It is only natural that there be some concern about an offense when it doesn't return its top two weapons from the previous season. Such is the case at LSU where record-setting quarterback Rohan Davey and Biletnikoff Award-winning wide receiver Josh Reed have moved on to the NFL.
But confident that he has players who are capable of running his offense, Tiger offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher is carrying over a key part of his offense that was very productive in 2001 – the quick passing game. Davey enjoyed great success using the quick pass last season, and his strong throwing arm was only part of the reason.
The quick passing game, according to Fisher, requires that a quarterback be a good decision maker first and have an accurate arm. If he can get the ball downfield in a hurry like Davey, so much the better.
Matt Mauck has learned this aspect of Fisher's offense and others over the last two seasons as a backup to Davey. While Mauck may well indeed possess a strong arm and the other intangibles that made Davey such a great quarterback, it could be his prowess in the quick passing game that gives LSU a chance to repeat last season's success.
Fisher explained the intricacies of the quick passing game at a workshop for the Louisiana High School Coaches Association annual convention last month. Whether coaching a limited prep squad or a major college program with multiple weapons, Fisher feels the quick pass can provide a solid foundation for a team that wants to throw the ball.
"You don't have to be a great throwing team," Fisher said. "You can be a solid running team. But if you can do this well, it's also going to help your running game. It's not hard to do."
Fisher's breakdown of the LSU's play calls from last season shows that the quick pass was used one-third of the time the Tigers threw the ball. Given the variety of formations and routes it offers, it should continue to be a staple of Fisher's offense.
"I have never seen a team that is successful throwing the football that is not a great quick game team," he said.
So what makes the quick game such an appealing option in the LSU offense?
Why are the Tigers so successful using it?
Fisher has his reasons.
1. It allows you to be physical.
Fisher is out to shatter the pre-conceived notion that a passing football team has to be one reliant on finesse from all eleven players on the field.
An old adage in coaching circles defines basketball as a contact sport. Football, coaches say, is a collision sport, and it requires players who can withstand and deliver a pounding on each play.
"As soon you say passing game to guys, the first thing they think of is soft," said Fisher. "You don't think it's physical. Well I'm a believer that football…will always be a physical game. Teams that don't truly play it physical will have a hard time winning championships.
"We throw it around as much as anybody, but we try to be as physical as we possibly can."
The physical philosophy all starts on the offensive line at LSU, where the players are taught to block low - "pop and chop" - to force the defensive line back. Even if the offensive lineman doesn't put his man on the ground, he usually forces his hands down – a crucial part of the quick pass game.
"When you do want to drop back later and throw the ball," said Fisher, "those guys have that fear in their minds that they're going to get cut. You're winning. If you can make them hesitate a half a second, a lot of times that's the difference in getting that guy open down the field and making the play."
Receivers are often required to get physical in the quick pass game, too. If a defensive back is pressing, the receiver has to establish leverage to get into the open or clear a throwing lane. By using motion before the snap, an offense can create a favorable mismatch between a wide receiver and a defensive back.
Michael Clayton, at 6-foot-4, 190 pounds, will beat a 5-foot-10, 160-pound cornerback on nearly every play.
2. Not many negative plays.
Fisher's passing philosophy shines through in the quick passing game. His goal is to keep negative plays to a minimum, and to do this he gets the quarterback to focus more on making correct decisions rather than completions.
"We never talk to our quarterbacks about completion percentage – ever," Fisher said. "When you get into completion percentage, the first thing (the quarterback) wants to do is complete every pass. He starts holding the ball and gets sacked. Then you get negative plays.
"We tell him, ‘If it ain't there, throw it away.' I'm a better coach on second-and-10 than second-and-15."
Since the quick passing game has the quarterback working out of a three-step drop (five for those capable of doing it quickly), he is less likely to linger with the ball and make a poor choice on where to throw it. Plus, the pass rush has much less time to get to the quarterback and react to where he is throwing the ball.
Time is also short for the defenders with coverage assignments. Fisher's quarterbacks will keep their eyes centered until they take the third step back. Once they look to their target, the ball is released. The linebackers or defensive backs essentially cannot break until the ball is already in the air.
"Eyes go, ball goes," is what Fisher preaches to his passers.
Completions do provide a good gauge of a quarterback's performance, but Fisher says he pays more attention to the number of open receivers he hits and even considers a throwaway a good play at times.
"You might complete 62 percent of your passes, and we'll only complete 53 percent," said Fisher. "But we'll win the game because we're moving the ball and not taking any negative plays."
3. It provides blitz control.
A defense can always send more people than an offense has assigned to block them, and the best course of action for the quarterback is to get rid of the ball quickly.
In blitzing, a defense will often concede a mismatch that involves one of the offensive skill players. If the quarterback makes the correct read on a blitz, he can get the ball to his playmaker and stop the blitz in its tracks.
Eventually, a defense that relies on heavy blitzing will have to respect the quick pass and play on its heels. This allows other aspects of the offense (i.e. the running game or a deep passing game) to be used.
CONTINUED - Part 2 of the Quick Passing Game feature