By CODY WORSHAM | Tiger Rag Editor
Matt Canada is used to pressure. And over the years, he’s grown used to crowds, too. After 25 years of coaching at the college level, he’s learned the two are independent of each other.
Whether it’s 100 people watching from the stands – as was the case in his play-calling debut at Butler 20 years ago – or the millions set to tune into his debut as LSU’s offensive coordinator on Sept. 2 against BYU, Canada feels only the pressure he puts on himself and his team.
“I understand where we’re at,” he told a room full of reporters Monday. “No disrespect, that’s why I don’t read anything any of you guys right and don’t worry about what any of you guys say.
“We’ve set a standard. This is what we expect. Strive for perfection, settle for excellence. We’re probably not going to get there, but we’re sure not going to settle for okay.”
‘Okay’ would be a kind descriptor for the LSU passing attack of recent years that Canada’s been paid to fix. The Tigers have ranked 101st, 106th, and 116th nationally in passing offense in the last three seasons, leading to the firing of ex-offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and the head coach who hired him, Les Miles. The two were often lambasted for predictable offenses that picked on average defenses with the power running game but couldn’t adapt to better opponents who geared up to stop the run, never fearing the LSU aerial attack.
Canada isn’t about to give up on the run – not with All-American tailback Derrius Guice leading a stable of talented toters. He’s just looking to supplement it with a multiple offense full of shifts, imbalances, and, he hopes, mismatches for the defenses it faces.
“We’re looking to stretch the defense both horizontally and vertically,” he said. “We’re looking to be a physical offense that runs the football. We’re looking to be an offense that, if you take away the run, can make passes and make plays down the field.”
Whose job it will be to helm that offense remains an unanswered question, though few doubts remain that anyone other than incumbent Danny Etling will be the team’s starting quarterback for the season opener. Canada said head coach Ed Orgeron will name the starter, and he’s not opposed to playing two quarterbacks, should Orgeron be so inclined.
But if Etling is the guy, Canada feels he will improve on a solid junior season in which he tossed for 2,129 yards on 59.5 percent completions. The biggest reason: a better back, following offseason back surgery on an injury which limited Etling physically all last year.
“I don’t think any of us can really, unless you guys have had that situation, I can’t relate to trying to do everything he was doing without being able to have feeling in certain parts of your foot,” Canada said.
“I think there’s more confidence in what he’s doing. I think there’s more velocity and what he’s doing. You can’t ask for anybody to try any harder than Danny does.”
Behind Etling, presumably, are a pair of freshmen quarterbacks duking it out for understudy duties. Myles Brennan has enjoyed most of the second team reps, completing 10-of-20 passing in LSU’s final fall scrimmage, while Lowell Narcisse – off back-to-back knee injuries in his junior and senior years of high school – has served as a running quarterback in separate packages.
“Myles has come in, worked hard in the summer, was ready to go when he got here,” Canada said. “Myles has gotten better every week. I thought he made a tremendous jump with his play Saturday. He looks calmer. He looks more in charge of the offense. That’s what you would expect. He’s just getting started.”
Narcisse, meanwhile, is seeking consistency. Unlike Brennan, who graduated high school in May, Narcisse enrolled at LSU in January, getting a full spring of practices under his belt. That helped him overcome what Canada called the freshman’s initial primary concern – learning the playbook – while working to find his rhythm after an injury-riddled conclusion to his prep career.
“I guess the best thing I can say about him coming in, as all athletes would be, he was pretty confident in his abilities,” Canada said of Narcisse. “He’s learned the offense very, very well. At times his physical traits have come out and been exactly what he wants to be. Sometimes he hasn’t been quite as consistent as he wants to be.
“How awesome is that? That the part he was most concerned about, he’s really done a great job with. And he’s coming physically. If you know his history, he’s been banged up for a couple of years. To think you’re just going to fall out of the sky and (snaps fingers) be ready to play is a challenge.
“For two freshmen, they’re living up to all the expectations that we have for them and not worrying about anybody else’s.”
MORE FROM CANADA
On DJ Chark…
“Chark has really mastered his position. He’s the leader of that group. Obviously has talent level is what it is. His route running has made some really, really good steps.”
On the wide receivers as a whole…
“The depth in that position is something that has really come on strong. Steph(en) (Sullivan) has had a good day once in a while. Drake (Davis) has had a good day once in a while. They’ve all had their moments, which is what you’ve got to have. You got have more than one guy. They can take one away if they want to. They can put two guys, they can do that. They can take the run away. We’ve got to be able to spread the football around.”
On spreading the ball to multiple playmakers…
“Everybody likes to be involved. Everybody wants to have a chance. We had places where we had guys catch 80 balls. But we do believe it’s harder to defend if we’ve got five or six guys catching 40 balls.”
On freshman JaCoby Stevens’ move from safety to WR…
“He wanted to come over, and saw a chance for him to get on the field, a chance for him to play sooner. We had need at depth there. He made a tremendous play on Saturday. He made a couple, but he made one, he just went up there and snatched the ball like you want to see a guy do. There’s a reason everybody went after him so hard. We are really excited for him to be with us. He’s done a great job.”
On how he calls plays…
“We’ve got a dartboard up there, and I just throw it at it, and whatever it is is what comes out…It’s not like we lineup, and the only guy that’s going to get the ball as the tailback, or we’re gonna throw it to this one receiver. We’re gonna throw it to the best players.”