Les Miles finally saw the light.
College football in the past decade has changed faster than Trindon Holliday returning a kickoff, with its spread offenses and hurry-up formations. So Miles, hardly the fool he’s often portrayed to be, threw his cautious, conservative, Midwestern instincts to the wind and went and hired himself a cutting-edge defensive coordinator.
Welcome to the Aranda era.
Dave Aranda’s amorphous, avant-garde defensive philosophy has its foundations in a base 3-4 setup, the defensive formation sweeping the game. The 3-4 gives the best chance at an antidote to spread offenses with more options for linebackers and defensive backs.
But Aranda shoots the works with two to five down linemen, depending on the situation. His intent is to be as unpredictable as the offenses he’s trying to stop.
Well, make that as unpredictable as most offenses.
While Miles sent a signal with Aranda’s hiring that he has accepted the times in which he coaches in terms of his defense — which arguably is now tilted toward the futuristic — his offense has remained rooted in the mid-1970s in which Miles played his college ball.
In computer terms, LSU’s defense is now in the cloud. Its offense is still like the first home computer my dad bought in 1978 — an Apple II with a tape deck (not even floppy disk) external drive. And a black-and-white monitor.
Aranda’s defense is an all-electric car. Miles’ preferred mode of offensive transportation has been the 1976 Chevy Impala coupe land yacht that gets eight gallons to the mile and leaks oil all over the carport.
Aranda’s defense is streaming music. And something tells me he’s a Justin Timberlake fan. Miles listens to oldies (and some Snoop Dogg) on vinyl LPs.
Now, vinyl has made a comeback in recent years. Nothing wrong with that. Just like there’s nothing wrong with LSU’s power run-oriented offense.
Seriously, if Miles decided to throw the ball 40 times a game and only handed off to Leonard Fournette like 11 times, fans would be screaming their indignation in another way. And the Tigers also have Derrius Guice, the hard-running sophomore who could be starting for most other Southeastern Conference teams, a superb counter-punch to Fournette’s bruising style. LSU would be crazy to stray from its run-oriented roots with a pair of backs like that.
But there’s being predictable and there’s being unpredictable, as LSU’s defense is expected to be. LSU’s offense is all “Here we come; try to stop us.”
Most can’t. Alabama, and some of the other top defensive teams the Tigers play, like Florida, can. And LSU can’t hope to fulfill its potential of being a College Football Playoff-caliber team with a couple of losses.
Miles, we hear, is ready to modernize his offense. But the question is, can he ever truly be willing to be as experimental on offense as his hire of Aranda shows him to be on defense?
Sticking with Cam Cameron as offensive coordinator is a predictor of the status quo. Not that Cameron can’t call a more progressive offense; Miles has to have the willingness to let him do it. To spread the offense out, even while still being committed to the run. To mix in some up-tempo. To opt for some run-pass option or pistol formations.
To show some faith in Brandon Harris as a passer, not just as the middle man between center Ethan Pocic and Fournette.
We saw LSU throw the ball 23 times and roll up more than 600 yards and 56 points against Texas Tech in the Texas Bowl, but the Red Raiders were a JV team in terms of defense. We saw some pistol in LSU’s spring game. But, to quote the great orator Allen Iverson, we’re talking about practice.
When the Tigers line up Sept. 3 against Wisconsin, when the score really counts, will we see them in anything like four-wide, single-back sets? How effective might Fournette be if the defense has to cover receivers and tight ends all over the field? It would be interesting to find out.
Justifiable skepticism remains that LSU will break out of its two-tight-ends-and-a-fullback mold. But it’s time.
Time for LSU’s offense to take a cue from its defense and join the 21st century.