Ed Orgeron was dropping hints Monday during his first weekly video news conference. Hints about the LSU Tigers’ offense and what it may look like in this strange and new season his team embarks upon Saturday one-quarter-filled Tiger Stadium.
The emphasis on the passing game is not about to evaporate at LSU. But if you listened carefully to what Coach O was saying, it certainly sounds like the running game is poised to make something of a comeback.
HINT NO. 1: With all that LSU has lost, plus the lost time in the offseason, the efficiency and chemistry of the passing attack with new quarterback Myles Brennan and his new wide receivers simply isn’t there yet.
“He's learning the offense,” Orgeron said of Brennan. “I think the spring kind of hurt for him not being with us, or us not practicing with his receivers, but I think he did a good job of catching up during COVID and catching up in the summertime. He was very accurate with the football in all three scrimmages. The only thing that we don't know, and I do believe that he's going to do very well, is how he's going to do in the fire. The only way to know that is put him in the fire.
“I think that takes time for him and his receivers to get the timing down and hopefully he can improve in that throughout the year.”
No Joe Burrow, no Ja’Marr Chase, no Justin Jefferson, even no Clyde Edwards-Helaire, the running back who often got split out wide to the boundary in LSU’s five-receiver sets. That obviously changes things immensely.
LSU's initial depth chart provided some clarity on the open cornerback positions, and it listed junior college transfer Ali Gaye as a starter at left defensive end for the first time.
HINT NO. 2: Brennan is going to be taking orders in this offense more than Burrow did.
Burrow had a lot of autonomy, a lot of input into LSU’s offensive game plans last season — emphasis on last season. He didn’t have as much as a first-year starter in 2018, when it was Burrow who was a starter for the first time after two backup seasons at Ohio State.
Brennan, clearly, will have to work up to that kind of input.
“I trust Myles,” Orgeron said. “He's become a team leader.”
“Joe earned his way. I put Joe in his second year. I said, ‘Listen, if there are some plays that you want to run, you let me know, let coach (Steve) Ensminger know. If there's some stuff that you don't like, let me know.’ That's how much I trusted Joe. That was after a year of starting, and that was after a year of leading the team. This is Myles's first year, so obviously he'll have some input, but it's basically yes sir, no sir right now and go out there and do your job. That's it.”
And a lot of his job is going to be handing off to running backs.
HINT NO. 3: Orgeron had a lot of praise for the running backs room. Yes, Edwards-Helaire is now churning out yards for the Kansas City Chiefs. But the Tigers are going with a committee of running backs this season, a committee led by new No. 18 Chris Curry, John Emery and Tyrion Davis-Price, plus freshman Kevontre Bradford. Coach O went out of his way to add a fifth name to the mix: Josh Williams, a walk-on who impressed the staff enough to be awarded one of three scholarships LSU had available going into the fall.
If LSU has one strength on offense, Orgeron said in an eye-opening moment, he feels it is his running backs.
“We feel we have five backs that can go in the game and do very well,” he said.
LSU's interior defensive line took a slight depth hit during preseason camp. True freshman Jacobian Guillory, a former four-star defensive tac…
None of this is to suggest LSU is going back to the 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust offensive approach under Les Miles. An approach that Orgeron immediately changed in his first game as interim head coach back in 2016 against Missouri, giving more line to the passing game. And certainly, 2019 was a revolutionary year in LSU offensive annals. If the Tigers went away from that, it would result in a revolt of fans.
But, Orgeron has often always preached balance in the offense, balance LSU was closer to last season than it may seem. The Tigers threw the ball 567 times in 2019 but ran it 513. That’s a surprisingly close 52.5%-47.5% pass-run ratio. LSU could be 53-47 the other way in 2020 and still have a dynamic offense.
Lastly, why not run the ball more, especially this Saturday against a Mississippi State team that is going to be winging it all over the yard under Mike Leach? The Bulldogs are going to have their growing pains in their new offense as well, but it would be wise for LSU to try to control the clock while trying to grow the passing side of the offense.