by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
NOTES & TAKEAWAYS
POTENT OFFENSIVE FIREPOWER
This should come as no surprise to anyone who can read a roster list with any context: LSU's 2023 roster is loaded with talent in the skill positions.
However, we wondered if LSU's run-heavy, tight end-based, more methodical 12 personnel-based offense from last year would continue to be the staple of Brian Kelly & Mike Denbrock's core offensive philosophy.
And while that still may be the case, with feature sophomore tight end Mason Taylor rested for the scrimmage as he makes his way back from injury, we may have also just witnessed the first evolution in Kelly & Denbrock's offensive structure:
LSU almost abandoned the run, with QBs Jayden Daniels & Garrett Nussmeier lighting up the secondary with passes all over the place, operating the short passing game fans have been clamoring for since last season, while both took shots downfield (both completing strikes of 70 yards, while Nussmeier hit Brian Thomas Jr with a 51 yard deep ball).
Nussmeier and Daniels both tossed deep shots for Chris Hilton Jr, Daniels overthrowing Hilton Jr while Nussmeier put the ball right in the former Zachary speed demon's hands, only for #17 to drop the ball. Hilton Jr received 4 official targets, only making one catch for 6 yards, though 3 of those passes were uncatchable errant throws from Garrett Nussmeier (2) and Jayden Daniels (1).
Still, it was impressive to see the Mike Denbrock offense let its hair down and see what's possible...and those offensive realities are tantalizing, something which should destroy rigid philosophical obsessions any day:
This quick striking offense allowed LSU's YAC-machines to make plays after the catch against a mostly stingy Matt House defense:
Allowing 26 yards for their rushing high on the day (the Tigers posting 27 carries for 109 yards on the ground), you can tell today was less about running the 2022 offense and more about taking chances, stretching the field, testing the DBs, and getting these WRs comfortable with Jayden Daniels & Garrett Nussmeier.....in one word: experimentation.
And the experiment paid off:
WR Kyren Lacy led all offensive production on the day, going off for 92 yards & a TD.
The score arrived on a truly spectacular one-handed catch through the teeth of traffic, followed by a spin move that was so filthy Greg Brooks Jr is still sliding somewhere. Fulfilling the Spring hype, Lacy is rising in pedigree by the day.
Malik Nabers continues to prove he is one of the top 2 or 3 best receivers in college football, registering 35 brilliant yards from 3 grabs, showcasing industrial-sized strength after the catch.
Brian Thomas Jr is making the case to be Cortez Hankton's #2 WR, reeling in 66 yards from 3 receptions, and yet another touchdown (finishing 2022 with 5 TDs & 2021 with 3).
Landon Ibieta took a quick slant (thrown by Garrett Nussmeier) to the house for 70 yards, bursting and mazing his way through transfer corner Denver Harris, a missed tackle by linebacker Lane Blue and a bad angle by freshman safety Ryan Yaites on his way to the end zone.
Ibieta's 70 yard catch & scamper was an impressive moment from the young man; after an anonymous year one, there's nothing better for your confidence like a big play.
Kyle Parker displayed his pace in the receiving game, taking in a nice 19 yard catch from Jayden Daniels, often motioning across the formation and being utilized in a variety of creative points of attack, just like Lacy, Hilton Jr and Nabers.
It was utterly entertaining; the results should be revelatory for Mike Denbrock's offensive staff and I will submit right now for the record....today's willingness to throw the ball must be, should be the ongoing offensive identity of 2023 LSU.
Jayden Daniels' location & timing shows signs of marked improvement....plus, the basic fact he's actually trusting his receivers, hitting backs in the flat with more urgency & velocity, giving his pass-catchers a chance by unleashing the football....well, it's a great sign if you're a Tigers fan.
Of course, Daniels was told not to run the ball during an exhibition "game" (I mean what's the point of a quarterback running the ball in a Spring game anyway?); the point of today was to unleash the football...
This simply can't just be an offense LSU dabble in from time to time, mostly when facing large deficits....it must equalize & balance the run-heavy 2022 style for ultimate results.
After all, when you look at LSU's 2019 G.O.A.T offense, their greatest hallmark wasn't the passing game like everyone remembers, thanks to NFL kingpin receivers Ja'marr Chase, Justin Jefferson & Terrace Marshall all stemming from that same starting lineup;
The reality of what made 2019 LSU's offense unstoppable?
The balance: 567 passing attempts, 513 rushing attempts in play-calls for LSU's 2019 offense.
We're not saying the 2023 unit could be 2019....we're simply saying great offense is always rooted in balance....LSU have the tools for a balanced, frenzied, hard to stop attack.
If Jayden Daniels (or Garrett Nussmeier) can bring balance to LSU's 2023 fieldshow, then the possibilities are endless (today's play balance: 27 rushes, 26 passing attempts).
LSU's new transfer addition CB Denver Harris was a former 5 star out of high school when he first enrolled at Texas A&M as a true freshman. With Harris returning to LSU, his expected commitment from his recruiting adventures, things felt natural & Harris appeared ready for the starting spotlight.
After all, he had a pretty fine season at A&M (their PFF 2nd rated overall defender for 2022 with a 69.8% coverage grade).
Today, in his first appearance as a Tiger, Harris was beaten on the Kyren Lacy touchdown, on a 6 yard catch over the top of his reaching hands by Malik Nabers, and a few other big plays.
While this is clearly a symptom of the Tigers' outrageous talent at wide receiver pushing our cornerbacks & coverage guys to their limits, it is worth keeping an eye on.
Harris wasn't alone in his struggles.
Another transfer cornerback, former Ohio State Buckeye JK Johnson, had multiple big plays caught against him, including the opening touchdown from Jayden Daniels to Malik Nabers (the All-American WR stretching above the outstretched hands of Johnson).
The De Smet grad also surrendered a bad flag when in 1 v 1 coverage against Brian Thomas Jr.
Likely starting safety Greg Brooks Jr repeatedly bit on plays last season, becoming over-aggressive in his tackling timing, often whiffing at the worst moments for the Tigers' defense, such as the Kyren Lacy touchdown.
Though he's coming off an injury, it wasn't great seeing him play so many snaps or throwing himself about erratically (highlighted by the Lacy score, but also a second half play where he nearly hurt Kyren Lacy with a dumb, late & dangerous out of bounds tackle).
If Brooks Jr can keep things in front of him, he'd be a much better player; but can you tell a defender like the former Arkansas transfer to slow it down by 20 mph and expect him to be as effective?
That's a lot easier said than done, especially when we're talking about a more or less fully developed senior, rather than a first or second year Tiger with plenty to learn & reshaping to do to his game.
Ignoring stats, the eye test told me transfer portal newcomer Ovie Oghoufo is a definitive standout for the Tigers' defense, collecting at least one clear sack, a TFL, and looked to be a raging bull of athletic wonderment.
Head Coach Brian Kelly, who was Oghoufo's former gaffer at Notre Dame before the edge man transferred to Texas, appeared excited & overjoyed with Oghoufo's brilliance against Will Campbell and Emery Jones equally.
Freshman Whit Weeks had the biggest defensive play of the game, pulling off an epic interception touchdown return from a Rickie Collins pass. Weeks read the pass, cut off the lane, and batted the ball up into the air to himself before storming 40 yards to the house for the pick six. His father David told me he was moved to emotion from the moment, happy that he was "wearing dark sunglasses" so no one could see his visible, proud tears.
Obviously Harold Perkins was solid as always, but more specifically at linebacker we watched for the speed & finishing ability of new transfer Omar Speights.
The former Oregon State linebacker possesses solid side to side pace and tracking range, yet we won't know how his strength holds up against the SEC's biggest backs or tight ends until fall.
So far so good: Omar was organized, didn't get caught out in coverage and kept it simple, totaling 3 solo tackles on the day as LSU's front seven held their own offense to 109 total yards on the ground and an individual high of 26 yards.
LT Welch produced 2 pass break ups from 6 targets his way, surrendering 0 catches against the likes of Chris Hilton Jr, even matching the track star's speed stride for stride down the sideline, forcing his man out of bounds on the route.
Welch got his hands on the ball twice, an accomplishment LSU's defenders only pulled off 4 total times on Saturday, and even though he'd barely played any football over the past 2 calendar years, LT Welch stood out as DBU's strongest coverage man on the day, accordingly receiving postgame love from Head Coach Brian Kelly.
After the scrimmage, Coach Kelly revealed LB Greg Penn III and TE Mac Markway both sustained hamstring injuries prior to the Spring Game, the reason for their absence, while being pleased by how his players "competed", feeling his 2023 squad are an improvement over his first LSU team, in both their physicality and mentality.
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Copyright 2023 Uninterrupted Writings Inc