COLUMN: LSU's offense eroding by choice

The Tigers are having a hard time putting up points and developing quarterbacks. Both problems stem from coaching philosophy, writes TSD's Ben Love.

Three months ago – in a time when many assumed Jake Coker would start at quarterback for Alabama and that South Carolina would be the beast of the SEC East – most realists forecasted LSU would lose at least three games this season, with four or five setbacks a real possibility.

So while braniac prognosticators, including this one, have thrown a few projection darts juuuust a bit outside of the bull’s eye, the end result on the Tigers’ campaign, which of course isn’t over yet, isn’t differing much from the expectation.

It’s how Les Miles’ bunch has gotten to where they are in this topsy-turvy campaign that has locals in an uproar.

Don’t misunderstand me, the LSU fan base as a whole ranks somewhere between moderately and severely spoiled, but even they’ve got their limits on what they’re willing to tolerate on offense.

And Miles, Cam Cameron, Anthony Jennings and a patchwork offensive line found that threshold Saturday night in Fayetteville, throwing up all over themselves inside Razorback Stadium while unable to throw up a single point on a team coming off 17 straight losses in conference play.

This time around, after 36 hours to mull over LSU’s 17-0 stinker in Hog Country, I’m with the fans.

The offense this season, with two green quarterback options and new skill position players everywhere, was always going to encounter hardships and take time to develop, but that’s the thing – they’re not. Some of them aren’t progressing individually and collectively they’re certainly not. Regression would be a much fairer term.

Let’s not forget that the crowning achievement for LSU over the last 12 weeks was scrapping together a 10-7 win over Ole Miss. Ten points. At home. To a team from the state of Mississippi.

The Tiger brain trusts on that side of the ball are not only hiding the quarterback position when they play; they’re hiding the entire offense.

Therein lies the seminal point of this piece: During the second half of Miles’ 10-year run in Baton Rouge (excepting last season when future pros were dripping off the depth chart), LSU’s objective on offense has been not to turn the ball over.

THAT’S NOT WHAT OFFENSE IS ABOUT!

And don’t tell this guy who just went all-caps that it’s because of the talent under center. The Tigers, for many reasons, may not have it as well as some in the SEC or around the country, but they don’t lack for guys who were esteemed solid to great leaving high school.

Consider what lesser talent has done this season . . .

Class of 2010 two-star Brandon Doughty completes 28.4 passes a game for Western Kentucky, averaging 350.7 yards passing per game.

Another two-star from 2010, Colorado State’s Garrett Grayson connects on 20.4 passes per ballgame for an average of 302.4 yards through the air every time the Rams take the field.

Want younger examples?

Class of 2013 two-star Justin Holman gives UCF 223.2 passing yards per game while Class of 2012 two-star Colin Reardon hits pass-catchers 20 times a game for Kent State.

Want examples of players who face better competition?

Ole Miss’ Bo Wallace, once rated the 248th best quarterback in his 2010 class by Scout, throws for an average of 255.6 yards while Class of 2011 three-star Brandon Allen nets conservative Arkansas 190.5 passing yards an outing.

I could go on doing this for hours, but the point only gets more exacerbated – With LSU by and large it’s not the quarterbacks, it’s the system/coaching mindset/ultra-conservative game-planning.

Yes, Jennings, a former four-star from Georgia, has his limitations. That much is obvious. You don’t need numbers to bear that out, but here they are anyway. Jennings, who ranks 106th of 125 FBS signal callers, completes an average of 8.4 passes for 123 yards a ballgame.

While everyone else around the country slings it up and down the field, LSU tries to stubbornly inchworm its way between the twenties. The system is devised to pound lesser competition into submission and keep the Tigers afloat against teams with equal or slightly better personnel.

They lean on defense and special teams, and when one or both of those facets has an off night with legitimate competition on the other sideline, it’s a loss.

That’s where things have gotten, that’s why the fans are livid and that’s why, on this topic, I can understand the place from which they’re coming.

LSU is floundering offensively at an all-time clip but has decided to go down with the ship – lacking innovation and not turning it over to Brandon Harris, a very coveted dual-threat quarterback all of 12 months ago – even when a young defense has blossomed before our eyes into one of the most competitive units in the league.

See, it’s not that the Tigers are sitting on four losses with one regular-season game to go. If you were honest with yourself during preseason rumination, this was within the realm of possibility for a rebuilding squad.

It’s that they’re not developing the offense or, more specifically, the quarterback position for this season or next. And, frankly, it doesn’t look like they’re even trying to.

They’ve got what they’ve got, and they’re going to ride that formula to wherever it takes ‘em.

That’s a maddening approach to sports, business or really any walk of life. So, for that reason alone, I can understand the venom spewed over the interwebs and airwaves the last day and a half.

After all yours truly was the reporter who asked the “dumb question” of Miles after the Kentucky game how they were attempting to balance winning now at quarterback with cultivating that spot for the future.

The timing of my inquiry might not have been ideal (I got a much better answer from Miles on same question two days later), but it’s now the single-most pondered issue throughout Tiger Nation.

Do I want a pat on the back or a cookie? No, that’s not the point.

But it’s an accurate reflection of the state of affairs at the position and on that side of the ball when a local reporter, and the entire fan base for that matter, can identify the problems and offer up viable solutions before a tone-deaf coaching staff can or will.

Now this year’s stench is more likely to linger through the offseason and cling to the jersey of whoever takes the field for LSU at quarterback to begin the 2015 slate.

And everyone will scratch their heads and think basically the same thought – feels like it didn’t have to be this way.



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