The first game week of LSU’s season begins Monday, but the Tigers are already well into preparations for their opening opponent.
Oregon’s hurry-up offense is an even bigger attention-getter than their colorful uniforms.
The Ducks try to minimize the amount of time between snaps, and their pace can tire opposing defenders over the course of a series of downs and take a cumulative toll as a game wears on. It also leaves opponents with little time to make calls and change personnel groups.
So the Ducks have been on the Tigers’ minds since the end of last season.
The coaches started scheming for the Ducks in the spring.
The players worked with an eye toward Oregon’s pace during their summer conditioning workouts, utilizing short-burst, up-tempo drills.
The coaches added the football phase of the preparation to the mix at the start of fall camp 3‰ weeks ago.
“It’s been on our minds for a very long time,” defensive end Sam Montgomery said. “The players, outside of the coaches, have been preparing for Oregon since the day after the last game.”
That last game — LSU’s 41-24 victory against Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl in January, was played in the same venue as this game — Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Tigers said the Aggies are the only opponent that utilized a pace similar to Oregon’s, though A&M didn’t do it constantly.
“They sent in a little tempo,” linebacker Karnell Hatcher said. “I don’t think we knew they were a tempo team, but they threw a little tempo at us that threw us a little off guard. We caught up with it at the end of the game and made adjustments.”
Defensive coordinator John Chavis said the Ducks’ pace won’t restrict his ability to substitute.
“We started preparing in the spring, and we will not be limited,” he said. “We’ll have opportunities to change personnel if we need to. Our offense has given us the kind of look right now that’s preparing us and preparing us well.”
Freshman quarterback Jerrard Randle has played the role of Ducks quarterback Darron Thomas and redshirt freshman running back Jakhari Gore has played running back LaMichael James.
“They’re the perfect guys to run the Oregon scheme, because they’re quick guys and they’re agile guys,” Montgomery said. “Mostly you want to get those guys out there who can run fast and think quickly on their feet. They’ll cut it up. They just run it perfect. They’ve been great for the scheme.”
The scout team’s job isn’t just to simulate the Ducks’ two most-skilled playmakers, but to simulate the offense’s tempo.
“We’re running from the time they blow the whistle until the time they end the whistle,” defensive back Tyrann Mathieu said. “The offense is setting their formation up as soon as the ball hits the ground, so you’ve got to get lined up again real quick.
“The first day we were all over the field and guys were getting lined up late. But now everybody’s got their cleats in the ground and we’re ready to play ball.”
The defensive players said the challenge that Oregon’s pace presents is mental as well as physical, because there’s so little time to get assignment from play to play and physical fatigue brings mental fatigue.
“You have one, the Oregon hurry-up offense, then you have the Louisiana heat training you mentally,” Montgomery said. “So it’s like having the pressures of a game inside the heat, so if you keep your mental focus, you can go out there and dominate. It will be easier when gameday comes.”
Miles said even though Randle and Gore have given the defense “a similar look” to Oregon’s, he added, “but Oregon is a pretty unique team.”
“I think there is some pressure that is put on you as a defender based on the fact that they’re going to come to the line of scrimmage again and again and being ready is an issue,” Miles said. “I think our guys have done a really good job of understanding that.
“I feel like the secondary understands what that offense has to offer. I feel like the linebackers have a much greater comfort now in where to fit against an offense that runs the ball in an unusual manner. The defensive line is coming up the field. We’re going to do the things that we’ve always done on defense.”
Safety Brandon Taylor said LSU “is going to run five defensive backs the whole game” to match up against the Ducks’ speed.
Montgomery said he faced a similar challenge when he was playing at Greenwood (S.C.) High School and faced Easley High School. He learned a lesson that might come in handy against Oregon.
“Easley used to run the speed sweep, and it’s very tricky,” Montgomery said. “Either you can defend it or you can’t, and it will blow past you. There are big plays that will be made if they catch the defense off guard. You have to be alert, you have to play good, quality football, and you have to play disciplined football as well.”
Montgomery said his team won the game, “but the first play against Easley — I’m not going to lie — that play was so fast that by the time I got out of my stance it was already past me. I had to adjust during the game. I had never seen speed like that.”
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