The LSU Tigers won 10 games in 2018 for the first time in five years. Yet, they still left something to be desired.
Perhaps that’s because it’s been eight years since LSU played in the SEC Championship Game — or because Alabama routed the Tigers, 29-0, at Tiger Stadium last November. As good as LSU was in 2018, there’s still a sizeable gap between them and Alabama.
The main reason for that gap is quarterback play. LSU has been slower at transforming their offense from a ball-control and power running-game style to more quarterback-centric. Of course, it’s easier to run a pass-oriented attack with a quarterback such as Tua Tagovailoa than it is with Joe Burrow or Danny Etling.
Burrow is back for his senior season, but things could still be different for the LSU offense in 2019. Not only will the Tigers feature a new 5-star running back, but a new passing game coordinator will look to give LSU its most futuristic offense ever and turn the program into a true contender in the SEC West.
Head coach Ed Orgeron landed the No. 5 2019 recruiting class in the country according to 247Sports, but Orgeron’s biggest “win” of the offseason might have been hiring passing game coordinator Joe Brady. The 37-year-old, who will also help coach the wide receivers, has just two years of official coaching experience and none at the college level, and yet he’s a major addition on paper.
Brady spent the last two seasons with the New Orleans Saints as an offensive assistant. Before that, he was a graduate assistant at Penn State from 2015-16.
Even with just a handful of years in the coaching profession, Brady could prove to be invaluable to Burrow’s development this summer. He helped both the Saints and Nittany Lions feature strong passing games during his tenure.
More importantly — because Brady can hardly take full credit for those teams’ passing success — Brady learned from two passing gurus, then Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead and Saints head coach Sean Payton. Assuming they had strong influences on Brady, he arrives in Baton Rouge as innovator an offensive mind as any young and available coach in college football.
At LSU, Brady is expected to bring key components from New Orleans and Penn State into the Tigers offense. Most notably, Brady is introducing the run-pass option he learned under Moorhead, which could be key to Burrow taking another step this fall.
Burrow told Athlon Sports this offseason that he is “used to” running the RPO from his time at Ohio State and in high school. Athletic isn’t necessarily a trait that comes to mind when describing Burrow, but he did rush for 399 yards and seven touchdowns in 2018.
The extra dimension Burrow can bring on the ground is great, but LSU really needs him to improve in the passing game. Burrow posted a 57.8 completion percentage while throwing for 2,894 yards and 16 touchdowns last year.
In LSU’s 2018 offense, those numbers aren’t terrible. Burrow averaged 7.6 yards per attempt, which placed him in the middle of the pack (eighth) among SEC starting quarterbacks. He just didn’t receive very many attempts because of the LSU run-first offense.
Furthermore, his five interceptions were a major reason why LSU won 10 games. He took care of the ball and thus had the fewest interceptions among SEC signal callers with at least 370 attempts.
But ranked 10th and 11th in the SEC in touchdowns and completion percentage, respectably, kept his upside very low. Championship winning football programs don’t start low-upside quarterbacks in 2019. It just doesn’t happen. Burrow will have to be more accurate and a better downfield passer for LSU to close the gap with Alabama. Orgeron is counting on Brady being just the man to help in that area.
5-star running back John Emery Jr. will certainly help too. He arrives in Baton Rouge as the 13th-ranked prospect from the 2019 class according to 247Sports.
While LSU lost its 2018 leading rusher Nick Brossette, the Tigers could feature an even better rushing attack behind the freshman. More manageable second and third downs will only assist Burrow as well.
As will the return of rising junior wide receiver Justin Jefferson, who led the team with 875 receiving yards and six touchdowns last year. He accounted for nearly 30 percent of LSU’s passing offense.
The Burrow-Jefferson connection could lead to LSU’s first 1,000-yard receiver since Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry in 2013, but as a receivers coach, Brady is also tasked with developing Stephen Sullivan, Ja’Marr Chase and some of the other Tigers wideouts. If Burrow is going to become a Top 3 SEC quarterback, he can’t rely on just one receiver.
The expectations are high for Brady in his first season as a passing game coordinator, and no other position coach will face as much pressure as him in the SEC. But if he can implement his plan and help develop Burrow and the wide receivers behind Jefferson, LSU may be a real challenge to Alabama in the SEC West this year.
Cover image of LSU QB Joe Burrow via YouTube.com.