BATON ROUGE - New LSU offensive coordinator Matt Canada is not only opening up and spreading the Tigers' passing attack. He is helping to reshape LSU's defense as well.
He has to have someone to practice all of his units' motions, movements and strategies against, which would be LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda's outfit.
"We've gotten better every day, gotten better every week," Aranda said at a press conference this week. "There's a really good understanding of how this defense stretches, expands and contracts. Matt's going to put you in a bunch of different spots, contort you, and we've contorted a bunch of different ways."
The two bald geniuses have gone head-to-head, so to speak, throughout spring drills and preseason camp since Canada was hired as offensive coordinator after the 2016 season by head coach Ed Orgeron.
"We have two of the best coordinators in college football. I don't think there's any question," Orgeron said.
"They get after one another," tailback Derrius Guice said. "We're always trying to catch them off guard, and they're trying to fool us."
Both are known for strange antics. Canada sometimes likes to put two tackles next to one another on the edge of his offensive line. Aranda frequently used one down linemen with the other linebackers and defensive backs forming the other 10 while at Utah State and Wisconsin before he came to LSU. He is considering trying that at LSU.
"Do we play with a lack of D-linemen? I'm not saying we do that here. You'd have to build to that," Aranda said.
Canada's creativity is cultivating that of Aranda, who is blending in scores of true freshmen into his defense with veterans leaving after last season such as safety Jamal Adams and cornerback Tre'Davious White - both first round picks in the 2017 NFL Draft - as well as defensive back Dwayne Thomas, middle linebacker Kendell Beckwith and nose tackle Davon Godchaux. Such true freshmen as outside linebacker K'Lavon Chaisson, inside linebacker Jacob Phillips, safety Grant Delpit and nickel cornerback Kary Vincent Jr. are expected to start or play a lot.
"To battle that way in the spring and be presented with the challenge that Matt offers to new players, and freshmen players, I think we're very much learning how to swim by being thrown in the water," Aranda said.
And it gets deep, but Aranda has not asked Canada to take it easy on his unit.
"Oh no," he said. "I think it's great for us. It's very helpful. We're playing against what we're presented with daily, which are new things every day. And so, coming out of that, there's a great understanding of technique. There's a great understanding of team defense. There's a great understanding of how we win plays, how we lose plays in terms of breakdowns."
Coaches strive to make practice harder than the games, and from a schematic sense that will be the case early this season for the Tigers, who open the season against Brigham Young on Sept. 2 in Houston.
"We've been through a lot with Coach Canada," he said. "So when we look at another team, it's like, 'Oh, that's all they do?' And so I think the challenges now become different things."
Such as execution.
"Early teams we're playing (Chattanooga, Mississippi State, Syracuse and Troy after BYU), they don't do the multitude of stuff that Matt does. They'll do a few things, but they do it very well. So we have to be right on it," Aranda said as he snapped his fingers. "Whereas with Matt, you mat get six runs out of an unbalanced formation, five runs out of a tackle-over formation, three new empty plays (single back). You get such a multitude of things, you try and be close to it. When you play teams that do a limited amount of things, you've got to be right on it because of their timing and execution will be high. That will be a big challenge for us right out the gate."
Aranda sees Canada's offense challenging opponents.
"I expect it to be successful," he said. "He's a great person and has a great mind to him. I think he understands defenses and how they're built. So he attacks that. I think people are going to have to adjust to play him. I don't think you can just come out with what you've got because he's going to outnumber you and out-leverage you. It's going to be fun to watch."
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