‘Warp speed’: That’s how LSU is preparing for a Utah State offense that’s even faster
2 months ago The Advocate 0
LSU coach Ed Orgeron used a term Monday that probably had only been used before in the school’s aerospace engineering program — certainly not inside Tiger Stadium in association with the football team’s offense.
“The offense has what we call ‘warp speed,'” Orgeron said.
No, that’s not just an adjective, though it suits an LSU offense that leads the nation with 57.8 points per game.
You’ve probably already read about how LSU’s new spread offense is moving the ball at a pace quicker than anything in recent memory, with scoring drives that are happening nearly a full minute faster on than in 2018.
LSU is a tempo offense with built-in packages of plays and schemes and strategies that it deploys at various times.
Sometimes, Orgeron said, the offense will decide to go “warp speed” — a dedicated drive to a hurtling pace, such as when LSU scored touchdowns on each of its first four drives in fewer than two minutes in the Tigers’ 66-38 win over Vanderbilt.
This week, as No. 5 LSU (4-0) prepares to host Utah State (3-1) at 11 a.m. Saturday, the Tigers will be turning their warp-speed offense against their own defense in practice.
Utah State’s offense is even faster.
Yes, the Aggies are averaging 1 minute, 51 seconds per touchdown drive — a substantial clip compared to LSU’s speedy touchdown rate (2 minutes, 5 seconds per drive).
In Utah State’s four games, the program has scored three touchdown drives in which the Aggies took less than a minute to drive at least 70 yards.
Orgeron said he and LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda agree that Utah State’s offense is “faster than any team we’ve seen.” That includes Missouri, a program that committed to a high-tempo offensive scheme when it entered the Southeastern Conference in 2012.
But even LSU’s 42-7 win over a Missouri team that would eventually go 4-8 in 2016 might not make for the greatest comparison.
The LSU coaches aren’t committing to old Missouri film to prepare for Utah State.
The approach in practice, LSU strong safety Grant Delpit said, more closely resembles how the Tigers prepared for up-tempo Central Florida leading up to last season’s Fiesta Bowl. After all, UCF head coach Josh Heupel was Mizzou’s offensive coordinator in 2016.
In those Fiesta Bowl practices, LSU used two scout-team offenses against the starting defense, one after another. As soon as one scout team finished a play, the next would race to the line of scrimmage.
That was when LSU didn’t have an up-tempo offense of its own.
Now, the scout team is just deploying its warp speed against the starting defense.
And it’s been effective.
“Every time I hear ‘warp,’ I just want to cry sometimes,” defensive lineman Breiden Fehoko said. “It’s like you hear ‘warp’ and the whole drive you think they’re just going to try and get a look-over (to the sideline) and just stop.”
Sometimes, Fehoko admitted, he wishes it was like last year’s offense, when he’d see starting center Lloyd Cushenberry call quarterback Joe Burrow over into a huddle after a play in practice.
“Now I’m looking at Lloyd, he’s getting over the ball and all I hear is ‘warp’ from Joe,” Fehoko said. “It’s like we’re looking at the sideline, we’re trying to get the call, trying to get lined up, trying to catch your breath — that’s the biggest thing. It sucks, but like I said, it helps us out a lot.”
The LSU defense has needed to make its fair share of adjustments after surrendering 38 points in high-scoring victories over Vanderbilt and then-No. 9 Texas.
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An LSU opponent had last scored that many points in regulation in 2016, when the Tigers beat Texas A&M 54-39.
Part of LSU’s defensive issues have been because of multiple injuries to significant starters. Some of it, Orgeron said, has been because the defense not getting as much rest when the offense scores so quickly.
But a struggling LSU pass rush takes its own share of the proverbial problem pie.
No LSU defender has yet recorded at least two sacks, and the Tigers are tied for 41st natinoally with 11 sacks — a problem compounded by injuries to starting defensive ends Rashard Lawrence and Glen Logan, plus pass rusher K’Lavon Chaisson.
However, it’s not just personnel losses or poor execution. Opposing offenses have been neutralizing LSU’s pass rushers by getting rid of the ball quicker.
Opposing quarterbacks, outside linebacker Andre Anthony said, have been using more three-step drops — meaning, a quarterback takes three backward steps before throwing a quick route, such as a slant.
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Longer developing routes generally require a quarterback to hold onto the ball longer, which gives pass rushers more time.
In LSU’s 65-14 win over Northwestern State, Anthony said, the Demons were using three-step drops the entire game, and the edge blockers were cut blocking the pass rushers on the outside.
Quicker passes and quicker routes means less time for a pass rusher, who has to alter his style of rush to have any effect on the quarterback, since he knows he usually won’t get in the backfield in time for a sack.
What option does a pass rusher have left?
“Just get your hands up,” Chaisson said. “That’s it.”
Rushers will try and and raise their hands up high enough to knock down the quarterback’s short pass.
And when an offense does enough successful three-step drops in a row, it’s hoping that the defensive pass rushers will get into the habit of not trying to rush the quarterback fully.
That’s when an opponent calls a deep pass play, and the quarterback likely will have time to take more than three steps and make the throw.
“To be honest, it really does suck,” Fehoko said. “Because when teams are doing three-step, they respect the talent level that we have up front.”
The offensive strategy forces defensive backs to stop the short passing game, Fehoko said. They have to force the quarterback to hold on to the ball for an extra second or two and let the pressure take hold.
And the pass rushers can’t start anticipating three-step drops, Anthony said. They have to react to every play.
“Don’t stop rushing,” Chaisson said. “You just get after him and just let him know that you’re still there … hit the quarterback as much as possible so he feels you and he has the awareness; he’s thinking about you through every pass throughout the game.”