday with two true freshmen and without starting lead blocker JD Moore.
“As you probably noticed, we didn’t motion or shift much in the first quarter. We just kind of wanted to go T for T and see what we could do as that went, trying to resort back to some old, old playing styles we sort of did, play some smash-mouth LSU football,” Moreau said. “I and our other teammates love to do that.”
Moreau admitted that the team reverted back to more of Canada's scheme later in the game, but drives stalled once into Troy territory for whatever reason. Orgeron pointed to the quarterback position for the passing woes.
“Missed some throws. Had some guys open and missed some reads,” he said. “Didn’t protect well. Overall breakdowns.”
The coach called the rotation between freshman Myles Brennan and senior Danny Etling “a difficult deal right now.”
“We can’t move the ball, missing some key plays with Danny in there,” he said. “Giving Myles a chance. It’s not his fault. Doesn’t have the experience.”
Nothing seems to be working — the insertion of a new quarterback or that simplifying of a motion-filled offense.
“Back to the drawing board,” Orgeron said.
Some players took the blame Saturday night, especially receivers and Etling. They expressed “frustration” with themselves in a passing offense that’s averaging 216 yards a game (77th nationally).
Senior receiver DJ Chark suggested that Canada’s offensive system is not to blame because “it worked where he was” before arriving in Baton Rouge.
“We just have to execute and it comes down on us. I really believe that it’s nothing that the coaches can do right now,” he said. “It’s definitely a players issue.”
Added receiver Russell Gage: “There’s nothing wrong with (the offense). It’s not broken. We just have to execute.”
Etling says the team has shown “flashes” in spurts offensively, but has struggled in long, productive drives.
“We stalemate and we miss out on making the plays and things of that nature. Those are tough things to even coach — making plays when they’re there,” he said. “It’s something we’ve got to put on ourselves as players.”
Orgeron admitted Saturday that his team has regressed from that 27-0 win in the season opener over a BYU team that dropped to 1-4 over the weekend. The coach can’t really explain why.
Practices and meetings have been the same as when he took over in the interim last season, a 5-2 run that helped earn him the full-time job. They all have the same energy and fire, the coach said.
Even center Will Clapp on Saturday night expressed similar feelings.
“I’ve been around here for a while and I can tell when it’s not a good practice week. I didn’t think it was a bad practice week,” he said. “Guys were into it and had energy.”
So what now for the offense?
Answered Chark: “Wish I could see into the future, but we’re going to find out Monday. We just have to be better. No matter what the coaches do and say, at the end of the day, they can’t go put out the pads. Whatever they call, we’ve got to make it work.”