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August 1, 2010

LSU's Offense Enrolls in Wizard 101 Classes

After last season I and many LSU fans had almost forgotten that LSU's Offensive Coordinator, Gary Crowton, had earned a call sign.  During the 2007 LSU head coach, Les Miles had become entrenched with the call sign of "Mad Hatter or the Hat" and LSU's OC, Gary Crowton, was referred to simply as "the Wizard."  Though I am sure that fans called Crowton many names last season, I do not remember hear him referred to as "the Wizard" one single time.  The reason that Crowton was not called "the Wizard" last year was because clearly, there was no magic in Death Valley or anywhere the LSU football team played.  In fact, LSU's offensive struggles left many LSU fans scratching their head, or worse, and wondering if the Wizard had not lost some magical battle with an evil Voodoo queen hell bent on destroying the Tiger offense at every opportunity.  Most likely what happened is that LSU's quarterback, Jordan Jefferson "the Wizard's Apprentice", was too young and inexperienced to carry out any of the tricks that Crowton had in his bag.  LSU fans witnessed in horror the previous season when clearly the then Wizard's Apprentice, Jarret Lee, clearly was under the influence of some bad magic that made him throw touchdown after touchdown to LSU's opponents.  I suppose that some of you have just about had it with my "wizard" and "magic" references by this time and good and ready for me to talk some football without extending the metaphor any more. OK, my two young kids were both hogging the bandwidth playing the online game Wizard 101 and it seemed like a creative way to start.  I will try to dispense with most of the "wizard and magic" talk and just talk about LSU's Offense and the possibilities that I see for what ought to be a much improved offensive game.  If LSU does not have an improved season on Offense this year, we could see the curtain torn away exposing the Wizard as nothing more than a man and that mere man may be shown the door.  I hope and do not believe that will happen.  I am hoping that Gary Crowton returns to his status as "the Wizard" of Offensive Coordinators.
Let's take a look at the magical possibilities for LSU's Offense.

Two Mysteries:  Quarterback and Offensive Line
LSU quarterback, Jordan Jefferson will return as a junior this year with a full season of SEC play and two bowl games as a starter under his belt. During that experience Jefferson show some flashes of brilliance but became far too consistent at holding on to the ball for too long and taking a sack far too often.  If even the most unobservant fan could see that, both Jordan Jefferson and Gary Crowton noticed the same problem and likely focused on correcting that problem during the off season.  If Jefferson had taken fewer sacks by either throwing the ball away or better yet identifying an open receiver and making a completion, no one would be saying a word about how Jefferson needs to step up and lead the team.  Last year the four games that LSU lost were lost by 10 points to Florida, 9 points to Alabama, 2 points to Ole Miss, and 2 points to Penn State. Had Jefferson taken fewer sacks and either maintained field position or completed more passes, it would have been a very different season.  The real mystery surrounding the high number of sacks last year was whether the sacks were the result of  Jefferson holding the ball too long (like I said above) or the result of a weak offensive line.  It was probably a combination of both with some plays being Jefferson's fault and some plays the line's fault.  Jordan is probably hoping to be vindicated this year by a line that takes better care of him while he is looking for the open receiver.

One thing is certain: this is not the same offensive line that played last year.  There are two linemen that started last year, Joseph Barksdale and Josh Dworaczyk, that are starting again this year.  Barksdale will move from right tackle to left tackle this year.  Barksdale is an excellent choice for left tackle.  Many will recall that out of high school Barksdale was projected as one of the best defensive tackles because of his size, speed, and agility.  Barksdale is a big man ( 6'5", 315lbs.) that can move quickly. While it might have been exciting to see Barksdale play defensive tackle, he has skills to be an outstanding offensive left tackle.  Dworaczyk 6'6", 281lb frame/size makes him well suited to play at left guard between Barksdale and center, Patrick Lonergan.  Lonergan was learning the position of center last year but appear to be a more solid prospect at 6'4 and 300lbs than T-Bob Hebert (6'3", 285).  While Lonergan appears to have the inside track to start at center, T-Bob Hebert has rejoined the team after his suspension and may push for the position.  Where the mystery, and I think the magic, is on this year's O-line is the right side.  Will Blackwell (6'4", 300lbs) will play right guard and Alex Hurst (6'6", 324lbs) will play right tackle.  This year, LSU will be able to run right against anybody and when Jefferson rolls to the right to pass, he will have plenty of time to make up his mind.  I think the offensive line is going to make this season very different from last season.

Super Stars that will bring the magic back:  The Running Backs and Receiving Corp
Most people would have put the running backs in the "mystery" section of this article and I thought about it but obviously decided against it.  Keep in mind my analysis and prediction that LSU's line will be much better.  Running Backs Stevan Ridley and Richard Murphy, if he is completely healthy, have both shown enough potential to allay LSU fan's concerns.  Still, I can't wait to see redshirt freshman running back Mike Ford play ball.  Ford is much like Alabama's Trent Richards in that both men can be described as stout.  Ford can bench press 425lbs, squat 510lbs. and lays claim to a 42" vertical jump.  He has the ability to bull over opposing defenders but is more likely to find a crease and slash through the line leaving opposing defensive backs the task of catching up with and then bringing down this bull.  Incoming freshman running back, Spencer Ware is cut from a similar mold just slightly bigger.  The Charles Scott "bull type" tradition is likely to survive for several more years at LSU.

While categorizing LSU's running backs as "mystery" or "super stars" may have caused a pause, LSU's Receivers are clearly super stars waiting to take the stage.  Terrence Toliver, Rueben Randle, Russell Shepard, and even Chris Tolliver and Deangelo Peterson are all top notch receivers.  I know, Peterson is technically a tight end but he will be used as an additional receiver.  

Interesting possible offensive plays that I would love to see but probably never will:
It is interesting that  LSU could have several good quarterbacks on the field at the same time.  When Rueben Randle and Russell Shepard are on the field and Jordan Jefferson is quarterbacking, there will be three former high school quarterbacks.  Incoming freshman running back Spencer Ware also played quarterback in high school which would make four competent QBs if he is also in the game. So here are a brief description of a couple of plays:

  1.  I think it would be fun to see Jefferson takeoff right with  Ridley Trailing - Fake a dive handoff to Ridley - Flip the ball to Shepard who is darting to left behind Jefferson - Have Shepard pull up and throw the ball to Randle or Toliver on the left corner.
  2. Same play as above but have Randle drop back so that Shepard's across field throw is actually a backwards lateral - then Randle throws the ball down field to Toliver or Peterson.

I don't know if I explained those plays well enough for you to understand my vision.  My point is that with the personnel that OC Gary Crowton has amassed on offense, he should have plenty of opportunities to create some offensive magic and maybe even regain his call sign: "Wizard." 
LSU fans everywhere can at the very least hope.  


Anonymous said...

Well Bob, if this years LSU tiger offense, get the linemen blocking, and the running backs running, and our QB playing smart, and passing good,The LSU fans are going to bring a lot of pay back music, into tiger stadium and beyond.
The magic will be very much alive and well....I cant think of nothing better, then for the LSU fans, and Miles lead LSU football team to go ahead and roll, those swell heads SEC teams, that think the LSU tigers are a week kitten, this time around.
Geaux tigers

Anonymous said...

Gary Crowton should send you a check bc this is the only scenario that I can see where he keeps his job.

Anonymous said...

Bob, you are giving us hope. This is how fans are supposed to feel before the first kickoff. Thanks a bunch! Geaux Tigers!

Anonymous said...

Amen, Amen...Thats what you're supposed so say after a prayer, right?

Miles wasnt in charge of getting Shepard on the field last season by his own admission in four of his post game press conferences. So, hows the guy getting on this year. And how is Crowton going to get Jefferson to throw the ball when all the receivers are running 5 yd outs?

Things dont change. If Miles preferred to run the ball and be a running team with Dwayne Bowe, Craig Davis and Early Doucett able to catch passes from Jamarcus Russell, then all this talk of Miles throwing the ball to nifty receivers this year, is fantasy talk.

The hat is as clever and as competent as you've already seen. In year six, to sit here and expect something new? nuts.

It'll be all run, and all post game discussions about how the O-line let us down. Just like all the other yrs. The notion of 'what are you going to do different since its established we cant just run the ball against 8 man fronts' will never come up.

Its the hat.

Anonymous said...

Note to 6:33am Anon comment - Sheppard is now a wide receiver that is expected to see more playing time.
Go Tigers!

Anonymous said...

Just read DandyDon and the Shreveport Times and both these guys agree with you on Will Blackwell and Alex Hurst. I read it first on Bob's Sports Blog. Dude you are the man!

Anonymous said...

The LSU offense is going no where,Jefferson will drop back to pass, and will take to long, and be sacked.
The running game will be that unholy stack up, we keep seeing all last year.
Miles will get unglued,after a quarter, and send Lee into the game,and Lee will through a pass to the wrong team.
Nothing good is going to happen in this coming football season because Les Miles is coaching LSU offense..Unless you enjoy seeing some great football talent wasted, on a sad excuse of a heads coach.

Anonymous said...

Les Miles should hire you as OC. You couldn't do worse than Crow-ton and it sounds like you would at least put Russ Shepard on the field.

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