A Peek at the New LSU Offense Under Matt Canada

June 6, 2017

Last season Matt Canada established a name for himself as offensive coordinator at the University of Pittsburgh.  His ability to be creative and get the ball to his skill players gave the Panthers an average of 42 points per game and a win over the national champion Clemson Tigers. Canada’s offense was just what LSU Head Coach Ed Orgeron was looking for, and he hired the Pitt coordinator to come and spin his trade in the SEC. 

Canada’s offense has a little bit of all of the latest trends in offensive football, without going wholesale to any of them.  At Pittsburgh he was very adaptive to these trends, having the ability to increase a certain attack depending upon the weakness of the opponent’s defense. In an ESPN interview last year, Canada said that he wanted the offense to appear complex for the defense, but to be simple for his players.  In an era where everyone wants to spread out and put an athlete at quarterback that can run the ball as well as throw, Canada called his quarterback at Pittsburgh a “game manager”.  That has been pretty much a negative term for quarterbacks, but Canada turned the tables on the phrase by defining the role of his quarterback. His job was “to get the ball where it needs to be.  He needs to get it to the right guy at the right time.”  

The Pittsburgh offense started with the huddle.  Canada likes the huddle to allow him to call shifts and motions prior to the snap.  He loves to put players in odd places initially (runner might line up at tight end), and then shift to cause alignment and recognition problems for the defense. Like most offenses today, Pittsburgh used multiple personnel groupings.  His system allows for easy use of multiple formations, aligning in everything from spread to double slots to tight end/wing sets.  The use of a tight end and the ability to shift that tight end at anytime becomes an issue for defenses.  Canada believes that he achieves the same result from pre snap movement that fast tempo teams do from running plays at a rapid pace. It is difficult to get aligned on defense, recognize the formation and know what plays to expect. Coach Canada’s goal is to make the defense uncomfortable before the snap of the ball.  The normal rhythm allows for better execution for the offense.  But Canada also has a no huddle element built in to his attack, that he could use at anytime. Last season in the upset of Clemson, his offense ran 17 “no huddle” plays.

One of the greatest strengths of this offensive attack is one of the issues that LSU needs the most- the ability to get the ball to different players at different positions.  Canada accomplished this at Pittsburgh by establishing a jet sweep attack under the center as well as in the gun.  Every formation and personnel grouping had the threat of the sweep, which could be handed to a number of different players.  He had a full range of complimentary runs and passes off of the jet.  The defense could never predict who would get the ball. The big boost that the jet sweep gave his offense in 2016 was misdirection.  The Panthers under Canada would jet sweep one way with the tight end and receiver blocking the sweep.  The rest of the offensive line would block zone the other way, dividing the defense. Add boots and counters and the offensive players seemed to be going in all directions. This concept worked well for Canada during the 2012 season when he was the offensive coordinator at Wisconsin, using the Badgers Melvin Gordon on the jet and then ramming Montee Ball and James White with strength and quickness inside on the zone or some other complimentary play. He was the architect of the 70-31 Badger demolishing of Nebraska in the 2012 Big 10 Championship game using many of the same concepts the offense employs today.  The addition of the shifts and multiple formations spurred Canada’s Pitt group to success without the powerful offensive line that Wisconsin possessed. One of the staples of his offense was the inside zone to a top runner in James Conner.  With all of the shifting, motion, and sweep threats with different formations, the defense would get caught looking at the “eye candy” and get hit in the mouth.  Even better, at times he would align and snap the ball running inside zone and catch the defense waiting on a shift or someone to motion.  The sweep concept and passing game off of it, along with the adjustments needed to get aligned to the formations, shifts and motions, can drive a defensive secondary a little nuts.  That’s when the big plays can occur.

Coach Canada has used the same concepts on the goal line, using shifts, motions, jets and power plays to threaten the defenders and get the ball in the end zone.  Pitt was good at the play action pass in the red zone, making it difficult to get all of the possible receivers, tight ends, and backs covered while still being sound on the jet sweep and a tough running game. Simply, Canada does the same things on the goal line as he does everywhere else. Red zone has been a real problem over the past few years at LSU.

The latest trend is the RPO or run-pass option that both college and high school teams love.  One of Canada’s favorites last year was the power read off of the jet sweep.  The quarterback would read the 5 technique and if he squeezed, hand the ball off. But if he widen with the sweep, shovel the ball underneath to a back who had aligned in a slot position.  His quarterback was not a great runner, but Canada used his great decision making ability to create an opportunity to attack the defense.

No doubt that SEC defensive coordinators will be studying Pitt video this summer to get prepared. Canada has some real talent to spread the ball around to this fall.  It will be interesting to see how he fares against SEC defenses.  If he is successful, his offense will be copied through out the country. Below is some video of Wisconsin, Pittsburgh and the 2017 LSU spring game.