SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Steve Ensminger said he started to spend fewer nights sleeping in his office about halfway through the season.
By then, most of the questions surrounding LSU's offense in Ensminger's second stint as offensive coordinator had been answered.
Not all the answers were good.
Ensminger opened up about the offense in his first public meeting with reporters Friday morning, and he estimated that LSU was unable to run about 30 percent of its playbook due to several issues that occurred during the season.
"It wasn't as versatile as I'd like it to have been," Ensminger said, sitting behind a black blanketed table during the Fiesta Bowl media day at the Camelback Inn.
Yes, the coach nicknamed "Slinger" had found a quarterback in Joe Burrow — a spunky Ohio State graduate transfer who didn't turn the ball over and had the arm and the legs to be the gamebreaker LSU needed.
But the Tigers struggled to protect him, and most of the problems trickled from there.
An offensive line hindered by suspensions, injuries and inexperience had a hard time keeping Burrow off his back. This was apparent by Week 2, when LSU surrendered two sacks in a 31-0 win over FCS opponent Southeastern Louisiana.
Then, once LSU faced brutal Southeastern Conference defenses like Florida, Alabama and Mississippi State — which sacked Burrow a combined 12 times — the offense had to use more players for pass protection, diminishing the number of receivers on the outside and crowding the field of play between the tackles.
That wasn't the spread-them-out, let's-go-five-wide offense Ensminger and head coach Ed Orgeron had envisioned during the preseason.
"To get to those packages, you have to be able to protect up front," said Ensminger, who is nearing the end of the first season in a two-year, $800,000-per-year contract. "And with moving everybody around and the communication problems we had up front, we weren't able to do all that."
Since the LSU offense wasn't spreading out defenses, Ensminger said, it made for a difficult transition period for true freshman receivers Ja'Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall, who were learning how to beat more aggressive cornerbacks pressing on nearly every play.
Plus, one of Ensminger's favored offensive formations, a two-tight end set called "12," was pretty much scratched from the playbook entirely because both Jamal Pettigrew (ACL) and Thaddeus Moss (foot) suffered season-long injuries during the preseason.
Foster Moreau was essentially LSU's only tight end this season, and that problem extended to the run game. Just one tight end wasn't enough to assemble a goal-line package. LSU only ran a true goal-line set twice this season, Ensminger said, instead opting to go up-tempo from standard offensive formations in those situations.
And to top it all off, because of preseason transfers, LSU only had two scholarship quarterbacks. And because backup Myles Brennan was hurt for the Georgia, Mississippi State and Alabama games, Ensminger wasn't able to run Burrow as often as he'd have liked.
LSU managed to finish the regular season 9-3, and the Tigers are less than a week away from playing No. 8 Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl — their biggest bowl game in the College Football Playoff era.
So just how did LSU overcome the personnel gaps on offense to rank 45th nationally with 31.8 points per game? How did the Slinger figure out how to fire with bullets that seemed to keep falling out of the chamber?
"You expand the other personnel," Ensminger said. "You scour the depth chart for talent and try to find the best way to use it."
It didn't take long for Ensminger to find a fix with an unproven sophomore wide receiver.
"Justin Jefferson kind of answered that (question) for us," Ensminger said. "We can move him around and get him the football, and he made good plays for us."
Jefferson was placed in isolation on the outside, rotated between all three positions in trips formations and motioned into favorable matchups.
Ensminger said he scripted deep play-action passes around Jefferson, who leads the team with 50 catches, 788 yards and four touchdowns, because he was physical enough to fight past safeties.
When Orgeron asked for a statement drive against Ole Miss in Week 5, Ensminger called up a 65-yard touchdown pass to Jefferson that put LSU ahead 28-3 in the second quarter.
"We were struggling as an offense for about three or four games," Burrow said. "(Jefferson) was really winning us some games because nobody could cover him. He was our big-play guy this year."
Each game after that 45-16 win, Ensminger said, LSU had to find a new way to patch up its offense — and it wasn't always using Jefferson.
There were games like Georgia, when Ensminger said the Tigers "went up-tempo, went fast and threw the ball more down the field." LSU recorded 275 yards rushing with its quick-pace offense in the 36-16 win over then-No. 2 Georgia, and Burrow completed a 50-yard pass to Jefferson in the game.
There were games like Mississippi State, when LSU "felt like we needed to run the football and control the time of possession." The Tigers managed 110 yards rushing in a muddy 19-3 win.
And when Arkansas got to Burrow, sacking him three times, Ensminger said LSU turned to the run game, when Nick Brossette and Clyde Edwards-Helaire combined for 151 yards and two touchdowns.
But in the 29-0 shutout against No. 1 Alabama, there just wasn't enough duct tape to keep the offense together.
The offensive line issues culminated against the Tide, when the Tigers totaled 12 yards rushing and failed to score in both of their red-zone opportunities.
"I put that one on me, I'll be honest with you," said Ensminger, who was the interim offensive coordinator in 2016 when LSU lost to Alabama 10-0. "We weren't very good inside the 30-yard line. We got down there two or three times. We missed a couple of throws. I told our offense, I put that one on me."
So what's next after the Fiesta Bowl? What will an offseason do for the a Tigers offense in Year 2 with Ensminger?
The incoming recruiting class, Ensminger said, "answered everything we need to answer." A class that 247Sports ranks fourth nationally includes a five-star offensive guard, Southern Lab's Kardell Thomas, who will add depth to the hampered offensive line. It included two tight ends, T.K. McClendon and Charles Turner, who will bolster the tight end depth and ensure Ensminger will be able to use his favored formation.
They'll get to the rest of the playbook, the unused 30 percent that uses two tight ends and four- and five-wide receiver sets.
They'll get to it soon enough.
"We struggled some, yes, but I'm very pleased with how those guys stepped up with the amount of experience that they had coming into the season," Ensminger said. "And the leadership that we got ... was outstanding for us. That's what helped us to a very good season."