Two games into the new-look LSU football era, a lot of buzz around the Tigers was about an offense built around diversity and concepts like misdirection, passing on early down and other unfamiliar things that had grown dusty and tucked away on a back shelf with Cam Cameron orchestrating things.
The wider-open offense certainly worked well, providing much of the foundation for a pair of 35-point victories in what basically became dress rehearsals for a rugged five-game stretch to end the 2016 regular season.
So when Ole Miss came to Tiger Stadium on Saturday night, the anticipation was high for more offensive fireworks and razzle-dazzle. Only offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger did something different than he had been, but certainly nothing new.
Ensminger and LSU turned back the clock and attacked the Rebels’ porous defense with the same kind of offense that helped the Tigers carve out a spot among the national elite for the most of the last 11 seasons. In short, the Tigers ran the ball down Ole Miss’ throat on the way to a 38-21 victory and set up play-action passes nicely.
Instead of trying to get the Rebels off-balance, the MO LSU leaned on was old-school, stop-us-if-you-can. Almost like a tip of a high-crowned white cap to Les Miles. That makes sense because interim coach Ed Orgeron has a defensive background, and very few defensive-minded coaches will blanch at an offense built around power running.
It helped, of course, to have star Leonard Fournette back in action and as healthy as he could be to serve as a battering ram/bulldozer against Ole Miss. Fournette made up nicely for lost time, shattering the school single-game rushing record with 284 yards on 16 carries with three long touchdown runs as the foundation of a dominant performance.
This was more than just Fournette running rampant, although he played the role of leading man very well in his first action since Sept. 24.
The Tigers leaned on an offensive line that seems to have rediscovered a healthy groove, got more steady play from a veteran quarterback managing things better than anyone at that spot for LSU since 2007 and a defense that never let Ole Miss up for air in the second half.
And that much-maligned (for good reason) Rebels’ defense certainly played a part.
LSU clicked in a more basic offensive scheme because Ole Miss allowed that to happen. Two of Fournette’s long TDs were on simple, playground toss sweeps – the kind you learn at age 6 or 7 just to make sure everybody can line up correctly and move in the same general direction.
Granted, those sweeps were blocked well, and it helped that the Rebels’ linebacker corps appeared to be badly overmatched and the defensive backs looked like they had rarely worked on open-field tackling.
On 21 running plays on first down, LSU racked up 230 yards – a shade under 11 yards a snap. There were 10 first-down passes dialed up, but the Tigers generated only 24 yards on those on four completions.
This was going-back-to-roots kind of football for LSU. The Tigers dared the Rebels to stack the box and then just manhandled them at the point of contact over and over.
While this wasn’t an Oklahoma-Texas Tech kind of defensive performance, Ole Miss was as bad as advertised . The Rebels came in allowing just over 200 rushing yards a game and LSU peppered them for 311, 341 if you take away a kneel-down, two sacks and one of the trick plays LSU did run that lost 14 yards.
What LSU’s offensive performance Saturday revealed is that there are plenty of options in the offensive toolbox for Ensminger to reach for moving forward. Lots of ways to skin a defensive cat.
By gashing Ole Miss with what might be perceived as a less creative offense, LSU essentially proved that new-age diversity and old-school simplicity can co-exist as long as you blend them well.
In three games under the Orgeron/Ensminger brain trust, the Tigers have racked up 634, 459 and 515 total yards. Of that 1,608 yardage total, 912 yards have come on the ground, while Danny Etling has topped 200 passing yards on each.
The road gets tougher in two weeks when LSU plays an Alabama defense that is the best in the country this season and may be as good as any the Crimson Tide has fielded in Nick Saban’s 10 seasons. Keyboard cowboys didn’t take long to remind anybody they could on Twitter that Fournette rushed for only 31 yards against Alabama last season in a 30-16 loss.
That was a different offense, though. Or it was the same/similar to one as the Tigers pounded Ole Miss with on Saturday. The biggest potential difference is that LSU has some more ingredients to spice things up with and a chef in Ensminger who’s not timid about doing so.