Look, “spread” offense is no longer a useful indicator of much as it is defined in general discourse (i.e. very loosely). There is so much diversity in offenses that like to spend a lot of time with more than 3 receivers in the field that it means little to you to use the term “spread” anymore. If you look at the Rams, who live in 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR), you still can’t justify calling them a “spread” offense because of how much they like to condense their rosters and create additional shortcomings. in the racing game, the same way a heavy staff team would. “Broadcast” offenses, to me, are no longer defined in any part by the staff, but entirely by how much they like to space out their receivers and play in the space.
There was a time when such lineups created massive advantages against teams designed to stop the run with base staff and bigger linebackers. The 2010s, though recently passed, were a long time ago in the geologic time scale of college football. Teams are smaller, teams are very comfortable playing nickel and dime, and teams can take pass concepts with 4 or 5 routes apart. You can’t just line people up and expect the defenses to no longer be able to handle it. Sometimes you have to condense things, especially against the men’s coverage, to create versions, organize the separation and help your receivers. Also, you don’t see too many double moves designed to help punish teams in the man. They are very static in their routes and route structures both in pattern, alignment and technique, which bodes ill for human coverage.
No, that’s not the only problem with the offense. They don’t use enough RPO or designer play action to create easy explosives for the QB in the passing game, the QB has to pull the trigger on open receivers, and the pass catchers play a football shockingly bad. While all of that is true, they don’t get any help from their offense, which requires them to make plays, work through tough progressions, and just win 1-on-1. It’s not that easy to call a successful attack, not with defenses comfortable defending wide line-ups. Auburn had a simple, solid and repeatable game plan on the back end. It’s not a special defense, so that should scare LSU fans. Without major tweaks, things could get very bleak against better defenses like Alabama, Arkansas and Texas A&Mid.
The problem of propagation alignments
My biggest issue with this offense, in addition to their criminally weak use of back action like RPOs and fake plays to create conflict and make life easier for the QB, is the distance between their pass catchers per alignment. This clip is a good example of how defenses can punish that. Auburn is right in cover 1 here against 4 greens, or in Kelly’s terminology, “Charlie.” When you’re this spread out, the only way for someone to open up against tight man coverage is to directly gain their road in a major way. Against the competition, it doesn’t happen as much as you need it to. When you condense your lineups, you can play routes off each other to create conflict, as well as create natural rubs/picks, easier clearances, and natural ball separation.
Exterior receivers have the option of stopping their routes if they cannot obtain any vertical separation. If they can’t get vertical separation from the men’s cover, those stop routes don’t help you at all, since that guy is on you anyway. You put incredible pressure on them to earn their way. As I wrote here, there are better ways to deal with 4 verticals that actually create natural separation and conflict instead of asking people to win. Additionally, LSU’s receivers don’t do anything nuanced in their builds, stalks and road breaks to generate separation. They just run the base path and hope they get opened. If you’re going to turn on Justin Jefferson and DaVante Adams, there’s a ton of nuance along the way that helps open you up against the man’s cover. If you’re going to stretch things like that, you have to be able to win like that and you’re not.
This is a good example of the above. Boutte has no safety above him, but he gets worked on that lane by the turn, which isn’t as good as he is, as he clears just outside in his lane. Any slightly athletic DB can cover you if you just run in a straight line along the sideline. Ja’Marr Chase is so good on those secondary balls because he does a lot of things down the line to generate good outings, and when he’s on his way plays with good hands and does a good job maintaining the leverage. None of that here. Also, Jayden Daniels isn’t accurate enough to make the precise throws you’ll need, even with great WR play, to complete go balls on the sideline against a tight man. You need to be precise enough to drop it into the bucket with just a step or two of separation or, if the WR has low outside leverage, put it on the back of the shoulder. It just doesn’t have that high-end precision.
One concept (low percentage, needs a more accurate QB) that LSU executes EXTREMELY often is “Shock,” which is a Sean Payton staple pictured below.
The idea is to take the molten slot against the man cover. That said, it’s a low percentage throw that requires an accurate QB, and it needs the WR to be vertical on his man. Jenkins is completely stopped in his tracks here, which happens a lot to the slot fade runner for LSU on this game.
Daniels doesn’t look like it, he’s trying to get a conversion on the double oblique, which isn’t a bad call against coverage 1 on 3rd and 4th. Nabers is trying to do something nuanced here, which I applaud. He tries to sell his route on the outside and vertical to get the CB to turn his hips, which would allow Nabers to interrupt him and gain inside leverage on the oblique. He, in my opinion, goes too far up and out, which prevents him from being able to get into his oblique with any speed, allowing the corner to recover and stay on him. A good idea here, but poor execution. I would work that at INDY if I was coaching WRs at LSU.
Even when they DO things like switch triggers, they’re spaced out enough that defenses can easily deal with them. This is still a widespread look.
Don’t pull the trigger
Before the snap, it’s such an obvious Tampa-2 rotation that Daniels has no excuse not to target the road which is good against Tampa-2 here just because it looked a little different before. the snap. At Tampa-2, the safeties have to end up outside the No. 2 receivers because they have deep half accountability, which means he has to account for anything vertical on the outside. To face the middle, you have a linebacker who plays deep middle, which is known as playing “middle reading” or “running middle.” On the pitch, Boutte’s seam route appears inside the safety of the pitch and the middle runner has no chance of matching him vertically. Throw the touchdown, man. Instead, he panics and late launches out of the structure, out of bounds.
This time the slot fades on the shock opens wide enough to launch. At the top of Daniels’ drop, Boutte is level with his man. Coaches will tell players from multiple positions “if he’s even, he leaves”, which means he can get a vertical split. Daniels needs to see this and put it in the bucket on top. Also, it’s the first game, so there’s no problem with an incomplete shot. Throw the ball.
Hard to sledge in front of people, defenses are improving compared to Auburn.