By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
NEW ORLEANS — Matt Canada’s play sheet is roughly the size of a large pizza box.
At least that’s the first square object that came to mind as LSU coach Ed Orgeron mimed the size of a piece of paper his offensive coordinator handed him moments after dialing up a 27-0 win over BYU in his LSU debut.
Orgeron estimated that Canada only utilized about 10 percent of the arsenal he brought to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Saturday night. The vast majority of the plays Canada did call came from the section marked: Hand Derrius Guice the football.
Guice rushed 27 times for 120 yards with two touchdown plunges to lead the attack. He totaled more carries in the first half (20) than Danny Etling attempted passes for the entire game (17).
“I knew I was going to get a lot of carries,” Guice said. “Coach Canada and Coach O love running the ball. I didn’t know I’d have 20 at the half, but shhhh …. they came kind of quick. You’ve just got to be ready for it and do what the coaches call.”
LSU rode its star tailback and churned out 294 yards on the ground to complement a smothering defense and dominated a team with far less speed and talent on its roster.
On its face, that recipe probably sounds all too familiar to so many victories during the Les Miles Era. LSU didn’t go no-huddle for the entire game or throw the ball 45 times.
The results don’t look that different in the box score. For all that’s different, LSU’s heart and soul offensively is still its All-American running back.
And that’s just the way it should be.
“We’re still a downhill team,” center Will Clapp said. “We just have stuff that we can take advantage of when it’s given to us. Everything we do is a system meant for us to put up points.”
Only a fool would have a player of Guice’s caliber on their roster and not run the offense through him. His role could even expand in coming weeks, with Orgeron suggesting LSU would throw the ball to Guice more as it faces more stout defenses down the road.
But the bottom line is this: Running the football is not an outdated concept. However, being basic in your formational calls and running right into the teeth of the defense is.
One of the chief failures of the old regime was an inability to realize physicality and creativity are not mutually exclusive concepts. Being a run-first power offensive doesn’t mean you have to be predictable.
Canada’s brilliance in this area was on full display Saturday night. According to ESPN Stats & Info, LSU ran inside 32 times and outside 25 times. The Tigers gained 133 yards on inside runs and 163 yards on outside runs.
Charting the game film illustrates how balanced the Tigers remained on the group. Of the called runs — not counting quarterback scrambles — LSU ran left 14 times for 97 yards (6.9 YPC), ran right 12 times for 60 yards (5.0 YPC) and ran between the tackles 28 times for 134 yards (4.8 YPC) and three scores.
The pre-snap motions and various formations that’re the hallmarks of Canada’s system only serve to further accentuate that balance on the ground. All of that window dressing is aimed at forcing the defense to think instead of play.
“It just gets people confused, and once that defense is confused, they’re unsure,” Clapp said. “It allows us to take advantage of certain things. That’s when we made the big plays.”
Etling handed the ball off on jet sweeps/end arounds 10 times to six different players and gained 54 yards. LSU shifted at least one offensive linemen on seven running plays and gained 38 yards. LSU ran behind an unbalanced line — three linemen on one side of the center — 11 times for 67 yards.
“It freezes everybody. It gets everybody thinking. It catches them off balance and off guard,” Guice added. “It helps.”
LSU’s offense will have to continue evolving once it gets into Southeastern Conference play and the athleticism of the opposing defenses steps a couple notches.
The intermediate passing game Orgeron teased will have to be executed as crisply as all those power runs were against BYU if LSU wants to move the ball against the likes of Alabama.
But on night one, Canada proved his creativity can make LSU more effective at what it already did well and he didn’t show any more of his hand than necessary. That’s as good a place as any to build from.