An Offensive Breakdown: LSU’s Run Game

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports /

The Alabama football team has its hands full this week in preparation for an improving LSU Offense. The Tigers seem to be rounding into form headed into a November matchup with the Tide and a trip to Atlanta on the line. Offensively, Brian Kelly’s teams have always been balanced and this version is no different, relying equally on the pass and the run in order to move the football down the field. Having that balance places stress on the defense, it’s difficult to blitz the passer because if you get out of you’re lane the offense can gash you in the run game. This can have the impact of neutralizing the strengths of both Dallas Turner and Will Anderson in the same way Tennessee took the pass rush with its unique spread formations. Stopping the run to put the Tigers in obvious passing downs will be key for Alabama football to get a win. Let’s break down what the Tigers do on the ground.

Formations & Personnel

The Tigers are very similar to Brian Kelly’s teams in Notre Dame, relying on multiple Tight End sets to create extra gaps in the run game. LSU will base out of 11 personnel (1 RB and 1 TE) on most plays but can also get in 12 and 13 personnel sets as well to gain an advantage in the run game. More gaps equal more opportunities for the defense to lose its structural integrity and force defenses to commit more men to the line of scrimmage. For Alabama, who often bases out of an odd front (3 down linemen and four linebackers) it forces the defense to play non-starters or ask players to do things they don’t normally do.

The Scheme

LSU is almost entirely a zone-based run team. In a zone scheme, offensive linemen block play-side areas instead of individual men. If a lineman is covered to the play-side gap they will block that man, if not they will help and then work to the next level. This allows the line to create double teams at the line of scrimmage to get movement and then create cut-back lanes if the linebackers attempt to overplay over the top of those double teams.

The Tigers do a great job of using their Tight ends in the run game, and this is where they can truly be explosive. They are either asked to wash defensive ends, allowing for even more cutback opportunities, or they arc around them and block second level defenders in case Jayden Daniels decides to pull the ball and keep it. Daniels in space with blockers in front is not where a defense wants to be, and not knowing what the Tight End is going to do makes life harder for a defensive end and can lead to defenses playing slower.

Alabama Football’s Answer

In traditional defenses, the defensive end sits in case the Quarterback pulls the ball and the Linebacker dives to try and take the running back. As defenses have evolved to face modern spread teams they have developed the scrape exchange technique. In this, the defensive end crashes to take the back and the linebacker scrapes over the top to take the QB in case he pulls it. This gives the QB, who is taught to read the defensive end, a false key and can lead to negative plays. The Tide needs to mix up their looks to confuse the Tigers and force them into obvious passing downs so Will Anderson and the boys can do what they do best and get after the QB.

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If Alabama football pressures and contains Jayden Daniels it can walk out of Death Valley with a win on Saturday.