Ed Orgeron stood at the front of a room filled with LSU fans and boosters about a dozen times this spring and summer, part of a statewide speaking tour that didn’t end until preseason camp began July 31.
It's been an offseason full of pressing questions for the LSU Tigers.
He put on a show each time, a sometimes-scripted spiel that had them crowing with laughter or sighing in awe over the upcoming season. He touched on his players’ offseason weight-room sessions, how he landed the full-time job as LSU’s head coach and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda’s quirky, cerebral approach to football.
He spoke, too, about the daylong job interview he conducted in December with the guy he eventually hired to be his offensive coordinator.
Matt Canada drew up plays on a whiteboard, Orgeron said, and the two watched film of Canada’s old offenses that day in the school’s football facility. Canada pointed to some of his more gimmicky plays in the red zone, like touchdown-scoring reverses and passes to offensive tackles.
“Hey, Matt, that’s great and all,” Orgeron said he told Canada. “We’ve got a guy named Derrius Guice. If you don’t give the ball to him, they’re going to run us both out of Baton Rouge.”
Laughter ensued from whatever crowd in whatever city — New Orleans, Lafayette, Lake Charles or Mandeville.
LSU offensive coordinator Matt Canada doesn't mince words about running back Derrius Guice. "Derrius Guice is awesome," the Tigers' first-year offensive coordinator said on "Off the Bench" with Jordy Culotta and T-Bob Hebert on Friday morning on 104.9 FM ESPN in Baton Rouge...
In all seriousness, though, what will Canada do in high-pressure red-zone situations? What will he do on third-and-11 from midfield? What about first-and-10 backed up inside his team's 5-yard line?
Those answers depend on this one: What offense will Canada choose to run in Baton Rouge? It’s one of the more important and hard-to-answer questions as the 2017 season approaches.
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It’s a mystery, really — a riddle that has gone unsolved so far. That’s part of the reason Orgeron shut out reporters during the first three weeks of preseason camp. Canada planned to reinstall an offense that he began implementing in the spring while searching for what quarterback Danny Etling called the offense’s “identity.”
“It means what you’re going to major in,” Etling said over the summer, offering an academic analogy.
The identity of Canada’s offenses has changed with each of his coaching stops. He’s a chameleon, changing the appearance of his scheme based on his players’ abilities and his school’s schedule.
He led a QB-run scheme with veteran quarterback Chandler Harnish at Northern Illinois in 2011. At Wisconsin in 2012, he employed a power run system with a pro-style passer — at times even using the “barge” formation, an arrangement using seven offensive linemen. He ran a pass-leaning, QB-run spread at N.C. State in 2014 and '15 with dual-threat quarterback Jacoby Brissett, and he rolled up 42.3 points per game last year at Pittsburgh with a misdirection-filled, run-pass option scheme that leaned on a versatile ground game out of a spread look.
He has even orchestrated an up-tempo, no-huddle, pass-heavy offense in the image of Chip Kelly’s old Oregon schemes.
So, what’s it going to be here?
“I don’t know,” said Ben Chappell, who threw for 3,295 yards in Canada’s Oregon-like system at Indiana. “I think he’s going to bring a little bit different angle than maybe what LSU has been the last few years.”
Don’t necessarily expect the Indiana system Chappell manned or the QB-run heavy attack like the one Harnish captained at Northern Illinois.
They are nameless. You used to call them tight ends. You used to call them fullbacks. Now, you don’t know what to call them. Don’t fret. They don’t know even what to call themselves...
“You have to compare the conferences,” said Harnish, who in 2011 ran for the most yards (1,379) of any quarterback under Canada. “I don’t think running in the SEC as a quarterback as much as I did would last very long. Don’t think it would be smart. Being able to run the ball is very much a part of Matt’s system as of late. That’s what makes him such a great coach — able to work with the personnel he has.”
What personnel is that? He has a versatile running back (Guice) with speed, power and elusiveness; a sure-handed receiver (D.J. Chark) who can outrun most defenders on deep routes; and a smart quarterback (Etling) with above-average accuracy but little mobility.
Canada has admitted this offseason that LSU will pass more than it did in years past, but he insisted the Tigers’ run-first philosophy won’t necessarily change. In fact, the base for his offense is a pair of age-old running plays: the zone and power. Staple Canada plays — those jet sweeps, shovel passes and end-arounds — are built around those old-fashioned runs.
There’s an up-tempo facet, too. He purposely changes his tempo (huddle to no-huddle, no-huddle to huddle) midgame or even mid-series — a big boost, he said, in Pitt’s win last year over eventual College Football Playoff national champion Clemson.
“We don’t have a system every year that’s the same,” Canada said. “Our offense changes every year. We have a system, same formations last 12 years, same verbiage, same plays in a sense.”
It started with a 44-yard wheel route to, of all people, a 260-pound fullback split out as a…
He has taken qualities of his offense from people in his past, those who helped get him to this point — as one of the highest-paid offensive coordinators in the country.
He met years ago with current UC-Davis assistant Mark Speckman, incorporating the fly (jet sweep) into his system. He visited then-Oregon coach Kelly, adding that up-tempo, no-huddle element. He made a visit to Nevada to study how the Wolf Pack used the Pistol formation with Colin Kaepernick.
His zone-rushing schemes and, at times, run-heavy mentality come from Joe Novak, who hired Canada and promoted him at Northern Illinois. He swiped spread facets from his boss at Indiana, Terry Hoeppner, who had so much success using the offense at Miami of Ohio with a quarterback named Ben Roethlisberger.
His offense is a melting pot of all of these elements, with some pizzazz thrown in — all of those presnap motions and shifts.
“He tries to make some of the same things look different to the defense,” said Novak, now retired and living in North Carolina. “Every time I watch him every week, they almost look different than the week before. He’s got a way of doing it with motions and trades. He disguises things.”
So what’s he going to do in the red zone? Will those “exotic” plays come out? That’s how Canada refers to the gimmick plays he uses — like handing the ball to a 300-pound tackle on a reverse.
We’ll find out soon enough, but one thing can be said for sure: If and when an LSU player — be it an offensive tackle or not — scores a touchdown, the football won’t hit the ground.
Canada has a strict rule: The ball is always handed to the referee.
“The ball,” he said, “doesn’t touch the ground.”
Matt Canada’s voice rings in Will Clapp’s ears, and the words are always the same: “Quick! Q…
Matt Canada’s offense has been different in each of his past five coaching stops, changing it to match his personnel. How will it look at LSU?
Type of QB
Type of offense
Misdirection/RPO/power run spread
Dual threat (2 years), Pro-style (1 year)
Power run/I pro scheme
Dual threat (2), Pro-style (2)
Shotgun/no-huddle/QB run spread
A CALL FOR HELP
Can Matt Canada fix LSU’s woes in the passing game? The Tigers have finished in the top 50 in passing offense once in the previous decade and never have been in the top 40.
Passing offense rank*
Jarrett Lee/Jordan Jefferson