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Posts Tagged ‘Lane Kiffin’

Matt Canada, Recruiting, & Other Updates

In College Football, General LSU on December 19, 2016 at 7:28 PM

Canada Should Be Here Longer Than Kiffin Would Have

LSU did not get the most obvious target, Lane Kiffin, for the offensive coordinator position, but I don’t know if that’s a bad thing. Instability at coordinator added to the LSU quarterback problems that existed before Cam Cameron’s arrival, and that’s what we would have gotten. It’s possible LSU could have gotten Kiffin as the next coordinator by presenting an attractive enough offer, but it would have only temporarily postponed his next head coaching job.

Also, one of the arguments for going after Kiffin was that even if he wasn’t with LSU permanently, at least we would have gotten him away from Alabama. He left Alabama anyway. Call it sour grapes if you like – I think LSU was looking more closely at Canada than they were at Kiffin in the first place – but I honestly think this turn of events is in LSU’s favor.

Before I get to the positives and negatives of his past performance, some people might be nervous because Canada has made a series of stops as well. I think that’s less of a concern because he’s never been a head coach, and he’s never coached in the NFL. Offensive coordinator for one of the best programs (not to pat ourselves on the back too much, but only a few have multiple national championships since 2003) is his highest aspiration for the time being. Also, as I’ll get into, I think this is the situation that might fit him best. Canada probably isn’t the type who would fit in the other places.

New LSU offensive coordinator Matt Canada at his introductory press conference with Ed Orgeron

New LSU offensive coordinator Matt Canada at his introductory press conference with Ed Orgeron

Canada’s Resume

First I wanted to address the concerns that Canada has moved around too much. Canada’s previous moves made sense in pursuing the type of job he has just attained. He did take a bit of a step back when he left Wisconsin for North Carolina State, it wasn’t his fault he got there a year before Bret Bielema decided to go to Arkansas.

I’m not sure why he didn’t follow Bielema to Arkansas, but I doubt it had to do with being unable to coach the offense well enough. ESPN said they “butted heads”, but it may have had more to do with the opportunity to coach with former NIU coach Dave Doeren again. Although they were outmatched in the Rose Bowl, his Badger team had scored 70 points in the 2012 Big Ten championship game and averaged about 30 points per game.

Canada’s departure from North Carolina State was also not his decision. After a rocky first year with the Wolfpack in which Canada couldn’t seem to find a reliable quarterback, the team averaged 30.0 and 32.2, respectively, in the next two seasons.

The only sense anyone could make of the N.C. State firing as far as performance was that there were a few key games with relatively little scoring: 13 against Virginia Tech, 13 against Louisville, and 17 against Florida St. Louisville and Florida St. had reasonably good defenses in 2015, so it seems strange to fire a guy over one questionable game, but that’s apparently what they did. Also, I would note that all three point totals would have been enough for LSU to beat Alabama this season, and the Florida St. point total would have been enough to beat Wisconsin and Florida as well.

I would venture to guess that Canada will benefit from the kind of defense Dave Aranda seems to be running at LSU. Canada said during the press conference that if the pace of the game dictates winning 10-7 he has no problem with that. That reminds me… Canada and Aranda coached against each other in 2012. Final score: Wisconsin 16, Utah St. 14. I guess Aranda and the Aggies did a good enough job in that game that most of the USU coaching staff was hired when Bielema left for Arkansas.

I also liked that Canada doesn’t seem to be a purist in terms of what “system” he’s going to run. He’ll use multiple running backs in the backfield, he’ll throw to tight ends, and he’ll let the quarterback run if that’s in his skill set. Here is some more detailed information about what Canada likes to do.

Canada has been an offensive coordinator for 10 consecutive seasons. Before going to Wisconsin, he also had success at Northern Illinois in 2011, where his offenses averaged 38 points per game. His tenure at Indiana was a mixed bag. Canada helped to coach the Hoosiers to their first bowl game since 1993 in his first year (2007) after the death of head coach Terry Hoeppner in the offseason, but his offenses did not average more than 25 points per game again until his last year there in 2010.

A little bit of additional trivia… Canada was also with the Hoosiers (as an undergraduate assistant) in that previous bowl year of 1993, and the man who brought Canada back to Indiana (as a QB coach) was actually former LSU head coach Gerry DiNardo, who preceded Saban. In his career, Canada has also been a position coach for tight ends, wide receivers, and running backs.

Recruiting

I don’t usually comment on recruiting until the ink is dry and sometimes not even then, but with coaching turmoil, I think it’s an important thing to check on.

Orgeron kept some recruits guessing when he said at one point he wanted a pro-style quarterback and at another he wanted the spread, but it seems Canada can offer the best of both. It’s a good sign that St. Stanislaus (MS) quarterback Myles Brennan is back on board. Brennan is a pro-style quarterback who set state records for passing but also has a decent amount of rushing yards.

Junior College wide receiver Stephen Guidry, who de-committed in the wake of the Miles firing, also recommitted to the Tigers. Guidry attends Hines Community College, also in Mississippi, but went to high school in Louisiana. The LSU depth chart at the position seems to be getting shallower. Travin Dural’s eligibility will expire, Jazz Ferguson will be transferring after being suspended, and Malachi Dupre may declare for the NFL draft. If so, that will mean that only two wide receivers will be returning as upperclassmen.

The only other recruit (unless I’m misinformed) who de-committed from the Tigers since the Miles firing was Lowell Narcisse, a dual-threat quarterback from St. James (LA), who is also back on board as of this morning. I didn’t think he and Brennan would both want to come to LSU at the same time, but the more the merrier as far as I’m concerned. The last few years have shown us that you can’t always count on someone who appears to be the top guy, especially before they start taking snaps in a game.

Canada said he would use multiple-back sets. I’m not sure if that includes quarterbacks, but obviously there are some spread plays (as well as more traditional plays like halfback passes) where you’re not supposed to know whether a back will act like a quarterback or a running back, particularly not with the way Canada likes to change formations before the play.

SEC Country went into more detail about Narcisse and the rest of LSU’s potential key recruits. DandyDon (see the 12/19 update) also covered some of this.

I understand the Tigers have room for at least 5 more players and possibly up to 7.

Other Notes

This speaks for itself about two of my favorite NFL players at the moment.
beckham-landry

I’d like to give credit to fullback JD Moore, who earned the Charles E. Coates Award given to the senior who demonstrated the highest commitment to scholarly work in combination with excellence on the field. You might not notice him during the game as a casual fan, but he’s amazing when someone slows down the film and points him out.

The team MVP award went to senior linebacker Duke Riley. I don’t know how you replace guys like that in isolation, but that’s where teamwork and player development come in.

I know intricate detail about Xs and Os and recruiting aren’t historically my focus on this blog, but I have a renewed interest in how next year’s team is taking shape with the coaching changes.

I don’t see us winning the SEC, especially with 5 conference road games next season, but we were in every game this year. But if we become the type of team to win close games by converting scoring opportunities (we had some close games with late yards but not late points), anything could happen.

Regardless, I believe next season can be the start of something special. The last national championship came under a newish head coach and an innovative offensive coordinator (although Crowton never really found another quarterback to run his system after Matt Flynn left).

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LSU-Alabama Preview and Analysis

In College Football, General LSU, Preview, Rivalry on November 4, 2016 at 7:20 PM

I’ll start by saying there are some other interesting games this weekend, but I can’t even think about that. If you play on LSU-Alabama weekend a few days after a historic 7-game World Series and a few days before an apparently close presidential election, my focus will be limited.

I promise this is the last time until I update it, but I keep getting a ton of views for it, so once again I’ll give the link to the LSU-Alabama series, but I do want to focus on a few aspects that I haven’t covered in depth.

In the early days of the Miles-Saban portion of this series, LSU was able to beat Alabama by playing old-school hard-nosed football (with a few wrinkles) a little bit better when the Tide was able to intimidate most teams by its style of play.

Les Miles congratulates Nick Saban in January 2012 after the BCS championship.

Les Miles congratulates Nick Saban in January 2012 after the BCS championship.

LSU went 3-2 in that span, but the worst Tiger team of that span took Alabama to overtime, and the best Alabama team relied in part on a drive that should have ended in an interception if the officials had seen the play better. So it could have easily been at least 4-1. Sometimes the team that’s having a clearly better season just wins even if the match-up isn’t favorable.

Then LSU had more issues with coming up with anything but a one-dimensional offense.

In the 2011 regular season game (5 years ago tomorrow), LSU had an element of surprise: although obviously he didn’t engineer any touchdown drives, LSU’s more mobile quarterback Jordan Jefferson came off the bench and did a good job controlling the ball and spreading the field. The Tigers had a great defense that year, but even that unit couldn’t have stopped Alabama if the offense had kept producing quick three-and-outs (as would be demonstrated a couple of months later).

In the 2011 championship game (in January 2012), Alabama was a lot more prepared for Jefferson, Jefferson had a bad game (he completed passes, but they were almost all roughly at the line of scrimmage), and the LSU coaching staff was too stubborn to try anything else.

2012 didn’t require a different quarterback, but LSU still forced Alabama into unexpected situations when Zach Mettenberger finally looked comfortable in the position for the first time against a quality defense. The Tigers completed a series of long passes to get into a position where they were driving down the field with a chance to put the game out of reach.

Then LSU started playing not to lose. They ran the ball and tried to run the clock to play for a field goal (even though that would have only put them up 6). The fact that the field goal was missed might not have mattered because Alabama would score a touchdown on the ensuing drive to win by 4.

AJ McCarron completed the winning touchdown to T.J. Yelton on a screen pass in 2012.

AJ McCarron completed the winning touchdown to T.J. Yeldon on a screen pass in 2012.

So I would argue in both seasons when LSU had a more open offense was when they were able to find success, but obviously the calendar year of 2012 still gave LSU the first two of five consecutive losses.

Then Cam Cameron became the offensive coordinator. Although he and Mettenberger did well to tie the game at 17 early in the third quarter, the offense sputtered after that. The longest drive after that was for 7 plays, 50 yards, and ended in a punt. The other two drives went for a total of -9 yards.

This put pressure on the defense, which finally broke down toward the end of the game. Alabama outscored LSU 21-0 in the final 20 minutes of the game to win 38-17.

LSU nearly took advantage of a late fumble to win in 2014 before falling in overtime, but the win would have been despite the offense not because of it. Following some improvements that had been made by his predecessors Jim McElwain and Doug Nussmeier, Lane Kiffin didn’t do a great job in that game, but he called plays well enough to give the Tide a late field-goal opportunity which they converted and of course the winning touchdown in OT. I think those improvements are another reason that the gap between LSU and Alabama seemed to have grown in the last couple of years.

The only wrinkle in 2015 was a couple of surprising downfield throws from Brandon Harris; but once the Alabama defense adjusted its reads, that was off the table and LSU didn’t seem to have anything else to fall back on. After closing to within 3 points at halftime, LSU gave up 17 unanswered points and only scored again due to a fumble recovery deep in Alabama territory.

If Etling struggles like Jordan Jefferson did in the national championship game or like Brandon Harris did last year, LSU doesn’t win, but I think he has what it takes to play as well as Mettenberger did, which would give the Tigers a good chance.

Unlike Miles, Orgeron is not an offensive coach, but he did influence the direction of the new offense partly by dismissing Cam Cameron. He seemed to like the kind of offenses Norm Chow and Lane Kiffin ran at USC (and I suppose Clay Helton, who continued to run the offense during Orgeron’s season as interim coach in Los Angeles).

Steve Ensminger, who was a relative unknown as the tight ends coach, has done a good job in adapting the current playbook to suit what Orgeron had in mind, but he hasn’t been tested by a defense like this yet. Regardless, if LSU loses, I don’t think a lack of offensive creativity or playing too conservatively toward the end would be the reason for the loss.

New offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger

New offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger

I’m not minimizing the importance of defense, but I think that’s been a steadier unit in these games for both teams. I don’t see a deviation from that general rule this year.

To pick up a little bit on my point about creativity and playing too conservatively, there were at least elements of a prevent defense in 2012 and 2014 that I don’t think helped. The Tigers got themselves in a spot of bother against Mississippi St. in September, partly due to an on-sides kick, but I think LSU DC Dave Aranda is smarter about that than John Chavis was.

I know Texas A&M isn’t as talented on defense, so I don’t want to be too unfair to Chavis, but I think the video below demonstrates some of the risks when Chavis doesn’t put a lot of players in the box against a team like Alabama. It also shows how important the performance of guys like Kendall Beckwith and Arden Key will be. Calling the right play is one thing, but if you don’t have players read and respond to what happens during the play, you’re probably not going to look very good as a coordinator.

http://www.espn.com/video/clip?id=17967092

The more established coordinators Kiffin and Aranda might be the superior chess match (see here for some discussion of that). I’m not attacking Steve Ensminger’s or Jeremy Pruitt’s mental faculties, but Ensminger is limited somewhat by inheriting someone else’s offense and by having a quarterback who (despite being around college football a while) still isn’t completely comfortable as a starter for this team. I don’t know quite as much about Pruitt, but as Gary Danielson explains below, it also seems like he’s limited in how much latitude he has by another coach (in his case Saban) and to some extent by personnel. On the other hand, the uncertainty might make the latter pairing more interesting.

http://www.espn.com/video/clip?id=17956565

I try to be cool and rational when writing, but I’m really excited to see what happens, It’s not just that I’m a fan of LSU, but it’s also a bit of intellectual curiosity as to how the chess match will play out.