Summer Session: Run-Heavy

TSD is cranking out 30 stories on the 2014 Tigers in the coming weeks. Today's Summer Session: Just how much will LSU rely on the ground game this season?

30 days, 30 topics inside the world of LSU football.

TSD is previewing and analyzing the 2014 edition of the Tigers from every angle, bringing you a daily dose of "Summer Session" each weekday through July 11, three days before the unofficial kickoff to football season at SEC Media Days.


This topic has a similar feel to the one I did June 18 on Defensive Improvement. The point of that piece was to provide insight into a commonly held belief amongst LSU fans – that John Chavis' defense will be better in 2014 than it was a season ago.

In the same vein it's more or less understood that the Tigers will lean more on their rushing attack than the passing game offensively this fall. Below is my exploration of that widely accepted tenet, taking a look at LSU's run-pass splits in recent years and just how run-heavy Cam Cameron may be forced to go in '14.

First, let's take a look at how LSU has toed the run-pass line every year under Les Miles.

2005: 509 runs, 360 passes (58.6%)

2006: 450 runs, 368 passes (55.0%)

2007: 612 runs, 442 passes (58.1%)

2008: 495 runs, 391 passes (55.9%)

2009: 435 runs, 336 passes (56.4%)

2010: 538 runs, 301 passes (64.1%)

2011: 591 runs, 279 passes (67.9%)

2012: 527 runs, 356 passes (59.7%)

2013: 523 runs, 326 passes (61.6%)

There are a plethora of takeaways from this data, but to me the most pertinent one is looking at 2013 compared to 2012, examining the Cam Cameron effect.

It's interesting to note that even though LSU enjoyed one of its all-time passing seasons, with Zach Mettenberger slinging it to 1,000-yard receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry, the run ratio actually went up almost two percent from the previous year, the final under offensive coordinator Greg Studrawa.

A further look inside the numbers reveals that the Tigers simply threw it better and more efficiently when they did pass. In 2013 LSU's offense totaled 3,263 yards through the air (versus 2,630 yards rushing), most impressively gaining 10.01 yards per pass attempt. That mark was tied for second-most in the country with national champion Florida State and only fractionally behind NCAA-leading Baylor.

The brass tacks conclusion: Yes, Cameron likes to squeeze everything he can from the passing game, particularly if he has the personnel to attack downfield, but he and Miles will always rely on the run for a variety of reasons, never slipping below the 55% range (note that the only time it's been that low under Miles was in JaMarcus Russell's huge 2006 season).

Spinning the talk forward to 2014, I expect the ratio will continue to move higher – more toward the run, probably approaching where LSU was in 2010 (64.1%) with Stevan Ridley as the workhorse but not quite to the high water mark of 2011 (67.9%), when truth be told the passing game wasn't completely trusted and at times abandoned (although leaning on the run worked out quite nicely in that undefeated regular season).

The driving factors this fall will be four-fold. First, and most importantly, there will be a green quarterback under center, be it Brandon Harris or Anthony Jennings. Neither will be expected to execute the offense in the way Mettenberger did. Second, both of those QBs have mobility, making the design quarterback run or read-option a much more viable call. Third, the receivers are equally green, meaning LSU takes a major step back from the quality out wide a year ago. Fourth, the running backs – led by Leonard Fournette and Terrence Magee – project to be that good. They will and should require a lot of touches.

There's actually a fifth factor, and it's pretty darn important in the grand scheme of things offensively. LSU's O-Line this season is stacked, bringing back four starters with 73 total starts under their belt. The left side of La'el Collins and Vadal Alexander is especially potent in the ground game, giving the Tigers an alley to burst through any time LSU is in short-yardage situations.

So, taking into account where the Bayou Bengals will be young, where they'll be strong and how Cameron/Miles prefer to operate, it's almost a no-brainer that LSU will make its bones toting the rock in 2014. How efficient Harris or Jennings can be when the Tigers do air it out is the only real remaining, and vital, matter at hand.

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