LSU brought in Matt Canada to make its offense more explosive and less predictable.
He was hired during the offseason with the expectation that his pre-snap motion, unbalanced sets, running plays with wide receivers and passing plays to running backs would make it more difficult for opposing defenses to anticipate what was coming.
That was the edge that seemed to be missing perennially from talented Tigers offenses that periodically came up short against the better defenses on the schedule.
After six games, the results have been mixed as Canada’s offense heads into its biggest challenge of the season when it faces No. 10 Auburn, which has the No. 6 scoring defense in the country, on Saturday afternoon in Tiger Stadium.
LSU has been balanced, ranking sixth in the SEC in rushing yards per game (196.7), seventh in passing yards (201.0) and eighth in total offense (397.7). But the goal for the Tigers wasn’t to be ranked in the middle of the pack, and those yards have produced just the 11th-most points in the league (25.3).
In fairness to Canada, there are a lot of challenges that have had an impact on the offense’s productivity.
First of all, there’s the inevitable transition. Learning and operating Canada’s system has been a significant adjustment for not only the ball handlers but also for the linemen. Additionally, the composition of the line has been a work in progress.
Maea Teuhema, a returning starter, was declared academically ineligible during preseason camp and subsequently transferred to Southeastern Louisiana. His spot at right guard was taken by true freshman Ed Ingram. Right tackle Toby Weathersby and left tackle K.J. Malone have been injured, leaving LSU with a line featuring three true freshmen for a large portion of the 17-16 win at Florida last Saturday.
Both Weathersby and Malone are questionable for this week’s game.
Two weeks ago against Troy, with freshmen comprising the right side of the line, Orgeron utilized his prerogative as head coach and had Canada ditch the pre-snap action to simplify things for the youngsters. After the Tigers failed to score in the first half, Orgeron allowed Canada to go back to his pre-snap stuff and LSU scored 21 second-half points, but still came up short.
Injuries have also impacted the running backs, most notably Derrius Guice, the reigning SEC rushing champion, who has a nagging leg injury. His primary backup, Darrel Williams, has been limited by an ankle injury. Both are likely to play against Auburn, but at less than 100 percent.
The quarterback position also has had its limitations. Fifth-year senior Danny Etling has been a solid game manager, but has limited playmaking ability. Some continuity was sacrificed when Orgeron chose to play true freshman Myles Brennan limited snaps in four of the first five games to get his feet wet and gauge his readiness for SEC play.
Brennan has not played in either SEC game, and Orgeron says he doesn’t plan to play him going forward. The strategy to introduce Brennan, the likely starter next season, to college football is understandable, but the lack of continuity impacted the transition for Etling in the new offense.
The two SEC games, beginning with a 37-7 loss at Mississippi State on Sept. 16, were the Tigers’ least productive in terms of both points and yards. They gained 270 yards against State, 341 against Florida and more than 400 in each of the four non-conference games.
Nonetheless, the offense seemed closer to finding its identity under Canada in last week’s game. The former Northern Illinois, Wisconsin, N.C. State and Pitt coordinator used the speed sweep to great effect as wide receivers accounted for 105 rushing yards, including Russell Gage’s 30-yard touchdown.
Additionally, the running backs were involved in the passing game, catching four of Etling’s nine completions, including fullback Tory Carter’s 2-yard touchdown.
Halfway through the season, the transition has been bumpy but some of those bumps are not of Canada’s doing.