Observers can delineate a lot of different modern offenses based on how they handle defensive ends in the running game. Option teams leave him unblocked to be read by the quarterback; more “pro-style” teams block him with a tight end; passing teams try to keep him occupied. Then there are teams like LSU which use jet sweeps.
Like so many spread-option teams, LSU prefers not to block the backside defensive end. Those guys are often among the best athletes on the field, chosen and developed to blow up an offense by coming off the edge and firing into the backfield. LSU offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s solution to this issue is the jet sweep, consistently attached to all of the Tigers’ base runs; LSU can dial it up whenever defenses get too nosy with their DEs on the back end of the play.
LSU’s best sweep runner is senior wide receiver Russell Gage, who is third on the team in rushing yards behind running backs Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams and first in yards per carry with a whopping 9.3. Here’s how LSU used Gage on sweeps to take down Florida and Auburn over the past two weeks.
Gage only got two carries on Saturday. That was really all it took to convince Auburn that it would have to play the sweep very, very carefully. The first Gage sweep went for 70 yards, set up a touchdown (on another sweep), and helped get LSU going.
Auburn may have intended for the defensive end to handle the sweep here, judging by the eyes of the weak side linebacker and strong safety who were both very late to realize the ball had gone wide on the sweep. A play like this is perfect for really punishing a team that isn’t assignment sound all the time. A failure by the DE means Gage is turning the corner behind a lead blocker with a ton of open grass.
War Eagle denied LSU the jet sweep for the rest of the game, with LSU netting virtually zero yards from their other attempts at the play, but this single miscue probably cost Auburn the game.
Challenging the Gators in space
Florida used a few methods to control jet sweeps and faced Gage on the concept six times, perhaps as a result of them mixing it up. In general, using a few strategies to disrupt LSU’s sweeps is probably a good idea because it’s entirely a predetermined call. The QB can’t read the DE after the snap and make him wrong like on a zone-read play; if the offenses guesses wrong then the ballcarrier gets punished.
This is an inside zone run with the H-back leading on the backside for Gage on the sweep, but the DE doesn’t step inside to deny the running back cutback on the zone play and instead charges up field to take down Gage for a loss.
For the most part, though, the sweep was productive for LSU. Florida’s alternative for stopping it — having the defensive end stay home against the run and relying on scraping linebackers to tackle in space — was ineffective at key times.
LSU is running what looks like split zone here and Florida looks to defend it with the DE stepping inside and spilling the ball to a scraping weakside linebacker. However, that LB gets caught peeking into the backfield rather than taking on the H-back and limiting the space Gage has to work in. That LB is cut down while Gage leaps over the edge.
The Bayou Bengals hit the Gators one more time with Gage on the same drive:
This time it’s a weak zone run and the DE doesn’t really commit to denying either the cutback or the sweep. The linebacker does a much better job of trying to take on the H-back but is blindsided by the wide receiver; the cornerback fails to replace the LB, leading to another soft edge where Gage can do his magic.
Gage is so athletic and dangerous in space on this play that opponents are really better off taking their chances against Guice’s pounding inside runs than trying to match LSU’s athleticism on the perimeter.
The Tigers also landed a nice punch on a counter run for Williams off the threat of the sweep on the same drive as those sweeps:
The defensive ends play wide to contain the sweep and are punished by getting kicked out while LSU runs downhill behind a lead block. However, at least on this play they were not dealing with Russell Gage building up speed as he turns a corner into open grass.
Stopping LSU these days basically amounts to having a good plan for the jet sweeps which are attached to very standard downhill run plays, particularly when Gage gets the ball. Nick Saban will probably have it worked out but much of the rest of the conference has found it vexing.