It was just a glimpse, really, a fleeting snapshot before the lightning began to menace Tiger Stadium and rendered the idea of an outdoor spring game a needless risk — even in a football-mad place like this.
But before the night sky split and crackled and once again gave lie to the notion that it never rains in Tiger Stadium (I’m still damp from the 1988 Miami game), fans filled up a good portion of the lower bowl to see the show, to see what the new version of LSU’s offense looks like under $1.5 million man Matt Canada.
The spring game didn’t answer every question you had about this LSU football team. They never do. But while it lasted, it was a high-speed entertaining show, a compelling match of wits between two of the richest and most talked-about coordinators in the college game: Canada and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda.
It was even amusing to watch Canada run back and forth between the sidelines as the ball changed possessions from White to Purple and back again.
In a word, LSU’s offense was different. Vastly different from the philosophy fans came to know for most of a generation under Les Miles. Former Tigers who returned as spring game captains like Odell Beckham Jr., Matt Mauck and Tommy Hodson had to wish they could reset the Wayback Machine and take a few snaps in the Canada system.
There was vertigo-inducing motion, right from the very first snap. There were some plays on which all the skill position players shifted. There were other plays on which some of the linemen shifted, as well — great slabs of granite like left tackle K.J. Malone rumbling from one end of the formation to the other — resetting the chess board from what you think of as being a “normal” offensive set, at least by LSU standards.
And there were jet sweeps galore — at least 10 in the time we saw the Tigers on the field before the weather moved in, almost as many jets as take off from Baton Rouge Metropolitan on a given day (not really; no angry emails from BTR, please).
“There were a lot of things,” coach Ed Orgeron said, “we didn’t show.”
Different doesn’t necessarily mean better, though.
If you were underwhelmed by the effectiveness of the Canada attack that’s still in the embryonic stage, you’re not alone. Orgeron is right with you, maintaining after the White team with most of the offensive starters lost to the Purple 26-7 that once again that the quarterback job remains open despite the overwhelming amount of experience resting in senior Danny Etling’s corner.
Orgeron said the injury-hampered offensive line got “overpowered” without starters Will Clapp and Toby Weathersby. That may have hampered the performance of quarterback Danny Etling, but that didn’t stop Orgeron from expressing displeasure with the senior’s performance (4 of 11 passing for 53 yards, interception) or from saying that he still doesn’t have a clear-cut starter.
“He didn’t play good, but he’s had some good days,” said Orgeron, who added he’s still looking for a “dominant” quarterback. “He didn’t play the way we wanted him to play. That’s why we’re going to keep it open.
“It’s going to stay open until someone proves they’re our No. 1 quarterback. Nobody has earned the starting spot. You could see it tonight. Guys didn’t perform well under pressure, so they have to show me who performs under pressure and can get ready to be the LSU quarterback.”
It’s also worth remembering that Etling and Co. were going up against one of college football’s best defenses from last season. It was a defense that had some key holes to fill and looked, at least on first glance, as though they had been filled quite capably.
For Exhibits A and B, we give you Kevin Toliver, who’s sliding into Tre’Davious White’s spot at cornerback, and Devin White, who takes over for former senior Duke Riley at linebacker. Both made huge impressions with a string of pass deflections, tackles and, in Toliver’s case, an interception that set up the Purple team’s touchdown on a 1-yard run by Lanard Fournette.
“It was a defensive night,” Orgeron said.
It wasn’t a perfect performance by any means, aptly interrupted by a storm front. If you’re not convinced that LSU’s offense is ready to produce record numbers this fall, you still have cause to feel that way.
That said, leave it on this note: If LSU showed this much motion and shifting and vastly different looks in the spring game with everyone watching, what will the Tigers have in store when they take the field on Sept. 2 against BYU?