Before the 2019 season, the history of LSU's offense had always leaned on the run. To almost infuriating levels, the Tigers had a long track history of recruiting elite offensive linemen, running backs and receivers but were relatively one dimensional as an offense.
The 2019 season was really the first year the program could capitalize on all of the talent because it found the right offensive minds and the quarterback to pull it off, weaving into one of the most successful seasons in college football history. Since that time, LSU has tried recreating it and hasn't come close.
Part of that is because as the focus on the passing game becomes so much greater, the running game is getting left behind, a true antithesis of the prior norm. All of the sudden, conversations of getting the passing game going to open up the run are being had, a far cry from where this program was four years ago.
In 2021, LSU has one good half of running the football to hang it's hat on, spearheaded by freshman running back Corey Kiner against Central Michigan. The offensive line has struggled to set the edge and open up running lanes inside and out for its backs. But with Kiner's explosive showing and this group starting to get back to full strength, there's room for optimism about the running attack finding its footing.
"When it comes to who is in the backfield, it doesn't matter really for us," offensive lineman Austin Deculus said. "We don't look back say 'Oh he's back there let's make a better block.' He has just a natural instinct, a natural playing ability kind of like Clyde [Edwards-Helaire] when Clyde was here. I think it's just him making great effort."
LSU will see Armoni Goodwin return to the rotation, joining Kiner and Tyrion Davis-Price. Goodwin has the speed to be a difference maker when getting to the second level of the defense, as evidenced by his 21-yard carry against McNeese. The team is also still waiting to hear whether Kevontre Bradford will be cleared and the academic case for currently suspended John Emery, which is still being fought, is hoping to have a decision by Friday.
The Tigers will continue to start with Davis-Price but coach Ed Orgeron said there will be plenty of Kiner and Goodwin mixed in against the Bulldogs this weekend as well.
“No. Tyrion Davis-Price is still our starter, but we will use a three-man and four-man rotation. You will see Armoni Goodwin this week," Orgeron said on Off the Bench. "And hopefully Tre Bradford can get eligible. We have not found out anything yet, but he is practicing, and as soon as he is eligible we will play him, too.”
What LSU figured out with Kiner against Central Michigan was something that hadn't been seen all season. Even with no viable running lanes, Kiner was able to make plays with his hard nosed running and elusivity that just hasn't been shown much in this offense.
"I think we ended up figuring it out in the second half," quarterback Max Johnson said. "Corey did a really good job of reading the holes, reading the line and making plays whether it was after contact. He's super powerful, he's mean, he runs hard, that stiff arm just shows kind of who he is."
What we know about this Tigers' team is it will be a pass first offense, making establishing the run all the more important. There are many ways to get the ground game going even in a high throwing offense.
One way Johnson said it can be achieved is through the RPO (Run Pass Option). The Tigers started to show that a little bit by gaining some tempo within the offense and was able to keep the Chippewas defense guessing on some of those RPO playcalls.
"I think it's just a timing thing, sometimes it's just an RPO where I throw the ball," Johnson said. "I think sometimes everyone thinks it's a pass but it's really an RPO. They're seeing the throw whether it's a bubble or a screen I think our line is hungry to work on the run game and the backs are ready to get the ball."
If there's one group that needs to assert itself on offense this weekend, it's the running backs as a well balanced offensive showing from LSU will help put this team back on course to competing in the conference.