Quick Study – LSU's players caught on to Professor Canada's offense and aced first exam

BATON ROUGE - There were four penalties against the offense in LSU's first two series Saturday in the win over Brigham Young.

Three of them made it look like it might take a while for the Tigers to pick up new offensive coordinator Matt Canada's complicated system of motion, movement and mayhem that only he has said is easy. One was an illegal shift. Another was a false start and a third was a delay of game, both of which can be results of confusion.

There was another false start for a loss of five yards in the second quarter that did not help Jack Gonsoulin's field goal attempt that he missed from 34 yards away instead of 29. But for the most part, the Tigers aced their "New Offense 101" exam.

The Tigers averaged 5.2 yards a rush and 10.3 yards a pass in amassing 294 yards rushing and 185 passing in the 27-0 win. And just a few weeks ago, their heads were swimming.

"I think it can be complicated," LSU tailback Derrius Guice said back in mid-August. "It's a lot to learn."

The junior from Catholic High in Baton Rouge did not miss a hole Saturday as he gained 122 yards on 27 carries and caught a 4-yard pass.

"We've got it down now," he said after the game. "We didn't show a lot of it, but we've got it."

It was a slow process, but about a week before the game, it kicked in.

"It was gradual, but just about everybody started really getting it at about the same time," said quarterback Danny Etling, who completed 14 of 17 passes for a .823 completion percentage (best at LSU since Zach Mettenberger's .862 on 25-of-29 passing at Mississippi State in 2013) and 171 yards.

"That's why I didn't want to miss spring," Etling, who postponed back surgery until after spring drills.

"It was very challenging for our guys in spring," LSU coach Ed Orgeron said on the Southeastern Conference teleconference on Wednesday. "Obviously, they had run the same offense here for years."

This meant an ongoing study hall.

"The guys began studying early," Orgeron said. "They had the iPads. They were working on their notebooks at night, and then it was hard for the freshmen to come in and to learn the plays. But Matt has a nice system about himself. A lot of those shifts have one word to them. So they learn them that way."

In late August, the lights went on, particularly when a finite number of players were selected for the BYU game plan.

"It wasn't until about the third week of preseason to be honest with you," Orgeron said. "Because we went through a whole installation until about three weeks into the preseason. So the guys were getting it, but then the next day was a new installation. So, it was very challenging for them the whole camp. I think that the week before we played BYU, you could see things settling down. You could see it become easier because obviously you're not going to run your whole offense every game. When we started game planning, it became easier for our players."

The education continues Saturday when the No. 12 Tigers (1-0) host Chattanooga (0-1) at 6:30 p.m. on the SEC Network, and not just for the players.

"Matt's done a fantastic job of not only implementing our offense to the players, but implementing his offense to a new staff," Orgeron said. "I grade him A-Plus in everything he's done so far."

RIGHT GUARD ROTATION: True freshman Saahdiq Charles started at right guard last week and will likely open their Saturday, but fellow true freshman Ed Ingram also played a lot and will continue to share time.

"I consider both of them a starter," Orgeron said. "I just want to continue to let those two guys develop at right guard. I'm going to let Jeff Grimes (offensive line coach) make that decision, but both of those guys are doing very well."

SUDDEN PUNT RETURNER: Speedy cornerback Donte Jackson was supposed to be LSU's punt returner in the season opener. Orgeron said it numerous times. Everyone knew that, including senior wide receiver D.J. Chark of Alexandria.

"I found out last Thursday I was returning punts," Chark said after three for 26 yards with a 32-yard return. "Out of nowhere, the coaches were like, 'You're going to be the punt returner.' So at first, I was like, 'Man, I don't know if I want to do punt return.' I hadn't done it since high school. And college punters, they can really punt. But the coaches said they believed in me, told me to keep working on it. I feel like I'm going to get the hang of it even better. I'm really excited about punt returns."

Chark is tied for first in the SEC with South Carolina's Chris Lammons in punt returns at 8.7 yards a return.

Orgeron said he and his staff chose Chark over Jackson because of ball security.

"It was his first time doing it in the game, but we knew he was going to catch the football," Orgeron said of Chark. "We knew he had better ball security skills, and that's why we did it. "

Jackson, who returned eight punts for 164 yards in 2015 but none last year, may get opportunities in the future.

"We'll see," Orgeron said. "We always want Donte. Donte is a game breaker. We just have to get him comfortable catching the ball the way we want him to. Once he does that, we're going to be in good shape."

MORE TRUE FRESHMEN: LSU set a school record by playing its most true freshmen in a game Saturday with 17. But there will likely be more.

"We plan on most of our guys playing," Orgeron said. "We're going to give an opportunity for most of our freshmen to play."

Only five true freshmen did not play - wide receiver Jacoby Stevens of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, wide receiver Mannie Netherly of Crosby, Texas, fullback Tory Carter of Leesburg, Georgia, tight end Aaron Moffitt of Baton Rouge (son of LSU strength coach Tommy Moffitt) and quarterback Lowell Narcisse of St. James. 

"We talked about it. We want to get Jacoby Stevens more in the mix," Orgeron said. "He's got some things that he can do on offense. I think you'll see him this week."

KEY REMAINS QUESTIONABLE: LSU starting junior outside linebacker Arden Key (shoulder) has been practicing more and more amid some contact, but he has not been cleared to play in a game yet, Orgeron said. He is questionable for the game Saturday.

© 2017 WWL-TV


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