By CODY WORSHAM | Tiger Rag Editor
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Ed Orgeron stepped on Matt Canada’s toes for one game.
There will not be a second.
A week after Orgeron “simplified” LSU’s offense by cutting down on Canada’s trademark pre-snap shifts and motions in a 24-21 loss to Troy, the Tigers went back to their mobile tendencies – and with great success.
Mostly on the back of Canada’s trademark jet sweep, the Tigers raced to a 17-3 lead after five drives, a lead it would not relinquish. For the game, 105 of LSU’s 216 rushing yards came from its receivers, who hit the edges hard and fast.
Russell Gage led the way with 52 yards on six carries, including a 30-yard touchdown to open the scoring in the first quarter. Derrick Dillon broke a 30-yarder of his own before being ejected for targetting, and D.J. Chark picked up 23 yards on three carries.
“That’s what we’ve been trying to do: get our jets going,” said tight end Foster Moreau. “If we get those jets going, those nine techniques, those outside ends gotta rush more up the field, which can bring in more opportunities, which can bring power right behind it, which can bring counter right behind it. Beat them in whichever way they want to give it to us.”
With its offensive line banged up, LSU needed those yards on the edge. Three true freshmen played most of the game on the offensive line. Left tackle K.J. Malone went down for several series with a knee strain, so true freshman Saahdiq Charles – LSU’s back up right tackle who started the season as its starting right guard – moved to left tackle, finishing the game at right tackle. Right tackle Toby Weathersby battled heat-related headaches, forcing true freshman Austin Deculus to fill in beside true freshman right guard Ed Ingram.
“We lost three offensive linemen in the first half,” said Orgeron. “We’ve got freshmen going in there, not a lot of experience, and we didn’t blink.”
In addition to his foundational jet sweep, Canada threw in a new wrinkle: turning Danny Etling into a running quarterback. The Tiger senior, taking away sacks, had seven rushes for 37 yards, mixing in zone reads and traditional speed options off the edge. Etling began his high school career as a veer quarterback and picked up a pair of key third downs with his legs.
“Not quite the veer,” he said. “It felt good though. We just made the plays that were there. Whatever play is called, I’m going to do my best to make it work, whether it’s an option, whether it’s a regular run play, whether it’s a jet, whether it’s a pass play, I’m going to do my best to take care of the football.”
Orgeron said Canada identified a weakness with Florida’s defense against the running quarterback, particularly in the numbers advantage it gave LSU. With Etling carrying the ball, that freed up an additional blocker, a vital component given the state of the offensive line.
“Those are some of the plays (Canada) felt good, that he could do,” Orgeron said. “Attacking the defensive front, get them up the field and kick them out. It gives people problems, with a running quarterback.”
The proof is in the pudding. Back to its original design, Canada’s offense wasn’t perfect. The Tigers bogged down late, gaining just 137 yards after halftime and struggling to find consistency in the passing game. The Tigers followed up a 6-of-10 first half performance on third downs with a 2-of-7 showing in the second half. But Canada’s strategy to stretch Florida horizontally gave LSU the lead it needed, and Orgeron said he won’t be back in the offensive meeting rooms dictating to Canada anymore.
“It’s been like that all season,” said Orgeron. “The only time I stepped in was against Troy. What I told him was, ‘don’t shift or motion.’ But it’s been like that since he got here. That hasn’t changed.”
The game plan was vital, of course, and it will need to be when LSU takes on Auburn next week at home. But Moreau pointed to another facet in which LSU improved from its defeat against Troy to its triumph over Florida.
“We were just motivated,” he said. “Just motivated. And we executed. That’s the most important thing for this offense. If we execute and do what the coaches say, the sky’s the limit.”