During the opening weekend of college football 5th ranked LSU was defeated unranked Wisconsin, 16-14, in an upset. Was it really that much of an upset, though? For one, the game was played on “neutral ground” at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Second, opening the season so close to home against an opponent against which they were given very little chance of winning, Wisconsin was surely amped for the game. Third, even if unranked, Wisconsin is a Big 10 team and always has a solid team. Finally, as demonstrated over the course of the game LSU is still LSU. More specifically, LSU’s offense is still LSU’s offense.
It’s like watching a Pee Wee football game. In essence, LSU’s offense consists of Leonard Fournette running the ball and jump balls to tall WRs down the sideline. This is LSU’s offense in a nutshell, and has been for a number of years. The team is built to rely on their traditionally stout and aggressive defense to frustrate the opponent until LSU’s power running game is able to wear down the opposition defense. However, as demonstrated in the past this game plan goes awry when LSU plays a team that can score on them. If the opponent can score LSU has no answer because they are simply not constructed to play from behind.
Furthermore, in order for LSU to have success using this game plan they must rely on a very specific roster construction. The ability of the defense is seemingly never in much question as they are traditionally one of the top defenses in college football. On offense this approach requires good RBs, a solid OL, tall, athletic WRs and an at least competent QB. Leonard Fournette may be the best RB in college football, but as seen in the Wisconsin game the OL and WRs seem to be lacking. The OL did not get much push in the running game and were consistently beaten by Wisconsin’s DL in pass protection. And LSU’s WR are tall and athletic but they don’t play that way. But the real problem lies with the QB. In Brandon Harris’ 3rd year at LSU he should look much more comfortable and effective, but he doesn’t. And this is what holds LSU back.
Quarterback play is what holds LSU back always, not just against Wisconsin. LSU has produced maybe four competent-to-good QBs under Les Miles: JaMarcus Russell, Matt Flynn, Jordan Jefferson and Zach Mettenburger. These 4 QBs happen to coincide with Les Miles’ best seasons at LSU, including his 3 SEC titles and 1 BCS National Championship. Under Les Miles LSU simply does not have a good track record of developing quality QBs, something even Miles admits. And the key word is developing.
Presumably, the problem is not recruiting quality QBs. On LSU’s current roster there is one QB ranked as a 3-star prospect coming out of high school and two 4-star recruits, including current starter Brandon Harris and his backup Danny Etling. Last season that number was three 4-star QBs. Two 4-star recruits in 2014-15. Two 3-stars and three 4-stars in 2013-14. Two 3-stars and two 4-stars in 2012-13, and so on. Les Miles has coached ten 4-star QB recruits, including Russell, Flynn, Jefferson and Mettenburger, and two 5-star recruits, both of whom were busts at QB.
Les Miles is a defensive coach and is also not solely responsible for LSU player development, so all blame cannot be placed on him. However, Miles has been responsible for hiring (or in the case of Jimbo Fisher, keeping) the four offensive coordinators at LSU since 2005. All of whom were well-thought of prior to their hiring at LSU. Additionally, if a head coach is responsible for the entire team then Les Miles is responsible for LSU’s offense. He is responsible for the players LSU recruits, signs and develops. He is responsible for LSU football. LSU football is disappointing.
Primarily, LSU’s offense is disappointing. The offense is disappointing because the QBs are bad. The fact that Les Miles struggles to recruit, develop and play competent QBs, the most important position in football, is an indictment of his tenure at LSU, and the ultimate sign that LSU needs to move one.