By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
D.J. Chark took the handoff on two jet sweeps. Russell Gage motioned left, right and then left all — all during the course of one pre-snap sequence. Foster Moreau lined up at the end of the line, split out in the slot and as an H-back in the backfield. The tempo fluctuated from no-huddle to methodical at the discretion of the man calling the shots.
LSU pulled out the offensive bells and whistles that had been such a major theme all spring long in Matt Canada’s unofficial public debut as offensive coordinator at Saturday’s National L Club Spring Game.
However, for a myriad of reasons, the results looked all too familiar.
“It was a defensive night, man,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said bluntly. “Hasn’t happened all spring. I don’t think we played very well on offense. I know Coach Canada is a little disappointed … I think the defense was tired of getting their butts kicked all spring.”
Even in a spring football game, an annual event known for being as vanilla as possible, it took only a drive for LSU to offer a brief glimpse into just how different the offense will look under Canada’s direction.
There were things he didn’t show, of course. Orgeron, the only player or coach to speak to the media after the game, said he’d asked his new coordinator to call a 50/50 mix of run and pass.
The first player to reach the end zone was a tailback named Fournette — that being Lanard, who plunged in from a yard out — but besides that, there wasn’t many remnants of the old regime outside of struggling to move the football against Dave Aranda’s rugged defense.
In fact, you would’ve even thought there were different coordinators calling plays for the first and second team offenses. A testament to Canada’s stated promise to tailor his attack to the skillet of whoever is behind center.
The white team, quarterbacked by Danny Etling, closely resembled the offense Canada employed at Pittsburgh last season. The Tigers operated mostly out of the shotgun, with regular jet sweep motions before the snap — and a fair amount of handoffs off it.
Facing third-and-4 on the opening drive, Etling went deep down the right sideline and hooked up with Chark, who got behind cornerback Greedy Williams. That drive ended in a chip shot Connor Culp field goal once a false start derailed a goal-to-go situation.
The purple team, quarterbacked by Justin McMillan, appeared to be operating a different defense entirely. McMillan worked almost exclusively out of the shotgun flaked by one tailback, typically Fournette, and relied heavily on options and quarterback runs.
However, aside from a long Fournette dash up the middle and subsequent short touchdown plunge, the second unit had no more success moving the ball than the first. And no matter who was playing quarterback, it wasn’t pretty.
Orgeron, who referred to the contest as the first of four “preseason games” — the other three being scrimmages during fall camp — voiced disappointment in the way Etling and the other quarterbacks played. He reiterated the battle for the starting job would remain open heading into the summer.
“Here is the deal,” the coach said. “Nobody has earned the starting spot and you saw that tonight. If we had to name a starter tonight it is not a clear-cut winner.”
The coach mentioned that Etling, the incumbent, had played much better in previous practice and scrimmage settings, but conceded he “didn’t have a good night.” Etling finished 4-for-11 for 54 yards and was picked by Kevin Toliver during the outdoor scrimmage. He missed his final seven attempts.
McMillan went 1-for-3 throwing the ball and got sacked four times behind a makeshift second offensive line. There were also drops from the receiving corps, which Orgeron said was the result of nerves, and general inefficiency from a starting offensive line missing starters at center and right tackle.
“Most of the spring Danny (Etling) has been better,” Orgeron said. “Underneath the pressure, the guys did not perform the way we wanted them to, so they are going to have to show me who is able to perform under pressure to be the LSU quarterback.”
Orgeron said the coaches will watch film Monday before each player and his respective position coach hold exit interviews Tuesday. Then the team will break until June, when the quarterback battle will renew during individual offseason work.