LSU fans have been sold a bill of goods on a new offensive juggernaut each spring for pretty much a decade.
By the sound of players and coaches, LSU’s offense is “The Greatest Show on Turf” each spring. But at the end of each season the talk gets replaced by results, and the results haven’t been pretty. The self-proclaimed juggernaut offense instead turns out to be mediocre and uninspiring.
The offense gets by lesser teams with overwhelming physicality and sheer talent, but when those two aspects are matched, things get ugly quickly. In the 11 seasons following LSU’s last national title in 2007, the Tigers’ offense has averaged 30.5 points per game.
The number isn’t awful, but in the same time span, LSU has scored 142 points in 12 tries against Alabama, an average of 11.8 points, which is far below the season average. The number looks even more bleak when considering 69 of those points were scored in four games from 2008 to 2011, and the other 73 points have come in the last eight games, three of which were shutouts.
So to whom does LSU turn to sell the new offense heading into 2019?
The answer is Joe Brady, who was playing wide receiver at the College of William & Mary the last time LSU beat Alabama. Since then though, the 29-year-old Brady worked his way through the coaching profession and comes to LSU from the New Orleans Saints, where he spent two years as an offensive assistant.
Brady’s title at LSU is passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach. He acts as the right-hand man of offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger. Ensminger took steps to revitalize LSU’s offense the same way he did as interim in 2016 and shifted from an old-school, power offense to a more modern offense.
Based on outward appearances, Steve Ensminger and Joe Brady seem nothing alike.
He tried to incorporate many more three and four wide receiver formations, but the offense was maligned by other issues outside of scheme. The offensive line was constantly banged up and injured, the tight end position was solely manned Foster Moreau outside of the rare help from wide receiver Racey McMath and fullback Tory Carter, and the wide receivers had barely any experience.
Then in the backfield, quarterback Joe Burrow had only been on campus for two months before the season started, and for the first time in the longest time, LSU was unusually thin on depth at running back.
In comes Brady to help Ensminger install a full-time spread offense. The two have spent the spring working on designing and installing a brand new offense around Burrow and a rotation of six to eight receivers anchored by junior Justin Jefferson and sophomores Ja’Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall.
“We were trying to put together a system that was easy for the guys to implement in the run game, but the formations matched up in the pass game,” said Brady at a TAF Coaches Caravan stop on Monday. He equated the progress of LSU’s offense in the spring to going through college classes. First came the 100, 200-level classes, and the fall will be for classes 300 and up.
“From a system standpoint, we were just trying to find a way to put our speed in space and how we can get our offense to make the defense play with 11 players. If we can get our running backs, our tight ends involved and our quarterbacks involved in the run game.”
Brady even let it slip that LSU will not be huddling for the most part in 2019. The players will now get to the line and look to the sideline for the play call in an effort to stay up tempo.
He talked about abandoning max and seven-man protections in favor of going to a five-man protection to keep defenses spread out and accountable for every man on the field.
“A lot of people think when you’re getting a lot of pressure you need to bring the box in and bring max protection, seven-man protection, but I think you go five-man protection you get the ball out faster and it limits what defenses can do.
“As an offense we want to get the running backs out in the routes. Running backs at the end of the day are here to run the ball and catch passes. They're not signed to play at LSU because they’re dynamic blockers that’s what offensive linemen are for.”
The man behind the offensive line will be the biggest key for LSU’s offense. Burrow threw for 2894 yards and 16 touchdowns while adding 399 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground in his first year at LSU.
Heading into his senior season, Burrow has finally been able to acclimate to the coaches and wide receivers. He’s been given input into the offense heading into the season, and during spring practice he said it was an offense that is second nature to him and similar to what he ran in high school and at Ohio State.
The emphasis has been on four and five-wide sets, and Ensminger said LSU had two practices dedicated strictly to five-wide formations along with more designed quarterback runs.
“There’s so many things we can do with Joe [Burrow],” Orgeron said. “This offense is tailor made for Joe. Last year we couldn’t run Joe as much because Myles [Brennan] had a stress fracture.”
The guys Burrow will be throwing to will also be more varied this season. Last year LSU kept the wide receivers in one role and position. Players like senior Derrick Dillon only played the slot, and other receivers like Jefferson, Chase and Marshall played as the strong or weak-side receivers.
Now, all the receivers will be expected to be able to play multiple roles and know what each other is doing. Brady said they are no longer teaching roles, but concepts and route combinations, leading to more diversity in the offense.
But the main goal isn’t to just get the ball to the best player with a simple handoff or chuck it 40 yards downfield off of play action anymore. LSU is going to isolate its playmakers and put them in space in advantageous situations to make plays.
“We’re attentive to details in the things we do, but at the same time we’re not going to coach the athletes out of our football players,” Brady said. “We’re going to allow them to have fun and do what they do best.”
Those are similar words heard before from LSU coaches, but the groundwork from what Ensminger did in 2018 is there. It’s now up to Brady and Ensminger to deliver even further, and the comradery between the two shows.
Brady stepped into Enmsinger’s interview with the media and asked the offensive coordinator thought of his hire.
Ensminger was quick to reply.
“I told Coach O it was the worst thing he’s ever done in his life,” he said jokingly.
If the two coaches can finally build the long awaited juggernaut offense, Brady’s hire might be the best thing Orgeron has ever done.