It’s well known that former LSU offensive coordinator Joe Brady took the passing game that he learned working under Sean Payton with the New Orleans Saints and installed it with LSU. However, what is not well known is what that passing game actually is. This article is an attempt to break down LSU’s passings concepts that the scheme consists of and its corresponding philosophy. The resources I used for this breakdown were the Saints 2011 playbook and LSU’s games against Texas, Florida, Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss, Oklahoma, and Clemson. Let’s dive into this Pro Football Magazine breakdown.
The links include diagrams and some examples of the concepts. Most of them are threads so follow the link to see the whole thread.
The following are what I believe to be the core principles of the offense and LSU’s passing concepts:
1. Adapt the offense to the players you have: For example, targeting Ja’Marr Chase downfield a lot, and putting Justin Jefferson in the slot, as that is where both of them are at their best.
2. Make things simple for the QB: This was mostly done by giving Burrow movement/read keys (will be explained later) and limiting the amount of concepts that LSU used. This simplicity allowed Burrow to master their core concepts and is the main reason why they were incredibly consistent at executing.
3. Always be in the right play: LSU’s up-tempo style limited how the defense could disguise its coverages, resulting in predominantly vanilla looks. Also, they frequently aligned either Thaddeus Moss (TE) or Clyde Edwards-Helaire (RB), and sometimes both, out wide. Doing this gave them a great man/zone indicator as if a CB was aligned over them, it was very likely it was zone and vice versa. This principle was evident on almost every single play, as they would usually wait to see how the defense aligned before actually committing to a play. This is another reason why their execution was so consistent, as they rarely had a bad play called, resulting in very few negative plays.
Core quick game concepts
Stick is a very popular play and is used by every single offense. There are two types of stick — 2-receiver and 3-receiver.
The two ways that LSU ran 3-receiver stick were from empty and from trips. The difference between them was the backside combo they used. Out of empty they use a go route from the outside receiver(usually the back) and an option route from the inside receiver. Out of trips, they used dragon.
The only way that I saw them run two-man stick was from a condensed 2X2 formation, with the inside receiver running the stick route (same as a curl but the receiver turns to the outside when it’s zone, and a square out route when it’s man), and the outside receiver running a speed out. They always ran this concept on both sides. Sean Payton calls this route an Oscar, and thus the concept is called “Sticky Oscar.”
They barely used this concept early on in the season, but used it very frequently in their two playoff games. Shock is a variant of Stick and is used a lot by the Saints themselves. Shock consists of a Stick from the number 3 receiver, a slot fade from the number 2 receiver, and a hitch from the number 1 receiver. The concept is more versatile than traditional Stick as most teams like throwing slot fades against man, while most teams put man beating concepts on the backside of Stick, as Stick itself isn’t very good against man. The most common concept they used on the backside was the same go and option combo they used with 3-receiver Stick. They also used Dragon, a slant-slot fade combo, and even putting Chase on an option route from the backfield.
Dragon is a slant-flat combo that teams often pair with concepts that are primarily designed to beat zone coverage. Lion is usually a double slant combo, however LSU always used three slants when they used it with Dragon. They always read Lion from the inside-out, like most teams do. In order to give Burrow the time to progress through the three routes, they had the number 3 receiver run a one step slant, the number 2 receiver run a 3 step slant, and the number 1 receiver run a 3 step slant which converts to a square in vs zone or off man. This play is a good example of the way they managed to make their scheme seem diverse and complex to the defense, while being very simple to their defense, as they used it out of multiple formations and personnel groupings.
They used this play a lot early on in games in order to give Burrow a quick, easy completion, and also to likely open up space for their deeper pass concepts.
Core dropback concepts
Race consists of a hitch or whip route from the inside receiver and a dig/basic cross from the outside receiver. When there is a flat route from the back included, some West Coast coaches refer to it as Bow, as it’s similar to the West Coast staple Arrow, which is also called Spot. The difference between Race and Arrow is that the outside receiver runs a corner rather than a dig in Arrow.
They mostly ran Race with a flat route from the back, essentially turning it into Arrow. When they ran it like this, they almost always had the go and option combo on the backside. They always ran this variation towards the boundary, which doesn’t make much sense as it makes it harder to horizontally stretch the defense, as there’s a lot less space for the defense to defend. The only logical reason they would do this is to open up space for the option route, but that doesn’t seem to be the case as Burrow almost always read the Race side first.
The other variations of Race that I saw were only used in their game against Auburn. Two of them were out of trips. Both of them included a whip route, with the difference been a post rather than a hitch from the number 1 receiver. The other one being out of a condensed 2X2 formation with the back running a wheel.
Doubles was LSU’s go to dropback pass concept and they called it very frequently. Its versatility allowed them to call it against pretty much any coverage. Most of their big plays came off of Doubles. They would always have a play fake, mainly to suck up the linebackers.
Doubles tells the outside receivers to run the same route. The three routes that they used were go’s, stutter go’s, and Harvey’s, which are essentially curl routes that loop back outside. The roles for the other three receivers were the same almost every single time. The back would be responsible for the play fake, as Burrow would be reading the coverage, and then release to the flat. The tight end would be responsible for chipping the end man on the line of scrimmage (EMLOS), and then running a shallow cross. The slot receiver would run a ‘middle read’ route. On a ‘middle read’ route the receiver reads the middle of the field; if the middle of the field is open (MOFO), he runs a post; if it’s closed (MOFC), he flattens out his route, essentially turning it into a deep cross/over route.
Burrow would almost always read the middle of the field during his drop back, if it was closed, he would throw to one of the outside receivers (usually Chase) as they were essentially one-on-one;, and if it was open, he read the underneath defender in the throwing window to the middle read. If he was playing deep enough to take close the window to the middle read Burrow would throw the shallow cross. If he was not in a position to take away the middle read, Burrow would throw it. I think part of the reason why LSU had the TE chip was because it would make it more likely that the underneath defender would be decoyed by his shallow cross. The only times I saw Burrow not read the middle of the field during his drop was when they were running double Harvey and the cornerbacks were playing off, which resulted in easy separation for the wide receivers.
The only other variation I saw was when they would put a receiver on a seam route instead of the chip release shallow cross that they usually used. When they ran this variation the outside receivers ran fade stops.
LSU ran four verticals out of trips and 2X2. Sean Payton and the Saints call four verticals out of trips “all go special.” Some other West Coast coaches call it “dancer.” They always had the trips to the field. The number 3 receiver has what some call an opposite hash vertical as he pretty much runs towards the opposite hash. The main reason teams do this when running all go special is to ensure that there is sufficient space between the three receivers.
Against man, the receiver uses a stair step in order to have a better chance of separating. The number 2 receiver runs a seam read route, which he flattens out versus man. On a seam read route, the receiver runs a seam route if MOFC, or breaks turns it into a post if MOFO. The number 1 receiver runs a go route. LSU usually put their TE on this route as it allowed them to put their better receivers on the routes that they’re more likely to throw to. The only thing that would change is the route of the wide receiver on the single receiver side. The only two routes that I saw him run were a go and a shallow cross. Sean Payton calls this play “all go special X shallow cross,” and is used by the Saints quite often. The back that aligns to the single receiver side runs a check release option route. I saw one play where they motioned to quads, but everything else stayed the same.
They only ran four verticals out of 2X2 once in the games that I watched and they scored a touchdown on that play. I’m not sure why they didn’t run it more often, as Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase both have amazing ball skills, making them mismatches against every corner they faced.
They used this play a decent bit early on in the season, but pretty much replaced it with the Y-cross variation that will be covered later. Spear consists of double posts on one side and then a deep cross/over route from the other side. The double posts essentially act as clear outs for the deep cross. Spear is similar to the more common “Yankee” concept, the difference been two posts rather than one. They used the same play fake as they used with Doubles and the assignments for the tight end and running back were the same. The inside receiver on the double post side reads the middle of the field and straightens out his route if it is open.
LSU only used one variation of the Air Raid staple Y-cross, but used it a decent bit at the end of the season. Most of the time they would use the same play fake and assignments that they used with Doubles, but there were a couple of examples of them changing things up a bit. The play consists of a deep cross from the inside receiver and a dig from the outside receiver. On the backside the receiver would run a skinny post if he was aligned closer to the sideline or a seam if he was aligned further inside. I didn’t notice any route adjustments on this play.
The only times I saw them use this concept was out of trips. The play consists of a corner from the single WR and a flat from the RB — this is the smash portion of the play. The number 1 receiver on the trips side runs a square in, the number 2 runs a shallow cross, and the number 3 receiver runs a dig — this is the drive portion of the play. The play is best against cover 2 and it’s no coincidence that they mostly used against cover 2.
Burrow would always read the boundary corner first. Usually the quarterback uses him as a movement key and throws it based off of his movement, i.e. if he is playing deep, the QB throws underneath him and vice versa. However, it seems that Burrow was only reading him to determine if there was a window for the corner route, and thus he wasn’t content to throw the flat. This play exemplifies another way LSU’s passing game is QB friendly as after reading the boundary corner, the dig would come back into Burrow’s vision.
The LSU offense of course closely resembles that of the New Orleans Saints, and it showed in their games last season, and obviously contributed largely to their success.
(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)