NCAA Baseball Championships:
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Q&A with Mike Detillier, Part 1:
Mike’s Bye Week Thoughts on LSU’s Offense
Scott: It’s been a while since we chatted, so let’s start from the beginning. What do you make of the rough start the Tigers had – the losses to State and Troy – and their remarkable bounce back?
Mike: You just never know what flips the switch in sports. I give Coach O and his staff full credit. This could only be fixed by the people within the team. There is no Superman who will swoop down and save the day. The players and staff had to do this and for this Tiger team nothing will come easy, but they found some leaders and they displayed some big-time heart. They have gotten healthier in some spots, but it started on defense and on special teams. You will be able to point back to that Auburn game and being down 20-0 and fighting back to win the game. They found their football and emotional pulse in that game. All this talk about an LSU Insider with all the news from inside the team and questioning Guice and Key’s play and commitment to play on the field… that was fake news!
Scott: There are some who look at passing stats and conclude that Matt Canada’s offense isn’t all that different than that of the previous regime (Les Miles/Cam Cameron). What do you say to those folks?
Mike: Well, they would be right in saying it looks a little familiar. This team is still built with Les Miles’ football bricks. You are built to run the ball and throw the ball short. There are some new bells and whistles with the shifts and movement, but you are playing with the same players. And I have a tremendous amount of respect for Danny Etling. He’s a leader, he’s efficient in the short passing game and a major league tough guy, but I brought this up in the summer about his struggles in the medium to intermediate areas of the game. For LSU, it’s either a short pass or a long one. Etling has struggled in that range of 9 to 19 yards and that is so critical. You just have to play with the players you have and adjust game-to-game, and year-to-year scheme wise.
Scott: The thing that stands out the most to me, outside of the motions and shifts, is the way that Canada takes what the defense gives him. Case in point: The Tigers couldn’t protect Danny Etling against Ole Miss so Canada pounded the ball in the run game and utilized a quick-strike, short passing game with the backs to move the chains. Of course, the big question becomes: If Alabama sells out to stop the run and forces LSU to beat them with a downfield passing game, does LSU have what it takes?
Mike: Well, it’s about adjusting week to week to the strengths and weaknesses of your opponent. Canada saw that the Ole Miss defense couldn’t stop the run and had major issues in the short passing game covering backs and tight ends and he took full advantage of that. Guice was healthier than what he has been all year and they rode his talents and it opened up the short game with Williams and to the TEs in Foster Moreau and J.D. Moore. That will be a totally different story vs. Alabama. Coach O said it from day one and he’s 1000% right that it all starts upfront. Don’t watch the ball, watch the linemen. Alabama has been superb in getting the most out of their linemen on both sides and then when they leave, the next group plays close to the same level no matter their classification. LSU does not have that now. They will recruit a lot of offensive/defensive linemen, but they can’t match that physicality, talent, and depth in the trenches at this time. People will point to the quarterback and you would love to have that signature guy there, but the huge difference today is all about the “skill” people in football – the offensive and defensive linemen. LSU has a ton of young guys playing on the offensive line and Bama is just better there than LSU is.
Scott: Well, I was going to ask how you think LSU’s offensive line matches up with Bama’s defensive front this year but I think you just answered it.
Mike: Nick Saban is like Bill Belichick in finding the weak link and then going after it. For LSU it is upfront and they will find that weak link and just pound away at that player or players. Bama is physical and they will stop the run and then get after the quarterback. Leonard Fournette was a great player at LSU, but he couldn’t do anything versus Alabama because they schemed to find the right gaps to hit and slow him down in the backfield. Every time he touched the ball you almost saw the “team picture” on defense for Alabama. They won the battle upfront and that script will be the same this time. Nick has always stated his goal on defense is to stop the run and force you to throw the ball to beat him. He always has said that on occasion there will be a gunslinger quarterback who can do it, but few can without that running game edge. Manziel, Cam Newton, Chad Kelly, and DeShaun Watson did it, but that list is short. Without a strong offensive line, the ability to win a game versus Alabama is really tough and right now Bama has the huge edge with their defensive line versus LSU’s offensive line. And can Danny Etling make those 8 to 10 critical throws in a game? That always tilts the scale.
Now, LSU is playing with house money. No pressure. Playing in Alabama, no one expects you to win or keep the game close like last year. Go out and play hard and play with enthusiasm and who knows what the football Gods have for you. You could get a few turnovers and make this interesting.
Scott: Do you think Canada’s shifts and motions, combined with his stretching out the field horizontally with swing passes and sweeps, will help compensate for deficiencies up front and produce some running lanes for Derrius Guice this year?
Mike: Maybe. I hope so. The key for Alabama on defense is to slow down Guice in the same fashion they slowed down Leonard and then put the heat on Etling to make the critical throws. You can’t give them turnovers and you have to convert on 3rd down attempts. The issue is if you can’t run the ball and then they know you are going to throw it. It becomes super tough because one breakdown upfront and the pressure is on the quarterback. They watch film and they will attack and in a fury what they perceive to be the weak link upfront and I’m sure they will attack the young freshmen linemen.
Scott: You think Canada has been holding anything back, keeping things under wraps, for the Alabama game?
Mike: No, I don’t believe that theory at all. At this point, there is not a lot you haven’t shown offensively.
Scott: Sticking to the topic of LSU's offense, I conducted a poll yesterday asking readers to name the team's MVP so far. Our nominees were Derrius Guice, DJ Chark, Russell Gage and Danny Etling. What do you think of those choices and who would be your pick?
Mike: Co-MVPs for me would be Gage and Chark for their play running the ball on the reverses/jet sweeps, catching the ball, and also on special teams. Chark has been a difference-maker in the return game and Gage is awesome on the coverage units.
Scott: What one stat sticks out about Alabama’s defense in 2017?
Mike: Well, this is an offensive and defensive stat, but Bama has outscored their opponents 204 to 26 in the 1st and 3rd quarters of play in 2017. Their game-plan works offensively and defensively and then if there are any adjustments, they make them at halftime. That stat is amazing. Second is they are so opportunistic on defense with 11 pass interceptions and 8 forced fumbles.
Scott: You tweeted about this being the biggest talent rivalry game in the country. It’s amazing the talent that has played in this game throughout the years between LSU and Alabama..
Mike: You are right, Scott. From the 2010-2017 drafts, the LSU versus Alabama game has produced 113 players, the most of any yearly rivalry. And LSU also holds the second place “talent game” too with LSU vs Florida with 102 players. LSU vs Alabama has produced 30 first-round picks from 2010-2017 drafts. Florida versus Florida State has produced 95 total players, Florida State versus Clemson has produced 90 and Florida versus Georgia has produced 89. People ask me what about Ohio State versus Michigan? Well, in that 2010-2017 timeframe they have produced 87. USC versus Notre Dame has produced 74.
Scott: We’re gonna move on and talk defense and special teams, but before going there I feel like I didn’t ask you enough about Etling’s quarterback play thus far. Your thoughts?
Mike: Danny is a tough dude. He gets the very most out of his ability and he is a terrific leader. He is pretty good in the short game and he has a niche in the deep passing area, but that is not a high-percentage pass. Where Danny struggles is in the medium range/intermediate part of the game. Passing plays 9-19 yards – he makes a few, but he struggles to connect with those critical passes that move the chains. Let’s be real. Danny is a complimentary piece and not someone that can carry an offense with his throws without help from a strong rushing attack. It is what it is. No matter who is the quarterback for LSU under Coach O, the running game will be the key to success for whoever calls the plays and that, today, is Canada. You are not built personnel-wise to throw the ball 35 to 40 times a game on a regular basis. The area right now LSU struggles with is upfront in run blocking and in pass protection and in the passing game it is the medium range throws to hook up. Etling is your leader on offense and he will make some plays that make you say “Why did he throw it?” and then the next pass you say “No!” and then he hooks up with the receiver. Love his courage as a player, but with Myles Brennan and Lowell Narcisse next year it will be a little different look offensively on what they can and can’t do.
Stay tuned for Mike’s thoughts on LSU’s defense, special teams, and his Bama prediction.
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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