Murf Baldwin

LSU offense turning finesse into power in Tigers' run game

While LSU could have reinvented the wheel when Steve Ensminger took over the Tigers' offense, LSU instead turned finesse into power in their running game.

I've stated it before, ad nauseam, but it bears repeating: LSU interim coach Ed Orgeron doesn't need to try to reinvent the wheel on the fly, he just needs to pilot a more proficient version of what's already been established.

At its core, LSU is a ferocious defensive outfit that uses an equally physical rushing attack to beat teams into oblivion (or "bolivian," if you're Mike Tyson).

As much as people would like to see LSU operate in full Texas Tech mode -- with about seven receivers, two linemen, a quarterback and a hybrid running back/receiver tossing it around the yard upwards of 90 times per game -- that just isn't realistic, folks. (Nor is it a winning formula that you can generate sustainability from.)

I mean, as talented as the receiving corps is, the offensive line and the running back unit are the proverbial straws that stir the drinks. However, for some odd reason, Orgeron and offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger decided to spray the ball around the yard, initially, to start off the tilt with the University of Mississippi. it was certainly a tendency breaker, it played right into what Ole Miss is pretty good at: rushing the passer. Never mind the fact that coming into the game, Ole Miss proved to be its same Swiss cheese-self, in regard to its rushing defense, as Arkansas' Rawleigh Williams toasted them to the tune of 180 yards on 27 carries just last week.

You just knew that this contest was tailor-made for LSU to be, well, LSU, so there was little reason to deviate from making teams prove their worth on the physicality side of the spectrum.

Once the Ensminger-Orgeron tandem got it together, it was curtains for the Rebels.

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Forgive me, Football Gods, for I have sinned. Most of my life, including my many years of playing the sport up until my late 20's, I believed that running any variation of zone was for teams that I'd describe with some type of expletive.

As a former defensive player, if I couldn't get my neck shortened, by some type of fullback or pulling guard on Iso and Power plays, I'd rather play Tiddlywinks; it's a rite of passage to leave a football game with a shorter neck!

So when teams like the Denver Broncos and Houston Texans began leaning on area-blocking schemes as their modus operandi, I became disenchanted with what I deemed a finesse style of play.

Well, you can knock me over with a feather, as that thought-process has gone out the window watching high-powered physical outfits start to lean on zone principles and make it look physical-- namely the University of Alabama and LSU.

But when you are in possession of a group of linemen that are both physical and athletic, it brings a whole 'nother element to the fold. And that's glossing over having uber-fast, physical backs at your disposal.

This particular sequence stood out to me due to the spacing of the back-side A-gap; that type of spacing is meant to influence action -- and that's exactly what happened as the play-side flow was washed down and right guard Josh Boutte was able to combo and wash; right tackle Maea Teuhema's seal block ensured the crease.

What makes this a tad more physical than what I'm used to, besides monsters like Boutte and center Ethan Pocic escorting defenders to the front row, is the north-south action coming from running back Leonard Fournette; no defender wants to encounter a downhill Fournette who didn't have to chop his feet or dodge a defender before getting to second- and third-level defenders.

All of that goodness makes the defense hyper-sensitive to the run -- which all but forces  them to key on it -- making back-to-the-basket play-action fakes much more detrimental than just dropping back to pass on every down.

Just look at how the combination of that type of fake and an underneath dummy route put the defense in a conflict of assignment.

Don't get it twisted; LSU is still the king of power concepts and oscillates between them both in the run game. But leaning on area blocking creates a dimension that's hard for anyone to deal with, all things considered.

Look for more Boot action off zone plays and backside isolation routes as the season progresses.

The Tigers are slowly, but surely, building a balanced monster on offense, and when you pair that with lights-out defense you have all the makings of a potential Southeastern Conference champion and, perhaps, a College Football Playoff contender.

There's a ton of football to be played, and it appears that all of LSU's goals are still within reach.


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