Burrow and Brennan bolster Bengals' new Brady Bunch offense
“Spring” said LSU returning starting quarterback Joe Burrow in a philosophical lilt, “is a time for creative innovation.
But every spring?
If you’ve been a Tigers’ offensive player in the last four springs like third-year sophomore backup QB Myles Brennan, you’re in the process of learning your third different offense under two different head coaches and two different coordinators.
“That’s college football, it’s a business,” Brennan said matter-of-factly. “You can’t do anything but take it day-by-day.”
Maybe that’s the philosophy that offense-starved LSU fans should employ. Just can’t do anything but take it year-to-year.
The best part of the Tigers’ surprising 10-3 2018 season when LSU finished No. 6 in the polls and won the Fiesta Bowl is head coach Ed Orgeron realized his team had nowhere near the offensive punch required of national championship contending program.
It wasn’t just because of inconsistent offensive line play, inexperienced playmakers and Burrow gradually learning his teammates and the playbook after joining the Tigers last June as a graduate transfer from Ohio State.
The Tigers lacked big-play explosiveness, befuddling since LSU had array of young, athletic receivers who could be terrifying for defenders if they got the ball in open space.
Which didn’t happen enough to the point that Orgeron made a coaching hire to tweak his offense again.
Yes, it’s the spring. And a skeptic Tiger Nation isn’t holding its breath that 28-year-old offensive wunderkind Joe Brady, who Orgeron hired as passing game coordinator from the New Orleans Saints staff, will take LSU’s offense to the next level.
But Burrow, son of a recently-retired longtime college football defensive coordinator, and Brennan gushed in media interviews Tuesday they’re are on board with Brady and his RPO (run pass option) dominant offense.
“This is the best we’ve looked on offense since I’ve been here as far as matching up against our defense, creating big plays against our defense,” Burrow said. “You can see a difference in practice. We’re going a little faster, matching up with our defense a lot better.
“It’s (RPO plays) going to be a big part of our offense. The direction that new-age football is going, it has to be a part of everybody’s offense if you want to be explosive.”
Added Brennan, “I knew this was going to be a good thing for us when all the guys bought in. They’re enjoying it a lot. We’re spreading the ball around to all these receivers. They’re happy. And our backs are getting the ball and making plays.”
RPO plays simplify offensive assignments and confuse defenses, most notably causing linebackers to hesitate sprinting at snap of the ball into gaps to blow up ball carriers.
An RPO is a called run play with a pass option. A QB can read the defensive end, a linebacker or a specific alignment. While the offensive line is blocking for a run, the quarterback makes a pre or post snap decision on whether to hand off to a running back for a run, keep himself for a run or to fake the handoff and throw a quick pass.
Burrow and Brennan already have experience in the RPO world.
“I’ve been doing this offense since I was 14 years old in high school,” Burrow said.
Added Brennan, “It brings me back to my high school days.”
More and more high schools use RPO offense because its success is based on execution, deception, confusion and it gets the ball out of the QBs hands quickly to playmakers. It’s especially benefits offenses that don’t have the personnel upfront to consistently win battles against defensive lines.
It also about quarterbacks and receivers working together, reading defenses as the ball is snapped and working to find an open area.
“Coach Brady has been able to teach the receivers different keys, like if it’s man (defense) keep running and if you look over and it’s zone (defense) sit down,” Brennan said. “A lot of things like that allows the receivers to get open and as quarterbacks to get them the ball.”
Burrow, Brennan and the rest of the LSU offense are continually watching Saints’ game tape, featuring masterful future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees and his array of offensive weapons that included wide receiver Michael Thomas (125 receptions last season) and running back Alvin Kamara (81 catches).
“Drew Brees is a big part of it,” Burrow said, “but they have talented guys all over the place. They are really good at getting those guys in position to make plays, whether it’s match-up wise, putting them inside the slot or in the backfield.
“It doesn’t matter, they move guys around. They are really good at getting guys in space. I think we have the guys who are able to do that and the concepts we’re putting in can do that, too.”
Towards the end of last season, Burrow said he asked offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger for more responsibility.
“I asked for it and they trusted me enough to give it to me,” Burrow said. “I think the last few games as an offense we played as well as we could, but that’s not going to be good enough this next year.
“We’re definitely going to have to increase our output. With everybody coming back and Coach Joe bringing in new concepts, I think we’ll be able to.”
Both Burrow and Brennan are cognizant of how their careers have evolved in the past year since Burrow transferred to LSU and Brennan redshirted because of an injury.
This time last March, Burrow was involved in a three-way starting QB battle at Ohio State and Brennan was in the same fight at LSU.
“I haven’t even been here a year, but it feels like five,” said Burrow, who last year became the first player in LSU history to throw for 2,500 yards and rush for at least 350 yards in a season.
“I’m definitely being more vocal than I was when I first got here. I feel just like one of the guys now. That will play a big part in leadership.”
Brennan, unlike Justin McMillan and Lowell Narcisse, chose not to transfer last August when Burrow was named starter.
“I could have been quick to transfer when all this stuff happened,” Brennan said. “But I’m a firm believer in commitment. When I committed here, I knew this was a place I’d have to compete. Nothing has changed since day one. I’m still competing.
“Transferring is ideal for some players, but I feel like this where God wants me to be and it’s where I want to be. I’m still waiting for my chance. I firmly believe I’ll get my chance sooner or later.”
Brennan is buoyed by the fact that Matt Flynn, who guided LSU to the 2007 national championship, was a fifth-year senior who also patiently waited for his time to shine.
“To see a guy like him,” Brennan said, “who kind of went through the same thing, he waited all the way to his last couple of years, won a national championship, went to the NFL, I know if he can do it, I can do it. He’s reached out to me before and that’s a good guy to learn from.”