Change is apparently coming to the LSU offense.
Coming off a self-described “flat” offensive performance, LSU coach Ed Orgeron vowed his staff would be making changes to correct breakdowns in pass protection and elevate the passing game as a whole.
No. 12 LSU (2-0) hasn’t been the balanced, air-it-out offense that was promised all offseason. Game script has led to LSU going conservative in the second half of both games, but ranking No. 114 nationally in passing yardage (145.5 YPG) and second-to-last in the SEC isn’t going to cut it long term.
“We need to improve in our pass protection and out overall passing game,” Orgeron said to open his Monday press conference. “We’re going to make some adjustments this week to make improvements in that area.”
That process of improve obviously starts with getting left tackle Saahdiq Charles back from a presumed one-game suspension. Orgeron confirmed he’d be back in the starting lineup heading into this weekend’s Southeastern Conference showdown at No. 7 Auburn (2-0).
Getting Charles back will allow LSU to focus on the other tackle spot. Austin Deculus, who started in Charles’ place on Saturday, will now compete with Badara Traore for the starting right tackle spot.
“We’re going to move (Deculus) to right tackle this week and give him the chance to compete with Badara,” Orgeron said. “See who has the best week.”
FCS foe Southeastern was able to generate a consistent rush against LSU’s makeshift line on Saturday night, sacking Joe Burrow twice and hitting him on several other occasions. The offensive line was also flagged four times, three of which were charged to Traore.
Left guard Garrett Brumfield, the leader of the offensive line, felt Deculus performed admirably in his first career start. The staff apparently thought highly enough of the way the sophomore played to re-enter him into the mix at right tackle.
“I think that competition is only going to help the offensive line as a whole,” Brumfield said.
Schematically speaking, there’s things LSU can do to help whoever starts at right tackle. Ensminger can elect to leave a tight end or running back in to block, or at least have them chip on a defensive end, but inversely that means fewer receivers in the pass pattern for Burrow to utilize.
Adding to those difficulties is the fact that Auburn boasts one of the deeper defensive fronts in the nation.
Auburn and LSU are tied for second nationally with nine sacks through two games. Only Arizona State (11) has more. And like LSU, Auburn has accumulated that total without a single player recording more than two, meaning the heat can come from anywhere on Saturday.
“They’re big, physical and fast,” said Orgeron, who at one time recruited most of Auburn’s defensive linemen. “They penetrate the backfield. They slant. They’re well coached. They use their hands well to get off blocks. It’s hard to single block five. If you want to single block, you have to be a man.”
Though their struggles have been the most visible, the onus to improve the passing game doesn’t fall entirely on the offensive line.
Offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger felt that Burrow held the ball too long on several occasions, according to Orgeron, which led to pressure. Burrow accepted his fair share of the blame.
“It was a little of both,” Burrow said. “It kind of goes hand in hand every single play. When protection isn’t great, I’ve got to get the ball out of my hand faster. When I hold the ball a little longer, they’ve got to be more firm up front. We can help take a little bit off each other.”
“We want our guy to take as much time as he wants,” Brumfield responded. “Some of it was scheme and some of it was having to finish on blocks. But with good practices this week, I think you’ll see some improvement.”
Dropped passes have also been a problem dating back to fall camp. Orgeron did mention that LSU will look to feed Jonathan Giles the ball more in weeks to come. Giles has totaled just one reception for nine yards through two games.
Will all those adjustments add up to a more productive passing game when LSU faces an elite defense in a hostile environment? That answer won’t be known until the annual Tiger Bowl on Saturday afternoon.