Why all signs point to the LSU offense taking the next step up in 2019
That’s what I’d call the LSU offense in 2018. A group that finished No. 37 nationally in scoring got a little late-season boost from scoring 41 points in overtime periods alone against Texas A&M — LSU would have averaged 29.2 points per game and finished No. 64 nationally had the game ended in regulation like it should have — and getting to face UCF’s porous unit in the Fiesta Bowl.
In the first year under Steve Ensminger’s control, it showed flashes of promise like when the Tigers pummeled Georgia and when they rallied at Auburn. The offense also showed flashes of utter dysfunction like when it was shut out against Alabama and when it couldn’t get any traction late against Florida.
“Inconsistent” is probably the better word to describe LSU’s 2018 offense.
All things considered, that was somewhat expected. Joe Burrow didn’t enroll at LSU until the summer, the running game was facing its biggest overhaul of the decade and there was inexperience at receiver and on the offensive line. Combine that with a daunting preseason schedule loaded with top-flight defenses and yeah, nobody was expecting the Tigers to set the world on fire. At least they shouldn’t have.
I’m not saying that LSU is going to have a Top 10 offense in 2019, but I am saying that this group should take a significant step up.
It isn’t just that Burrow will have a full offseason with Ensminger and LSU’s receivers, though that’s certainly a major bonus. You could tell there was a definite feeling-out process for Burrow with that group. He ultimately developed his strongest connection with Justin Jefferson while his other top 5 pass-catchers had nearly identical production. Tight end and captain Foster Moreau is the only member of that group who isn’t returning. He’ll be the toughest offensive piece to replace.
In terms of skill-players, Moreau and 1,000-yard rusher Nick Brossette are really the only significant losses. That’s why LSU ranks No. 12 nationally in percentage of returning offensive production (Tennessee is the only SEC team with more).
That bodes well for Burrow, who clearly has all the leadership elements down. He’s no longer walking into a locker room that he has to win over. This is his group now, no questions asked.
I wouldn’t expect to see the same sort of trepidation from Ensminger when it comes to using Burrow. It was clear last year that they didn’t want to expose him. Myles Brennan being banged up in the middle of the season meant that with LSU’s lack of depth at quarterback, Ensminger couldn’t afford to take a bunch of deep shots or have Burrow calling his own number 15 times per game.
I’ll be interested to see how much that changes this year now that there’s no concern about preserving Brennan’s redshirt. The best version of Burrow came in the last 2 games of the season. Between his ability as a runner against Texas A&M in that marathon game and the on-target throws he made after getting leveled on that pick-6 in the Fiesta Bowl, Burrow was everything that LSU fans could’ve hoped for.
And though the consistency wasn’t always there, the guy still became the first LSU quarterback since JaMarcus Russell to rack up over 3,000 yards from scrimmage in a season. For all the talk about his completion percentage, Burrow was a 67-percent passer in his final 4 games.
Oh, and this is significant, too:
Joe Burrow finished the season with an adjusted completion percentage (accounts for drops, throwaways, etc) of 70.8 percent. It’s the highest percentage @PFF_College has for an #LSU QB in its data going back to 2014.
— Cody Worsham (@CodyWorsham) January 2, 2019
A lot of the preseason buzz with Burrow will be centered on how well he finished the season, but why shouldn’t it be? We all knew it was going to take time for the first-year starter to come into his own with just a couple months on campus before the opener.
Obviously it’ll take more than natural development from Burrow for the offense to improve.
LSU would prefer not to have 7 combinations of offensive line starters like it did last year. The Tigers had issues at the tackle spots all year, and keeping Burrow protected on the outside was a definite weakness. Teams who had dominant edge-rushers like Alabama, Florida and Mississippi State all gave LSU serious problems up front. But LSU still returns 2 starters in Saahdiq Charles and Austin Deculus, both of whom can solidify those tackle spots if they can stay healthy.
The preseason outlook on this offense as a whole is far more promising than it was last year when oddsmakers initially set LSU’s over/under regular-season win total at 6.5 and eventually 7. Now, the Tigers are a possible preseason Top 10 team and an early 8-point favorite at trendy Playoff pick Texas.
There’s a reason for that. Check that. There are several* reasons for that. One being that Texas ranks dead last among Power 5 teams in percentage of returning production.
But a lot of this is about what LSU has coming back. I didn’t even mention that LSU added passing game coordinator Joe Brady from the Saints — something Ed Orgeron called “a game-changer” — or that the Tigers have a 5-star freshman tailback in John Emery who could become an immediate impact player.
To be honest, the biggest question mark I have about the LSU offense is at kicker (I realize that’s special teams but we’re talking about scoring points). Replacing the invaluable Cole Tracy isn’t something to be taken lightly, though if the kicking game is at the top of the offseason priority list, that’s usually a pretty good sign.
Maybe there should be hope that LSU finishes with its second Top 20 offense since winning the national title in 2007. The program did just have its most prolific offense since 2013, despite the fact that it entered the season without much of an identity.
We should know what to expect from the LSU offense in 2019. The Tigers have a tough-as-nails quarterback who probably doesn’t get enough credit for his versatility (more RPOs are coming with Brady on board). They have a deep group of receivers who should be among the SEC’s best and they boast a running game that’ll be led by the experience up front, especially on the interior.
In other words, we should expect better than “halfway decent” in 2019.