Updated: Mar 10
HOLD THAT TIGER!
WHY WE NEVER THREW THE DAMN BALL:
AN OFFENSIVE SUMMARY
For years, the running backs at LSU were as integral to the culture of the Bayou as the crawfish themselves: heroes such as Billy Cannon, Charles Alexander, Joseph Addai or Kevin Faulk were names we grew up enshrining...and they may as well have been quarterbacks to us, anyway.
Back then, we went as far they could carry us.
Up until Joe Burrow came on campus, LSU had always been a running team...that's what we did.
Much like the blue collar fan base who lived in and around the team, running the football wasn't just LSU's identity, it was the Bayou way.
For our entire existence, LSU have always played offense with the same intensity and physically imposing mentality we wielded on defense, and we loved our players for it. Win or lose, we wanted every SEC opponent to know: "they were going to be hurting for the rest of the season after they played us".
This trench-warfare was far too violent to attract top level QBs, scaring Terry Bradshaw away to La Tech.
Regardless, whether the score was 3-0 or 7-6 mattered not: in the surreal opinionated bubble of the poll era: only victory and the upholding of SEC savagery would do.
And so, we battled for decades in this same pragmatic, offensively bankrupt fashion, all the way from Paul Dietzel's 1950s escapades to Les Miles' pair of title games in the 2000s:
We never watched a complex Tigers' offense operating out of the spread, shotgun or empty backfield sets (sorry...I had to pause to laugh at the thought itself); we hardly ever saw backs motioning out wide, and we rarely witnessed quarterbacks throwing the football down the field with impunity...hell, as fans, we couldn't even imagine any of that.
LSU's obsession with primitive smash mouth necessity, coupled alongside our unwillingness to adapt to 21st century offensive schemes, nearly damned and caged the future of LSU football, our fortunes forever hinging on the endeavors and health of our running backs.
However, despite mixed offensive results over the last two decades, our program made damn sure to correct the myth that "Louisiana doesn't produce great receivers"....now in 2020, year after year, the Boot produces the best pass-catchers in the world...and whether the Boot produces the quarterbacks or not, they sure are attracting them.
The evolution began as far back as 1983/1984 when Jeff Wickersham took LSU to the top 20, upsetting highly ranked USC and Kentucky on national television in '84 before setting numerous benchmarks the following years.
During his time, Jeff became the first LSU QB to pass for 5,000, the first to throw for 2,000+ in three different seasons, and the first to toss 2,500 in a campaign. After the rampage of Burrow, Wickersham still stands at 3rd place for all time passing yards at LSU.
Take that Joe!!!
In the late 80s, LSU's QB Tommy Hodson followed in Wickersham's footsteps, setting further SEC and university marks, finishing his collegiate career as the most-heralded Tigers QB yet.
As if the man was made of gold dust, Tommy led us to an 18 point win over #7 A&M in his first appearance as a Tiger...and the program's trajectory only proceeded to climb higher, much to the delight of the Boot's long-suffering fans:
Throughout that same freshman season, Tommy Hodson led the Tigers to their first SEC title and top 10 finish since 1970.
As a sophomore, Hodson and receiving phenom Wendell Davis took us to a top 5 ranking, tying Ohio State, beating Florida, Georgia, and trouncing South Carolina in the Gator Bowl.
Tommy delivered another SEC title during his junior year, a wild season which will forever be tied to the "Earthquake Game" victory over #4 Auburn:
With the score 6-0, facing a 4th down and 10, Hodson showed the Eye of The Tiger and found Eddie Fuller for the 11 yard score, Death Valley exploding in an ecstasy so loud, the victorious cacophony registered on the seismograph at the Howe-Russell Geoscience lab.
"LSU wins or loses on this play it appears...touchdown Fuller!!" Came Mike Patrick's crazed call on the do-or-die play.
Ohhhh we also loved us some Tony Moss too, didn't we???
But after Hodson left, the Tigers went back to the medieval run game for almost a decade, forgetting the warrior-isms of Hodson's reign.
Although Jamie Howard and Herb Tyler remain high on the list of all time passing yards, the 1990s LSU Tigers were driven and carried by the brutally brilliant running back play of Kevin Faulk and Rondell Mealey...numbers will never hide or distort that omnipresent fact.
LSU's passing game didn't progress again until the magic of Rohan Davey took control over the offense at the dawn of a new century.
As he led the Tigers to the 2001 Sugar Bowl, Rohan Davey put up transcendent numbers in a blistering, unforgettable season in Baton Rouge, defined by his 528 yards passing in an outrageous victory over Alabama, Rohan's partner-in-crime Josh Reed hauling in an untouchable 19 catches and 293 yards in that win vs the Tide.
Forget about Nick Saban being our head coach in 2001...that team was all about Rohan Davey and Josh Reed.
This was new territory altogether...these were marks in passing yards, receptions and receiving yards that still stand even after Joe Burrow...despite the infinite madness of the 2019 LSU Tigers, the individual stat-padding marks couldn't be topped, mostly due to the benching of many juniors and seniors during a whole host of 2019's 3rd and 4th quarters.
Once again, without needing or receiving any credit whatsoever, our Tigers were ahead of the curve in the SEC.
But it was a Pyrrhic victory:
After Rohan left to find out how good of a guy Al Davis was, the two Matts' took over for the rest of the 2000s, Matt Mauck and Matt Flynn, with a season-long detour into the wild circus of JaMarcus Russell in between.
Both caretaking, game-managing Matts delivered a pair of national titles to Baton Rouge without ever being criminally exposed...mostly because we fielded two separate superteams full of NFL stars to back them.
In between each Matt, we had a season of high promise with Dwayne Bowe / Brandon LaFell out wide catching passes from JaMarcus Russell...though JaMarcus's cannon arm and robust size only marginally outweighed his uncontrollable ego.
Despite a Sugar Bowl victory over Brady Quinn's Notre Dame, JaMarcus is a sad story.
This is a QB who should've won a national title and would've transformed into the greatest non-Burrow Tiger of all time...had he wanted to be....(we'll discuss more about JaMarcus Russell in another piece for another time).
Then, in 2011 the quarterbacking dysfunction cost LSU a hometown national title.
With QBs Jarrett Lee, Jordan Jefferson and Zach Mettenberger on the team, Coach Les Miles couldn't make up his mind.
Failing to stick with either the unpolished scrambling ability of Jefferson, the horrific or (at best) mixed passer rating of Jarrett Lee, or the red shirt freshman (and vastly better) Mettenberger, a guy Les was never entertaining the idea of playing in the first place, Coach Miles took LSU's last remaining offensive hair and ripped it out with both hands.
So, this QB Controversy devolved into a feces-encrusted cat and mouse game:
Les began rotating Jefferson or Lee, back and forth: one would come into the game, utterly fail, quickly be replaced by the other...only for their replacement to be removed once again.
Neither the team, our clueless coach, us the fans or the young men themselves feeling full of anything resembling confidence.
Though he remained on the sidelines unused during the 21-0 shutout in the 2012 BCS National title game, the next two years would see Zach Mettenberger change the complexion and elevate the expectations for LSU quarterbacks across the board.
He tag-teamed the SEC to shreds with OBJ and Jarvis Landry, the trio putting on an offensive show unlike we'd ever seen...until a promising LSU and NFL career was cut short due to a devastating injury.
After the demise of Mettenberger, we found ourselves in the same "offensive wilderness" as before, specifically regarding quarterbacks...although our recruitment of top class receivers exploded: year after year, LSU now possessed a few of the top 10 pass-catchers in each class.
📷 Tigers receivers have always been stone cold cats, most of them hailing, representing, and rising from economically struggling local areas within the Boot, and much like the ambassadors of DBU (Mathieu, Peterson, Landry, Claiborne, Reid etc), WRU has theirs as well...and the list may be just as full and as storied:
We can geaux back to studs such as Josh Reed, Wendell Davis, Michael Clayton, Early Doucet, Dwayne Bowe, Brandon LaFell, Tony Moss...
📷 We can find plenty of examples of LSU receivers' dominance in the SEC and their now current prominence as stars in the NFL or XFL: OBJ, Jarvis Landry, Jacksonville Pro Bowler & one of my favorite doods D.J Chark, Russell Gage, Russell Shephard, Malachi Dupre, Reuben Randle, Travin Dural...the list goes on and on...
The recruiters in Baton Rouge could always collect boundless talent out wide, we've just never had anyone to throw them the ball.
📷 This turned extremely bothersome in the late 2000s and 2010s when we continued our stockpiling of world class offensive talent but resumed our regression at quarterback...therefore annually denying our access to the SEC title game.
In those years, even with 2 national championships, we simply didn't possess an offense to compete.
We simply couldn't fathom how good our recruiting pipeline was or how much we'd wasted the fruit it bore...but luckily for all of us, LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva's lust for a ripe scapegoat saw Les Miles' erratic offensive staffing chucked out the door.
Then, we dodged another bullet when former A.D Alleva's ineptitude and visible dysfunction kept his pursuit of Jimbo Fisher and Tom Herman on thin ice...and we were gleefully stuck with Coach Ed Orgeron.
Many LSU fans were in such a state of exhaustion they couldn't allow themselves to see the full picture:
Ed Orgeron had enough connections, worked enough corridors of NFL office buildings and practice facilities to amass a long list of contacts within the footballing community...and they were all grade A candidates to drastically improve the archaic LSU offense...specifically the passing game.
After Orgeron began the 2017 season with a 3-2 start, especially the loss to Troy in Death Valley, some factions of fans took to social media to call for Ed's firing, picking pisspoor Jimbo Fisher as his immediate successor.
Unsubstantiated claims that there were offers from boosters to pay off the rest of Coach Orgeron's interim contract haven't been confirmed, although this was much the same process the Les Miles situation had been dealt with...but due to the $12,000,000 price tag, it was deemed impossible.
Now, after two years, the promotion of former LSU QB Steve Ensminger to offensive coordinator, the adaptation of the New Orleans Saints' West Coast passing attack under Joe Moorehead, the signing of Joe Burrow, and a national championship....here we are and bandwagon LSU fans..."We can see you!":
In 2019, LSU learned how to play with a lead, we learned how to beat teams from the first minute to the last, and we began a new tradition:
The home of the most aggressive and empirically potent offense in college football now resides right here in Baton Rouge.
LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
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