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DandyDon.com Q&A with Mike Detillier, Part 1: Coach Orgeron’s Second Full Season, Steve Ensminger, Joe Burrow, & the LSU Offense
Scott: Before getting into specifics, let’s start this Q&A with your thoughts on the regular season as a whole and what Ed Orgeron was able to accomplish in his second full year?
Mike: I picked them (8-4) and most national folks thought I was crazy. And many local folks too. Now, some are re-inventing their comments about the year, but truthfully most people picked them six wins or maybe seven. Nine wins was quite an accomplishment with the schedule, new quarterback in place, new offensive scheme, the issues upfront-which I think were telling at times, and so Coach O got the most out of his players this season. It’s something he does well. Scheme-wise, this team needs to redo some things in the passing game, no question. But with no signature players on offense to make it work, it was outstanding. I like the two young receivers in Ja’Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall, and I would have liked to see more of them in 2018, but they have a chance to be very good for the Tigers.
I think Coach O and his staff really maximized talent. Other than the Arkansas game, and that was not a big surprise since it came after the Alabama game, he had them ready to go each week. That’s a tough road they traveled this year playing against Miami early, Auburn on the road, at Florida, beating Mississippi State, and Georgia at home, major disappointment game versus Alabama, and Texas A&M on the road in a game they should have won in regulation that they should have finished.
Talking about the officials is useless at this stage. But the SEC has to do something about it because weekly this has become a major story for the conference. Just be consistent with the calls and that’s all coaches, fans and media ask for, but there are a lot of interpretation calls out there and they’re so inconsistent. But that’s a story for another day.
It was a year that was unexpected and while it wasn’t always pretty, they got it done. It’s about winning. That A&M game hurt though because it would have gotten you to 10 regular season wins and you had chances to win it during regulation and let it slip away. But you’ve got to put that game aside and move on. You can’t do anything about it. Central Florida couldn’t care less about how LSU lost. But that’s a tough defeat.
Scott: Now let’s talk about Steve Ensminger’s offense that finished 78th in the nation and 10th in the SEC in total offense. Do you think that warrants a change at offensive coordinator? Or any other offensive staff changes?
Mike: Every year, every team goes through staff changes and so I see that happening at LSU also. Listen, Steve is calling what Ed wants in an offensive coordinator. Ed doesn’t call the plays, Steve does, but every coach hires coaches to implement their own scheme or system. That’s everywhere, every coach. Steve and Jerry Sullivan, along with the offensive coaches, come up with the game plan, but Coach O is involved with it too.
Some of the issues boil down to winning in the trenches upfront. It was erratic at times offensively because that’s how your offensive line played. Yes, you had drops, and yes, you had a new signal-caller from the spring, but this is also about pass protection and getting a push upfront running the ball. You had to keep extra people in at times because you didn’t feel confident you could protect upfront. That’s not splitting the atom here. You could see at times they were struggling and it was not just one spot to correct. The breakdowns came across the board. You have to win upfront.
Against Florida, it was matching up with their speed-guys on defense. Against Alabama, they had speed and power upfront. A&M had some guys upfront that could get up and about on the field, we saw that especially early in the game.
I always go back to what went wrong and so talent matters, no question, but LSU had trouble with speed/quickness guys on defense to matchup offensively upfront. You have to adjust to that element. I have no doubt they would have liked to throw the ball more, but did you feel confident they could protect Burrow at times? That’s an easy answer. You keep extra folks in to help protect and that takes away the shots, downfield-player-wise. There is some work to do scheme-wise to get this team better offensively, but it all starts upfront.
Scott: Do you agree that lack of depth at tight end limited this offense? Steve Ensminger and Coach O talked a lot about the tight ends in the passing game before the season.
Mike: Yes I think it did to an extent. I do firmly believe the offensive player they will miss the most in 2019 will be tight end Foster Moreau. He was one hell of a blocker upfront and when they got him involved in the passing game he showed he could get open and make the catch. Foster is a really good football player, but yes, the injuries at the TE position hurt, especially to a quarterback with no game experience early on with the Tigers and looking for that safety-valve guy downfield. Steve talked about using a lot of two-TE sets and flexing one out to get that mismatch downfield, but injuries took that element away in 2018.
Scott: I could give you reasons why I’m optimistic that LSU’s offense will be better next year, but I’d like to hear yours
Mike: Joe Burrow is one. He had an outstanding game versus Texas A&M. Losing that game was difficult, but Joe is tough, smart, a terrific leader, and I think he will be a much more accurate passer next year with a better sense of working with his receivers and a better concept offensively. And he had a lot of dropped passes too.
One thing about him is that he ran the ball better than most thought he could. That is a weapon on offense. I know Myles Brennan got hurt and we didn’t see him much, but you can see he has some major league arm talent and you would like to see him physically get stronger, but he has some zip on those throws.
More experience at wide receiver with guys like Justin Jefferson, Dee Anderson, Stephen Sullivan and the young freshmen in Chase and Marshall. They have to work on catching the ball cleaner, but I like that group at wide receiver.
Offensive line – you have to find the right mix to make it work, but you lose Garrett Brumfield, who was a really good player for LSU. But you return Saahdiq Charles at left tackle, Austin Deculus at right tackle, Damien Lewis at guard, and Lloyd Cushenberry at center. And you’ve got Adrian Magee, Cole Smith, Traore Badara and Donavaughn Campbell back also. Chasen Hines, who got recruited as a defensive lineman, got moved and saw a lot of action at guard for LSU as a freshman. And there’s the move of another freshman in Dare Rosenthal to left tackle during the year.
You’ve got to develop those guys and again, a lot of times it’s about finding the right five guys at their respective spots to make it work. But there’s some talent to work with for 2019.
And you will have a freshman or two that could really be hard to keep out of the lineup also.
Scott: Let’s talk about the year Burrow had. I said when he transferred that I thought he’d be a difference-maker, and I think he has been. You agree? And how much better do you expect him to be next year?
Mike: Joe Burrow played very well, no question, and was a difference-maker. He’s very smart and super tough and LSU needed that alpha-dog leader offensively and he’s it. Again, if you just look at stats you don’t get the full picture because of the shuffling of the offensive line and the inconsistent nature at times of the wide receivers, but he certainly lived up to his press credentials from high school and the little we saw of him at Ohio State. Because they were so concerned about protecting him, it left him at times with a limited amount of receivers to go to downfield, but that’s not on Burrow, that’s offensive line play. One thing, and you can see it’s some lack of experience starting at the college level, is the feel of the pass rush from the blindside. The time clock in your head as a QB goes off and you know the ball has to come out or the pressure will get you. That part of feeling pressure, or I should say anticipation of a rush, Joe can improve on.
Scott: What did you make of all the drops by the receiving corps?
Mike: At wide receiver, it is all about repetition. You have to work at your game every day. You can be talented, but individually you have to get in the football lab and work at catching the ball cleaner. Make the catch first and then worry about running after the catch. You get better by doing it over and over again. Yes, it matters being in great shape, but you work at that. The same goes with catching the ball over and over again.
Scott: As for LSU’s run game, I admire the heck out of the way Brossette handled his situation and patiently waited behind Fournette and Guice for his time to shine. He has proven to be a very good back, though not necessarily an “elite back.” Do you think either of the two guys we have committed – John Emery and Tyrion Davis – can come in and be that elite back right away?
Mike: I agree with you on Nick and let’s also speak about Clyde Edwards-Helaire. He did one helluva job for the Tigers this season. He has a certain role on this team. Clyde is super quick, he’s a tough little runner and he fights and scratches for every inch on the field. I thought we would see more of Chris Curry, but there’s more to this game than running the ball and Chris has to work on picking up the blitzes better and just being a little more patient with his runs upfield. I like him as a player.
John Emery is a big time performer, no doubt and Tyrion also. Both Davis and Emery are big backs with speed and another gear in space. Both have a certain running gait and size/power skills that make them special. Both show a lot of patience with their blockers and then jet up the field. Freshmen running backs can make a huge difference and we have seen that throughout the college football world. You have some elements to the college scene that are different from high school. The speed of the game is first and foremost and for a running back they do ask you to block and the running holes are shrunk compared to high school. Davis and Emery are game-changers at halfback, but I know Coach O likes that running back by committee style of play and you saw that this season.
Scott: Let’s end this segment with the players on offense that played better than you thought they would in 2018?
Mike: Nick Brossette… right off the bat… He rushed for 922 yards, a solid 4.4 yards per carry and scored 14 TD’s. He also caught 13 passes as a receiver.
Lloyd Cushenberry at center. Will Clapp was a very good SEC offensive lineman and now with the Saints, and I thought Lloyd handled that critical center position well in his first season as a full-time starter. Physical, long-armed center and he has good positioning skills. Made the proper calls to pick up the inside blitzes. It’s a tough spot to play to be the signal-caller along the offensive line, but Lloyd did very well. That spot worried me going into the season.
Justin Jefferson. We saw it in the spring and it carried over into the regular season. He was the Tigers’ most reliable wide receiver. He had a tough night and some drops versus Rice, but he got open, runs good routes, he’s fearless making tough catches over the middle, he normally makes the tough catches and he has some scoot after the reception. Fifty catches for 788 yards is pretty darn good. You love his work ethic and his toughness as a player. He gets the most out of his ability out on the field.
To be continued...
Mike Detillier, based in southern Louisiana, is editor and publisher of Mike Detillier’s NFL Draft Report. He’s also the college and pro football analyst for WWL 870 AM Radio in New Orleans, a sports columnist for several newspapers and Web sites, and a frequent guest on radio and television programs across the country. Visit Mike’s website at mikedetillier.com and follow @MikeDetillier on Twitter.
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