When you think of LSU football, the first things that come to mind are an aggressive running game and physical defense. This has been the formula under head coach Les Miles, and it has led to much success over the years. One of the things that you don't associate with LSU success is the passing game.
In fact, the air attack has been so dreadful over the years, it is probably the third thing you think about when discussing this program.
Since the 2009 season, LSU has not been ranked any higher than ninth in the SEC in passing offense. This includes finishing dead last in the conference back in 2010 and finishing 11th last season despite having a quarterback with upside in Zach Mettenberger.
No matter which quarterback is under center or who is calling the plays, LSU can't generate any type of success in the passing game. Death Valley has been known to be the place where visiting teams' dreams come to die, but Baton Rouge has become the place where quarterbacks fall off the face of the earth.
How can a team be so successful in all of these other areas but completely flop when it comes to tossing around the pigskin?
I'm not sure you can point the finger at just one thing. However, there are a few things that LSU does that certainly aren't helping.
The first thing would be recruiting and evaluating quarterback talent. When was the last time this program actually landed an elite talent at the position? Gunner Kiel somehow managed to slip away back in 2012. There were a couple of big transfers in both Jerrard Randall and Zach Mettenberger, but I don't think Tigers fans were expecting either to hang the moon.
Oddly enough, Russell Shepard was considered a 5-star recruit back in the 2009 class, according to Scout, but he was moved to the wide receiver position and never played a lick at quarterback.
Now this isn't to say that you need to find yourself a highly rated quarterback to improve the passing game. A lot of times these recruiting services are wrong, and you can certainly find a few diamonds in the rough if you look hard enough. After all, Johnny Manziel was a 3-star player according to Rivals, and he won a Heisman Trophy.
But when you are swinging and missing, then settling for these unpolished players, it is hard to complain about what you end up with.
Sometimes you need to land that top-tier quarterback to know what you are getting and to help turn things around. Instead, the Tigers have missed out on countless players such as Robert Griffin III, Teddy Bridgewater, Kiel, Jameis Winston, Jeff Driskel and Braxton Miller. The list can practically go on forever.
I'm not sure if anybody knows why this is the case. But one thing we know for sure is that LSU's passing game is not making it any easier to snag a top-notch recruit.
No elite prospect wants to play in a run-first offense and manage the game for four quarters. Guys these days want to toss the ball around, win individual awards, put up insane numbers and be considered a top-tier NFL player.
None of which is happening at LSU.
Maybe it is because the offense is too conservative. In the last three seasons, the Tigers have been ranked in the top 25 in the country in turnover margin, including the top five for the last two seasons. This is a team that really doesn't turn the ball over that often, which has helped lead to many victories. Now, some would say the lack of coughing the ball up has to do with terrific coaching, but you could also make an argument that it has to do with safe play-calling.
Instead of taking chances offensively, LSU would rather stick to its bread and butter of pounding the football down your throat. This isn't a flashy offense that takes chances, but it is a smart way of playing football. After all, if you have one of the better offensive lines in the country and a backfield that is deep with four or five quality runners, you would be foolish to shy away from this game plan.
However, if you are able to abuse opposing defenses with the ground game the way LSU does, you would think it would set up bigger passing plays.
Instead, the same slow-paced offense takes the field each and every Saturday, running a million zone and power running plays. The passing game is limited to the short and dinky five-yard timing patterns. Almost any big play resulting in more than 20 yards is due to a receiver breaking free.
This is likely why there was a change at offensive coordinator, with Cam Cameron now the new guy in charge. This may seem strange, because conservative offense and predictability are the same reasons Baltimore Ravens fans were calling for his head when he was in the NFL.
Will LSU's passing game ever improve?
So should we chalk it all up to not trying hard enough on the offensive side of the ball?
Basically. LSU has had the blueprint for many years on how to win games and compete for championships within the SEC. But one would like it to be more effective in the passing game, which is why Cameron was hired to turn things around.
When he was first hired, Cameron was asked about the LSU offense. According to LSU Sports, the first thing he addressed is being conservative and playing not to lose.
It's the LSU Football style already. It's physical. It's tough. It is bringing in guys that are smart and know this game and understand that there are three phases to this game and it is not just offense. We are charged on offense with taking care of the football. LSU historically and under Les' guidance has been in the top five (in turnover margin). There is nobody winning games in this sport winning games turning the football over. Does that mean you play conservative? Absolutely not.
Instead of running those short timing routes that don't move the football enough for the nagging media and fanbase that wants to see fireworks, Cameron brings in an Air Coryell attack. This is basically an offense that takes advantage of the running game to beat the defense vertically.
To take a play out of his playbook in the time he spent with the Ravens, quarterback Joe Flacco is rolling out of a play-action pass. Notice all of the defenders in the box and how many guys ended up biting on the play fake. With a total of eight defenders coming up to stop the run, somebody is going to be left with man-to-man coverage over the top.
One receiver running a post route across the middle of the field to draw the attention of the safety leaves another receiver in one-on-one coverage on a fade route. You can clearly see the results and how effective this play can be, as man-coverage usually benefits the receiver and makes the quarterback's job that much easier.
If you are wondering if Mettenberger can take advantage of single coverage and put the ball where it needs to be, he showed in the Alabama game that he can do just that. I pointed this out a couple of weeks ago when looking at what he needs to improve on.
So why has the quarterback situation been dismal for LSU?
It's a combination of things. Not landing a polished quarterback that is capable of taking over a game hurts. The success on the ground does have an impact on the passing game because it can take a quarterback out of his rhythm. It also has to do with the coaching staff that doesn't seem to be aggressive enough and willing to take enough chances in the passing game.
LSU has been held back by the quarterback position over the years. With Cameron, that burden may finally be lifted.
Note: All screenshots pulled from YouTube video uploaded by user cblunt58.