LSU's Stone Age Offense Being Passed by the Rest of College Football

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterSeptember 8, 2016

LSU head coach Les Miles
LSU head coach Les MilesDylan Buell/Getty Images

Les Miles earned the nickname of The Mad Hatter early in his LSU career for taking risks, calling fake punts and field goals and going for it consistently on fourth down with games on the line.

Later in his career, that moniker signifies his ability to try the same things over and over again while expecting different results.

But unfortunately for the Tigers, the results aren't different.

The archaic LSU offense was held in check in a season-opening 16-14 loss to Wisconsin in Green Bay, Wisconsin, on Saturday afternoon, sending Miles back to the hottest seat in the country and leaving Tigers fans to deal with another autumn of disappointment.

"There are a lot of people blaming quarterback Brandon Harris, and they're right," said Matt Moscona of ESPN Radio in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. "There are a lot of people blaming the offensive line and the lack of protection, and they're right. There are a lot of people blaming the lack of creativity and play-calling, and they're right. There are a lot of people blaming Les Miles for being stubborn, and they're right."

They're all right. Every one of them.

Sep 3, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA;   LSU Tigers head coach Les Miles looks to the scoreboard surrounded by players during the fourth quarter against the Wisconsin Badgers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
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Ultimately, the issues with LSU's offense fall squarely on Miles' shoulders. 

When the Badgers held star running back Leonard Fournette relatively in check early, the onus fell on Harris to throw the Tigers back into the game. He couldn't do it. 

He wasn't prepared mentally to do it. He wasn't prepared schematically to do it. He wasn't prepared physically to do it. All of that traces back to the central problem with LSU football: When Plan A breaks down, the players are woefully unprepared to handle Plan B.

"Brandon has shown that, at times, he doesn't look comfortable," said former Tigers running back Jacob Hester (2004-2007). "We all know it's not a talent issue. It's just a matter of finding a way to make him comfortable, because it's still not there."

LSU QB Brandon Harris (right)
LSU QB Brandon Harris (right)Dylan Buell/Getty Images

That's not a Harris problem. That's a Miles problem.

Harris was the full-time starter last year. No other Tigers quarterback even attempted a pass, and he started one game as a true freshman in 2014 while playing in eight games.

After he has spent so much time in the system, the coaches should know how to make him comfortable by now.

They don't, which shows a level of stubbornness that is unmatched in the SEC and an inability to adapt an offensive philosophy to the personnel on the roster.

Football has changed since LSU lost the 2012 BCS National Championship Game 21-0 to Alabama following the 2011 season, but Miles hasn't.

"No one can answer why Coach Miles hasn't been more proactive in seeking to adapt or become more dynamic," said former offensive lineman T-Bob Hebert (2007-2011). "I will tell you what I tell all the people who every day of my life ask, 'Why didn't you, Russell [Shepard] and [quarterback] Jarrett Lee play in the national championship?' I have no idea.

"There is one person who knows the answer you seek, and that is Coach Miles himself, but it doesn't seem like he is talking. If I had to guess, perhaps he really was scarred by Lee's 2008 'pick-six' campaign. On the heels of a national championship, LSU went 8-5 (3-5) despite having an offense that produced really impressive numbers. Problem is, it also turned the ball over at an alarming rate. Ever since that season, Miles started playing things much closer to the vest and continuously reiterated how devastating and unacceptable turnovers are."

Compare that to what Nick Saban has done at Alabama. He recognized that, even with phenomenal defenses, a team is sometimes going to give up yards and points in bunches to exotic offenses. When those situations occur, even the most conservative offenses in the nation need to win games outside of their comfort zones and move the ball in a variety of ways.

That's why Lane Kiffin exists as Alabama's offensive coordinator.

That's why Alabama won a national title over Clemson in a shootout.

That's why Alabama is progressing, while LSU is regressing.

"The toughest thing for people around the LSU program to watch is, you watch Bama run out quarterback Jalen Hurts as a true freshman and account for four touchdowns," said Moscona. "You watch freshman Jacob Eason at Georgia have success. ... Shane Buechele at Texas against Notre Dame looked like an all-star. And then you watch LSU's offense, and nothing's easy. It's like playing tennis with a pingpong paddle."

Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst (left) and LSU head coach Les Miles
Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst (left) and LSU head coach Les MilesJeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The other issues are pressing as well, but they also get traced back to one simple problem—the lack of comfort the players feel with anything other than the power rushing attack.

"The old-school, power rushing attack Miles wants to employ isn't inherently bad; however, it is a system whose success is more directly tied in with the talent that you have," said Hebert. "The spread is so widely utilized throughout the country because it is able to mask weaknesses such as a struggling offensive line. LSU's style of football doesn't do that. Unfortunately for Tigers fans, I don't think this offensive line is capable of making that power rushing attack work against the best teams on their schedule."

Wisconsin's defensive front pressured Harris quite a bit, but a veteran offensive line spearheaded by an experienced center in Ethan Pocic and a junior quarterback in Harris should have been able to recognize what the Badgers were trying to do.

"There were players running free, and it was from experienced players not adjusting to a blitz," said Hester. "It wasn't a situation where they were doing something tricky or mugging up in the A-gaps and bringing somebody from somewhere else. It was literally linebackers blitzing from depth when the ball was snapped. Those are things that you expect experienced guys to pick up. 

"I guess you can say communication with two new tackles. But still, those are things that you don't want to see if you're trying to implement a passing game. Maybe that does come with not having a bunch of blitz pickups in the pass because you run the football so much."

Making sure players are comfortable in suboptimal situations needs to be done during the nine months when games aren't being played, not while they're preparing for opponents on game week.

"During the season, it's tough," Hester said. "To change from one perspective to another, it's almost impossible. It's different when you have an offseason to do it. Between my junior and senior years, we went from Jimbo Fisher's pro-style offense to Gary Crowton's—with a little bit more spread principles. Even that was an adjustment over an entire offseason. It's difficult."

Instead of evolving, LSU—and Miles in particular—has become a dinosaur.

If The Mad Hatter isn't careful, it could lead to his extinction as the Tigers head coach.


Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Odds provided by Odds Shark.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.


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