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What Can LSU Football Do to Get the Running Game on the Right Track?

For second time in 2020, Tigers’ run game held at bay

There are several areas that LSU must improve if it wants to run the football effectively. The Tigers must make immediate improvements across the board because a trip to Florida lies ahead.

There’s no time to sit and stew about the loss to Missouri. LSU must travel to Gainesville to play a Gators squad that just choked away a game in College Station, Texas.

The Gators are not going to feel sorry for LSU, as they have their own issues to deal with. Ironically, one of them is the one that LSU needs to fix as soon as possible, and that’s running the football. As for LSU, the Tigers have several points of emphasis to address this week, and it starts with the running backs themselves.

Running Backs Must Make Plays

LSU is loaded with talented running backs and it’s time they start making more plays. Glimpses of what should be commonplace happened during each of the first three games. That’s not enough.

Whether it was any one of Chris Curry, Tyrion Davis-Price or John Emery, Jr., all of them showed they can make defenders miss or run through them. All big, all fast, all elusive in their own way.

It starts with making the first defender miss, however the running back must do it. Slide off a defender and churn out an extra two-yards, great. Make the defender whiff, even better. LSU’s running backs have not seen a lot of room to run, as will be discussed below, but the running backs must improve their ability to make defenders miss.

Too many runs end with the first tackler making the play. Considering how much talent is in the LSU running back meeting room, that needs to change.

As the offensive line evolves this season, the LSU running backs will see more space between themselves and the first defender. That means increased odds of making that would be tackler miss. Keep an eye on this situation.

LSU’s running backs should produce a few more explosive plays (20-plus yard runs and receptions) per game moving forward. No question the LSU offensive line must get better, but it should and hopefully by next weekend. Now, about that offensive line.

Get Healthy Big Fella

The Tigers missed big left guard Ed Ingram against Mizzou. It was a glaring issue. Hopefully he’s back for Florida but if not, that could be trouble. LSU needs Ingram for power inside runs, just for starters.

Ingram is the piece to the puzzle LSU must have. If he’s not in the lineup, the Tigers will likely struggle to run the football. Short yardage aside, no way Missouri should be able to take away LSU’s run game even when they played cover zero. This concern ties in with the next category, and that’s building a continuity along the offensive line.

Continuity

Whenever a team loses four offensive linemen from one season to the next, it’s difficult to immediately gain a cohesive chemistry from the outset of the next season. Further hampering those efforts would be the ramifications of COVID-19. LSU’s offensive line missed spring practice and a great deal of much needed repetitions.

When the Tigers run the football, there seems to be at least one or two players that simply fail to mesh with their teammates. While offensive line play is extremely complex, let’s just dial it down to the following statement.

LSU’s offensive line rarely has a play where all five players do their jobs.

From the outset of this week’s practice, LSU needs to work on chemistry. The blocking basics such as timing, understanding pre-snap adjustments and keeping a low base are just a few of the key traits an o-lineman needs to have. There are mental areas to the game that need to be shored up as well, because LSU allowed multiple Missouri defenders to run free as well.

Running the football can sometimes be complex, but LSU must immediately make headway with the run game or the offense will struggle against even more talented defenses that await. Against Missouri, the offensive line faltered.

It’s the SEC, sure, but even though the opposition provides talented players to challenge LSU’s front wall, this past weekend was Missouri. That’s not a highly talented defensive unit. It’s just not.

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Not exactly the same talent LSU will see when playing Florida, Alabama, Auburn, or Texas A&M during upcoming games. With the running game, the Tigers need to find a few specific plays that all levels of the offense can hang their hat on and do so beginning with the game in Gainesville.

Bread and Butter

What’s LSU’s best run play? Does not appear to be one right now. If the Tigers are going to defeat Florida in the Swamp, LSU better have at least two, if not three, running plays where everyone is on the same page.

Winning a shootout against Florida’s vaunted offense is not easy to begin with. The LSU offense needs to help a struggling defense stay rested anyway. That means run the football and do so throughout the entirety of the game.

Maybe LSU finds its bread and butter play from a toss sweep, guard and tackle power, outside zone, or a fullback lead draw. Maybe it’s something else. Right now, the Tigers running game is totally out of whack and it’s ugly to watch. Pick two or three plays, and they better work.

Placing all the pressure on the LSU passing game is not going to lead to success. That’s already been proven. There are a few ways to help whichever running plays LSU decides to feature.

Play with Tempo

LSU does well when it speeds up. Put the pedal to the metal and go. After the initial first down of a drive, do not easily allow a defense to substitute. Run or pass, LSU needs to pick up the pace.

This will simplify the reads not only for starting quarterback Myles Brennan, but also the offensive line, running backs, and wide receivers. Here’s why.

Defenses will not have time to change play calls, and the defensive players will be tired. This will result in fewer blitzes and complex looks. The simpler the defense becomes, the easier it will be to pound the football. Working off that principle is a specific personnel package.

Adjust Offensive Packages

Every defense the Tigers face will bring different looks, as well as levels of talent. LSU needs to be ready to use two tight ends if need be, or go with a four wide receiver set and one running back. That’s a part of every game plan.

Combining whatever package the LSU offensive coaching staff feels best for a particular opponent with tempo will keep the defense off balance. This is especially true if LSU can use two tight ends.

Nobody is likely to consistently cover freshman tight end Arik Gilbert. That’s not a news flash. If LSU can not only use Gilbert in the up tempo, but also use senior tight end Tory Carter in combination with Gilbert, there are a plethora of ways to keep defenses guessing.

With Gilbert in the game, teams will likely play a big safety on him because linebackers will fail to cover him in the passing game. That’s one less linebacker to deal with for the rushing attack. Carter, meanwhile, can be the extra blocker, similar to a fullback, which is a position he’s very familiar with.

Maybe Carter is used more in an H-Back role, and of course he can still be used to help block for LSU’s talented skill position players during bubble screens and short passes.

Bottom line, make a defense choose. Defensive coordinators must decide: are we going with a traditional defensive package against a two-tight look? Are we going to a dime package? Nickel?

Gilbert and Carter are tough to deal with, but that’s especially true when combined with how LSU uses a fast tempo because defensive coordinators will struggle to substitute. Pick your poison.

Play a smaller defensive lineup and LSU runs the football. Play a nickel, traditional 4-3 or 3-4 defense and Gilbert will be one-on-one with a player that’s simply outmatched in the passing game.

Once opposing defenders start worrying about individual matchups, it will certainly help the rushing attack be more productive. It will be interesting to see which package(s) LSU goes with against Florida.