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What to Watch For: Previewing the new-look LSU offense

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Much has been made of LSU’s new-look offense, but what can we expect when the Tigers take on the Longhorns?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 31 Georgia Southern at LSU Photo by Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Bring on College Gameday. After each finished Week 1 at 1-0 and beat their opponents for a combined total of 100 to 17, both the Texas Longhorns and LSU Tigers now set their sites squarely on one another as the two top-10 nationally ranked teams prepare for what should be an epic non-conference match up early in the 2019 season.

What could Texas expect from the revamped LSU spread offense?

With just one week of game film (which was essentially one half with all of the starters), there isn’t a ton of data to go off of when looking ahead at what the new LSU offense may throw at Texas this weekend.

What was clear was that senior quarterback Joe Burrow and LSU confirmed the offseason news that the Tigers have transitioned to a hurry-up, no-huddle spread offense attack.

Thanks in large part to the recent addition of new passing game coordinator Joe Brady, the Tigers showed off a new-look offense this weekend.

By my count, the Tigers ran 24 pass plays to 15 run plays with Burrow at quarterback in the first half. And en route to dropping 42 points on Georgia Southern’s swiss cheese defense in two quarters, five of the six touchdowns came on passing plays.

Playing in the Big 12, the Longhorns shouldn’t necessarily be caught off guard by a hurry-up, no-huddle spread offense, but there’s no doubt that the Texas defense will need to use this entire week to shore up questions in its secondary as best they can before kickoff Saturday evening.

What formations could LSU run against Texas?

In the two quarters of football with Joe Burrow taking the snaps on offense, the Tigers zeroed in on a few formations that they based out of. Though the Tigers did a good job of putting up points while keeping things pretty straight forward, Texas may still see a handful of plays from each formation below come Saturday.

11 personnel, 3x1 spread

A common personnel grouping deployed by HUNH spread offenses, the Tigers ran a lot of plays out of this formation. Typically this look had one of three variations to it: 1) The tight end would line up just off the tackle’s outside foot inline or a step off the line, 2) the tight end would line up as a flex TE/WR, or 3) the tight end would sub off the field for a quicker receiver.

Considering the LSU tight end position consists of 6’3”, 249-pound Thaddeus Moss, the son of former NFL star wide receiver Randy Moss, and 6’5”, 242-pound Stephen Sullivan, a former four-star wide receiver recruit of the 2016 class, Texas should be prepared to cover the versatile tight ends wherever they line up.

In the top play above, Burrow finds 6’3”, 192-pound junior wide receiver Justin Jefferson for the score. Jefferson, who saw 48 more targets than any other player on the team last season, predominately lined up in the slot against Georgia Southern. He ended the day with a team-leading five receptions for 87 yards and a touchdown.

11 personnel, 3x1 - bunch set

Of the eight or nine times the Tigers used this bunch set trips formation in the first half, it was predominantly to run the ball straight ahead. The running back would line up behind the bunch set (one tight end and two receivers) and look to follow the tight end through a crease off the outside shoulder of the tackle.

On one occasion, a play-action pass was called out of this set, and on another Justin Jefferson hauled in a reception on what looked like a mid-level crossing route.

Though LSU used this formation for run plays, there’s likely a set of play-action or passing plays the Longhorns may see if the Texas defense begins to key on the run too much.

11 personnel, 2x2

When LSU was going tempo and needed a short gain, they’d line up in this 2x2 set with Jefferson sliding in from the slot to act as another blocker in the box.

I’d imagine when Burrow is in shotgun, there’s another layer to this play in the form of an RPO or a play-action that the Texas defense could see called.

What specific weapons does LSU have on offense?

When it comes to receiving threats, quarterback Joe Burrow and the LSU offense have a plethora of weapons to target. Along with leading receiver Justin Jefferson, the Tigers’ starting trio of receivers consists of 6’1”, 200-pound sophomore Ja’Marr Chase and 6’4”, 200-pound sophomore Terrace Marshall.

All three receivers found the end zone this past weekend with Marshall, a former five-star from the 2018 class, hauling in three touchdowns on the evening out of the Tigers’ “Z” position.

As mentioned earlier, the Tigers also utilize big receiving threats at tight end in Thaddeus Moss and Stephen Sullivan, with Moss ending last week’s game with two receptions for 61 yards.

If the Tigers’ do have a weak point on offense early in this season, it may be at running back. After seeing Nick Brossette explode onto the scene rushing for over 1,000 yards his senior season, the Tigers now turn to 5’8”, 209-pound junior Clyde Edwards-Helaire to pace the position that may end up as more of a committee than it has in the recent years’ past.

LSU currently has five healthy running backs on roster (must be nice) who all saw action last weekend. Behind Edwards-Helaire sits senior Lanard Fournette and freshmen Chris Curry (redshirt), John Emery Jr., the No. 2 running back in the 2019 class, and Lord Tyrion Davis.

To put it simply, LSU’s offense is one that can spread the ball around to a number of different play-makers at different levels.

How should the Texas defend the LSU spread offense?

At first glance, Texas will need its nickel, rover, and mac positions to play disciplined and alert football Saturday evening. Along with run fits, there will be a handful of coverage assignments that guys like Jeffrey McCulloch, Joseph Ossai, and B.J Foster will be asked to make that ultimately could determine how this game plays out.

Utilizing some of the bigger Texas defensive backs and safeties will come into play here as well.

Justin Jefferson is obviously a player those defenders will need to keep tabs on along with running backs slipping out of the backfield for check downs and screens.

Communication in coverage throughout the defense will be key, as well. Whether it’s one of the big receiving tight ends running deep or another electric receiver, like Terrace Marshall, motioning pre-snap, the defensive backs will need communicate coverage shifts to prevent any major breakdowns once the ball is snapped.

Ideally, the Texas pass-rush creates problems for Joe Burrow. He was quick to check down to his running backs at times against Georgia Southern, and if the Longhorns can get him on the move and uncomfortable in key situations, it would help a secondary that is still working to figure out a few key spots (like corner opposite Jalen Green).

The competition wasn’t up for the challenge this past Saturday when LSU’s new spread offense found the end zone six times in the first half. A lesser opponent, some favorable field position, a handful of weapons, and an improved scheme all played into the dominant performance by the Tigers’ offensive starters.

Come Saturday, the Longhorns’ defense will truly need to excel in some key areas for this Texas team to have a fighting chance at making another national statement against an SEC opponent.