Did you say LSU is going to throw this season? Really? LSU? Forward passes?
“The spread offense with the no-huddle and the opportunity to make calls after you align is something we will evolve and take part in.”
Former LSU head coach Les Miles, 2008 SEC Football Media Days
"We’ll throw it more efficiently and we’ll throw it downfield a bit better.”
Miles, 2012 SEC Football Media Days
“We throw the ball at practice all the time, but we specifically want to have a greater, efficient passing game.”
Miles, 2016 SEC Football Media Days
"We're going to throw the football at LSU. We're going to be 50/50.”
Current LSU head coach Ed Orgeron, 2018 SEC Football Media Days
“We're going to run the spread offense. It's in. It's in the playbook. So, it's not a threat. . .I promise you that. We're going to run it.”
Orgeron, 2019 SEC Football Media Days
If you’re an LSU fan, it’s hard not to be disappointed by the string of false promises through the years that the Tigers would join college football’s elite in embracing no-huddle spread offenses featuring passing to an array of receivers.
LSU coaches have set more records for crying wolf promising improved passing than actually establishing an aerial attack that could be described as “modern day.”
Yet with the 2019 season opener against Georgia Southern in Tiger Stadium, I can confidently say that LSU will step into the final offensive frontier where no Tiger team has ventured before.
While not abandoning the Tigers’ soul – a power running game – there will be all the bells and whistles of what every national championship caliber team has in its arsenal.
Getting the ball to athletes in space. Four and five wide passing formations. Run-pass option plays that make quarterbacks runners to give defenses an extra ball carrier to account for. Receivers using option routes in which receivers and the quarterbacks read defenses and understand what route works. No-huddle to speed tempo and increase the number of snaps. Versatile running backs who can bang between the tackles and catch short, quick passes in the flats.
Why after all these years of gnashing and wailing is LSU finally adding these elements and run-pass option plays that have been a part of college football for a least a decade?
Because Orgeron knows that if the Tigers are ever serious about winning a national championship, they must average almost 40 points per game.
Teams that have qualified for the first five College Football Playoffs that started in 2014 have averaged 39.4 points, 483.3 yards and 6.8 offensive touchdowns.
Teams that won the national title have averaged 40.1 points, 482.2 yards and 7.3 offensive touchdowns.
LSU, in this time frame, has averaged 29.6 points, 412.2 yards and 3.5 offensive TDs.
Those are numbers that won’t even help LSU challenge for the SEC Western Division title. Oregron understands it, which is why he’s making a change.
Also, the timing is right.
His 34-game old program has evolved to this moment, marrying whiz kid first-year passing game coordinator Joe Brady with experienced returning starting quarterback Joe Burrow.
Brady, who was an offensive assistant with the Saints last season, has a simple offensive philosophy. Find the one-on-one matchups and get the ball to your fastest open athletes.
“If we get our speed in space and allow our guys to win their one-on-ones, the rest is going to take care of itself,” Brady said. “We’re going to be an offense that applies pressure. The more one-on-one matchups we get, the better.”
Last season in first year after gaining immediate eligibility as a graduate transfer from Ohio State, Burrow guided the Tigers to a 10-3 record including a Fiesta Bowl win over UCF despite being surrounded by a load of inexperienced running backs and receivers.
Burrow’s intelligence is made for Brady’s intricate passing game which has Burrow and the receivers reading defenses at the line of scrimmage and making adjustments on the fly.
“We’ve put more effort into reading defenses than we did last year,” said wide receiver Justin Jefferson, the team’s leading pass catcher last season. “With this offense, we kind of have to read the defenses in order to run our different routes and get open in space.”
From day one with Brady, Burrow bought in big.
“We have matchups all over the field we can take advantage of, fast players everywhere, talented players in space,” Burrow said. “We’re going to score a lot of points and I don’t think a lot of people are used to LSU scoring 40, 50, 60 points a game.”
Last season, Burrow mainly targeted Jefferson, who had twice as many catches as the Tigers’ receivers with the second most catches.
Understanding he has plenty of options in Brady’s offense, Burrow worked feverishly all summer during voluntary workouts with wide receivers, running backs and tight ends to establish a rhythm and connection with everyone.
The sweat equity has paid off. In preseason practices and scrimmages, Burrow has thrown to a variety of targets.
“We have four or five No. 1 receivers,” he said. “The more options a quarterback has, the faster you get the ball out. If you get five guys out in a route, they’ve got to cover five people, there’s not going to be as many people rushing.”
The versatility of the offense to keep defenses off-balance is also something that has sorely been needed for the Tigers.
“It’s well-balanced and it’s so unpredictable,” running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire said. “I can’t say we’re going to go out there today and it’s going to be all power (running). I can’t out there saying it’s going to be all five-wide.
“Even as player or a starter standing on the sideline, you can say `I wonder what play we’re about to run.’ It’s pretty cool.”
And most welcome, especially for the Purple and Gold faithful who have yearned for such an offense after watching a majority of national championship contenders use it successfully.
For those LSU fans, the time is finally here and now. Did you ever think you'd ever live to see the day?
The first time Burrow completes successive passes to a running back and a tight end, there may be tears of happiness in the Tiger Stadium stands highlighted by unabashed beer and wine toasting.
Heck, there may even be commemorative coins.