Welcome to Highlights, where we'll break down significant plays from LSU's last football game.
(Click to enlarge photos)
LSU 55, Georgia Southern 3
How It Happened
Death by RPO: LSU's offense had tempo, diversity and touchdowns on Saturday night. In other words, the Tigers delivered on long-given promises that the offense would commit to a modern spread offense.
Within the new offense were the run-pass option schemes that first-year passing game coordinator Joe Brady brought with him from his time as a grad assistant at Penn State and offensive assistant with the New Orleans Saints.
Establishing the run is at the foundation of the RPO, according to Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead, one of the offense's innovators (and Brady's mentor). A good run game is what sets defenses to start honoring the run, and quarterbacks can then play off a linebacker or safety who's been sent to stop the run. Although LSU quarterback Joe Burrow tied LSU's single-game record with five touchdown passes, the run game was certainly a part of the game and helped open up the RPO.
- No one carried the ball on LSU's second drive of the game other than running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire. On a touchdown drive that began at the Georgia Southern 34, the starting running back from Baton Rouge caught a pass for 15 yards and had five carries for 19 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown run to boost the lead to 14-0. That rushing attack opened up the pass when LSU returned to the red zone on its following drive.
- On first-and-goal at the Georgia Southern 9 (pictured right), the Eagles present a four-man front on defense. That's not really where the focus is, though. Burrow's eyes are on Georgia Southern strong safety Darrell Baker (pointed out with an arrow). Baker advances toward the line of scrimmage on the snap, reading run. Burrow pulls the zone-read handoff from Tyrion-Davis Price and completes a 9-yard fade to Justin Jefferson for a touchdown.
- How do we know this is an RPO? Well, without being wired into the coaches headsets, there's a major key: the offensive line is sticking with its zone blocking scheme. Center Lloyd Cushenberry actually scrapes off a defensive tackle and engages a linebacker downfield. Ineligible receivers are permitted to advance three yards before the ball is thrown. That's why ESPN analyst David Pollack once called RPOs "cheating," because big guys moving downfield is what has signaled run since the game began.
On the night before the first game of the 2019 season, LSU wide receiver Terrace Marshall plugged headphones into his ears, pulled the covers …
Was that... a tight end?: Three LSU tight ends caught at least one pass against Georgia Southern. That's a stark difference from last season, when the position was limited by the season-long injuries of Thaddeus Moss (foot) and Jamal Pettigrew (ACL). But it went deeper than just the tight ends getting targeted on passes. LSU stuck with '11' personnel (3 WRs, 1 TE, 1 RB) while Burrow was in the game, and the depth at tight end allowed the Tigers to produce a steady rotation between Moss, Pettigrew Stephen Sullivan and Tory Carter to give different looks and stay multiple throughout the game.
- On the final drive of the second half, the 6-foot-5, 242-pound Sullivan flipped around to multiple receiver spots on the field. Joe Brady had put in a system where the receivers no longer were committed to specific positions on the field, instead they learn specific routes that they can run anywhere on the field.
- Throughout the game, Sullivan was sometimes used as the inside receiver in trips formations. On first-and-15 at the Georgia Southern 26 (pictured right), Sullivan was split out wide to the far side of the field. On the next play, LSU produced the same look with Sullivan on the opposite side of the field. The 6-foot-5, 242-pound former wide receiver forced the Eagles secondary to honor him, and inside receiver Terrace Marshall caught an 11-yard touchdown to put the Tigers up 42-3.
- And on the same drive, Moss lined up as the slot receiver in a four-wide receiver set, then caught a 44-yard deep pass to set LSU up at the Georgia Southern 21. "How about that, huh?" Orgeron said. "Thaddeus Moss did a tremendous job... The more we use the tight ends, the better we're going to be."
It was a familiar question, an oh-so familiar question in a week leading up to the first LSU football game of the season.
"A little razzle dazzle": When Burrow was asked by a reporter if LSU had shown everything they had on offense, the quarterback quipped: "We showed everything we've got. I want you to write that." OK, LSU didn't show everything it had. But it's hard to figure out quite why the coaching staff decided to break out a Wildcat look on the second drive of the game, or what the play exactly means for the future.
- On second-and-5 at the Georgia Southern 29, Edwards-Helaire lined up to Burrow's right before the snap. Then, the two players shifted a few steps to the left. Edwards-Helaire kept a zone-read handoff with Burrow and ran off the left edge, breaking a tackle and getting tripped up by another for a two-yard gain.
- "That's a little razzle dazzle that Ensminger came up with," Orgeron explained afterward. "Going out. Taking a risk." The interesting part is that Burrow was essentially the running back in this package. The quarterback did rush for 399 yards and seven touchdowns in 2018, and Orgeron has said that he wants to run Burrow more this season. The way Burrow pulled up in the middle of the play resembled a dropback for a pass. Could it be that there'll be such a third option in the future? Could Burrow potentially be the Saints' Taysom Hill in another package where Myles Brennan is the Drew Brees? Maybe all it does is get No. 10 Texas overthinking for the game next Saturday.
A quick rundown of LSU's opponent on Saturday night in Austin, Texas, the Texas Longhorns ...
The return of the return game: LSU's punt return game was the only phase of special teams where the Tigers truly struggled last season. The Tigers rotated from former wide receiver Jonathan Giles to Jontre Kirklin to Justin Jefferson, and between the muffs and the short returns, LSU needed a major jolt at the position.
- True freshman cornerback Derek Stingley gave the phase a boost on Saturday night. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Dunham School grad returned the first punt of his career 32 yards to the Georgia Southern 34.
- On his second, Stingley returned the punt 20 yards to the LSU 48. Both returns set up touchdown drives. Stingley's four punt returns totaled 52 yards, which is more punt return yards than LSU totaled through its first five games of the 2018 season. It's also more than half the amount the Tigers totaled in punt return yards last year (99).
- "We had Reggie Bush at USC, and he made a difference for us," Orgeron said of Stingley. "I'm not saying he's Reggie Bush. But once this guy gets it down, I think he can be very dangerous."
Ed Orgeron said last week that his defensive coaches had been working on Georgia Southern's tricky, difficult-to-defend triple-option offense …
As expected starter Michael Divinity watched from the sideline, sophomore Damone Clark stepped up for LSU in his first career start.