LSU Has Shown Notre Dame The Blueprint

Bryan Driskell

Tonight the LSU Tigers will take on the Clemson Tigers in the national championship game. Notre Dame has played both of these programs in recent seasons, with Notre Dame beat LSU twice (2017, 2014) and losing to Clemson twice (2018, 2015).

Brian Kelly says that Notre Dame is trying to get to this stage, and it absolutely should be the standard for any coach at Notre Dame. That’s what it’s all about, right, to play for championships?

Notre Dame has been close twice. Well, sort of. Notre Dame played for the national title in 2012 and made it to the College Football Playoff in 2018, but the Irish lost by 28 and 27 points in those two contests.

Like Notre Dame, LSU has not been able to get over the hump in the last decade.

LSU started off 3-2 against Nick Saban during his tenure at Alabama, beating the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa in 2011, which vaulted the Tigers to the national title game rematch against the Tide. The Tigers lost 21-0, and since then LSU went on to lose seven straight against Alabama, not scoring more than 17 points in any of those losses.

The last of those defeats was on November 3, 2018 when the No. 3 Tigers hosted No. 1 Alabama in Death Valley, and they were whipped 29-0. The Tigers rushed for just 12 yards and quarterback Joe Burrow went 18-35 for 184 yards with no touchdowns, an interception, and -7 yards rushing. Alabama outgained LSU 576 to 196.

The gap between LSU and Alabama seemed enormous.

Fast forward one year to November 9, 2019. The two teams squared off in Tuscaloosa, and Alabama’s offense put up big numbers once again, scoring 41 points and racking up 541 yards of offense. But this time, Alabama was completely outplayed by LSU, who jumped out to a 33-13 halftime lead and went on to went 46-41, with Alabama scored a late touchdown to make it a one score game.

The LSU offense that looked so helpless a year prior absolutely throttled Alabama, racking up 559 yards of offense, and Burrow was brilliant, completing 31-39 passes for 393 yards and three touchdowns while adding 64 yards on the ground.

In 2019, the Tigers offense looked nothing like it did the previous decade … or ever.

After getting embarrassed year after year by Alabama, and continuing to come up short in a quest for a title, LSU head coach Ed Orgeron knew he could not continue the status quo and expect things to change. The veteran head coach decided to shake things up, going outside the program and hiring New Orleans Saints offensive assistant coach Joe Brady, who was tasked with working with offensive coordinator Greg Ensminger to overhaul the offense.

The results were an incredibly dramatic turnaround on offense.

So why is an analyst who covers Notre Dame writing such an extensive breakdown of LSU for a Notre Dame site?

What Orgeron and LSU also did was provide a blueprint for Notre Dame to finally get over the hump and truly compete for a national championship.

A program that relied on defense for so long is playing for a national title because it went outside the program and overhauled its offense.

Notre Dame and LSU played each other to end the 2017 season, and the Fighting Irish came away with a 21-17 victory. Since then, the two teams have almost identical records, with Notre Dame going 23-3 and LSU going 23-4, but I think most would agree that LSU is clearly in much better position to beat the “big boys” and play for a national title.

Notre Dame in 2019 was basically a better offensive version of what LSU was in 2017. Just look at the numbers:

Screen Shot 2020-01-13 at 1.32.12 AM

Notre Dame’s 2019 defense allowed fewer points, fewer yards per play, fewer yards per rush and fewer yards per pass attempt than the 2017 LSU defense that slowed down Notre Dame’s potent offense and held Alabama to just 24 points.

The Notre Dame offense scored more points against a softer schedule, but the overall numbers were almost identical. LSU scored 27.1 points against Power 5 opponents in 2017, while Notre Dame scored 30.8 points against Power 5 opponents in 2019. 

The graph below compares LSU’s 2017 and 2019 squads, and you’ll see that in two years the LSU defense is the same as it was in 2017, but the offense looks nothing like it did two seasons ago.

Screen Shot 2020-01-13 at 1.32.31 AM

In a very short time LSU was able to go from being an almost program to a team on the verge of a national championship. Even with a loss to Clemson, LSU will finish the 2019 season with at least three wins over programs that will finish ranked in the Top 10 (Oklahoma, Georgia, Florida), and that number could rise to four if No. 13 Alabama leaps back in the Top 10.

Keep in mind during Kelly's decade at Notre Dame the Irish have won just two games against teams that finished the season ranked in the Top 10.

The reason was Orgeron’s willingness to go outside the program for fresh ideas on offense, and he was willing to allow the offensive staff to create an offense that went against what he believed in, which was ball control, power running and throwing the ball over the top.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly has the blueprint right in front of him, and if he wants to win a title he needs to follow it. Kelly has an open offensive coordinator position, and for months sources have indicated that Kelly’s desire is to simply promote current quarterbacks coach Tommy Rees to the position.

Rees was developed by Kelly as both a player and a coach, so it's the easy, comfortable move. Forget for a moment the discussion of whether or not Rees is ready for the position (he isn’t), the reality is promoting Rees means more of the same. It’s continuing to do what you’ve been doing as a program, which has resulted in coming up short year after year, and in big game after big game.

Clark Lea was an outsider before Kelly hired him to coach the linebackers in 2017 and then to run the defense starting in 2018. After playing abysmal defense from 2014-16, Lea has quickly built Notre Dame’s defense into one of the nation’s best.

Whoever steps into the offensive coordinator role will inherit a much, much better situation than what Mike Elko and Lea walked into back in 2017.

Kelly needs to follow the blueprint LSU provided on offense, and the one Kelly followed on defense. I am not saying Kelly needs to go hire a 30-year old NFL assistant. Finding the “next Joe Brady” is not what Kelly needs to do, and it’s not the blueprint I’m talking about. The blueprint is simple, go outside the program, find someone with fresh ideas, find someone willing to shake things up, find someone capable of overhauling the offense and creating an elite unit on that side of the ball.

Do that and Notre Dame will quickly close the gap on the nation’s top programs and Kelly will be in great position to finally accomplish the one thing that has eluded him as a FBS coach … win a national championship.

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Comments (41)
No. 1-15
chamgel
chamgel

Great read Bryan.. it definitely feels like we’re at another crossroads in Brian Kelly’s tenure. One way and he can follow the blueprint Orgeron laid to bring in new ideas and an outside voice to close the needed gap offensively.... the other and it’s going to feel like more of the same we’ve seen the past decade, where we just aren’t good enough offensively to beat elite teams.

maloy49
maloy49

Coach, good article! You indicate that LSU’s offensive philosophy prior to Joe Brady wasn’t going to get it done in today’s game. Relative to ND, do you think we need an entire new philosophy or just a staff that can maximize the potential of this roster? Maybe some of both?

FamousAmos
FamousAmos

The blueprint should also include a difference maker at QB. LSU hasn’t had a QB worth a bag of peanuts in forever. Having a guy that lives off throwing the ball down the field to the intermediate/deep routes at a 78% clip to 3 NFL WR’s is not something we’ve ever seen.

The 4 teams in last years playoff:

OU-Murray Heisman 1st pick Clemson-Lawrence 1st pick next year Bama-Tua 1st pick this year w/o injury and Burrow bursting on the scene. Book- Lost by 27

This years 4: LSU- Burrow Heisman 1st pick Clemson- Lawrence 2021 1st pick OSU- Fields likely 2021 1st rounder OU- Hurts - Lost by 30

Clemson wasn’t the Clemson we know today until Watson showed up. Florida State was decent.. Winston shows up and they win it. Cam Newton at Auburn same thing...Vince Young... Texas. Recruiting, and developing the QB is the ultimate equalizer to teams like Bama that have 4/5 stars on their 3rd string.

When you get a 5 star difference making QB...develop him. Don’t change his throwing motion. Play him early. See what you have. Happy Monday!

SDS123
SDS123

Exactly what I was thinking! Okay, not true, but when I read this, I thought it was laser sharp accurate. Excellent read. Excellent road map. My confidence in it happening? Not high.

Jpirish58
Jpirish58

Good Article, although Ed O caught lighting in a bottle in Brady, It seems like destiny for LSU. No one could have seen Joe Burrow playing to this level. Seems that some will never let go of the PJ was the best thing since sliced bread argument. Time to let it go Peeps.

Lmanning19
Lmanning19

I absolutely love this article! I would definitely like to see more of a spread offense with those wide receivers. Notre Dame has and is loaded with talent!

ClashmoreMike
ClashmoreMike

Great analysis. However, I'm inclined to believe that with Burrows departure, LSU will drop into the second tier -- programs 4-8 where they have lived for 10 years. Kelly's challenge is to become a solid 4-8 team and once every few years grab a seat in the top 3.

brandons
brandons

What exactly did LSU and Brady change schematically that allowed the offense to improve by so much?

Palk21
Palk21

Great article. For ND, I don’t want to make this too simple, but if we can just get the Defense & the Offense to be equally good, we’d be solid. We’ve see both. Weis could score, but never had a Defense. Now Kelly seems to have consistently good Defense, but the Offense struggles. Mainly due to subpar QB play. Quinn & Clausen were good for ND, but never had a Defense to compliment them.

Hopefully Pyne or Buchner or even Clark is the QB that can make plays and take advantage of this huge opportunity with great recruits coming in at key, difference making, positions. I’d love to see it!

No reason we can’t have a great offense with, Currently: Lenzy, Austin, Keys, Tremble, Flemister & Incoming: Tyree, Johnson, Mayer. Combined with Clark Lea’s Defense. The potential is there. Need to see it. I’m hoping we get what we all want.

irishpack
irishpack

No they would not be playing. I have watched them a couple times this year and they do not do the run, throw long fail and try a run again. LSU's offensives were a hard watch. Hey Bryan, I learned some things from other site by the analysis articles, much better at that now, thanks.

ej69
ej69

I think they proved if you get a qb with talent and develop him the rest is history.

Balddomer
Balddomer

It appears that Kelly has never read a blue print before.

CoachSteve
CoachSteve

Joe Brady was a low level NFL Assistant. No one saw him coming and if anyone says they did? I will call BS on them. LSU went outside the program in 2017 and hired the then highly regarded Matt Canada. That was a flipping disaster and had Ed O on the hot seat. Going outside your program does not guarantee you success. And staying inside the program does not guarantee failure. The jury will be back with the verdict in November of 2020.

Irish4life99
Irish4life99

It appears someone is reading the blueprints upside down. First, you show the best prospect QB you had in 5-7 years the door. Then you hire a OC with ZERO experience. I think this might be the blueprint to the end of the Kelly regime. I've been a staunch Kelly supporter for a long time. But after this year, I'm off the wagon.

MGP
MGP

I don't doubt that Brian Kelly wants to have his program take the next step, and that is to beat top quality opponent. But I do believe he is not willing to leave his comfort zone to do it.


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