LSU—11–2 in 2010, beat Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl
Oregon—12 – 1 in 2010, won the Pac 10, lost to Auburn in the BCS National Championship game
During the national championship game, Auburn had some trouble moving the football against the Oregon defense. The Oregon defense did a solid job disrupting former Heisman star Cam Newton and limiting the number of run looks that he got in that game. But, Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn kept going to the well and found something that Oregon is still looking to stop. Malzahn used a simple wheel route out of the backfield or out of the slot to get wide receivers, tight ends or running backs wide open down the sideline.
With the wheel route, the inside receiver will run what we used to call an out and up, but just not as pronounced as such. In essence the outside receiver will run to the post or on a deep dig (in route) drawing the cornerback's attention and the inside receiver gets to the sideline and goes deep. You can see the two videos below. Newton took advantage of the inability of the Oregon Ducks linebackers to get up the sideline, whether it was Emory Blake in video #1 or Philip Lutzenkirchen in video #2:
LSU will have seen this film and wants to exploit the same element on the field. Auburn did a great job setting the Ducks up for the wheel route by sending the formation into the field to ensure only one defensive back to the short side of the field. LSU doesn't have to get away from its base sets to exploit the Ducks as well. What made this play work to perfection is the ease of the read for the quarterback. All he has to do is read the corneR—if he bites on the post, he throws the wheel. If he stays tight to the sideline and the wheel, he can throw the skinny post before the safety can react. The Ducks desire to keep a former DE on that short side to cover the wheel out of the backfield was a major sticking point for Oregon last year, so don't be surprised to see LSU go to the wheel and get QB Jarrett Lee rolling early and often.
For years, teams have been trying to find ways to beat the spread offense and no one really had a solution for beating Oregon's dynamic spread offense last year. The Ducks' ability to force teams to play the entire 53 yards width of the field is a killer because of the straight line speed of All-American running back LaMichael James. When he has a seam in the middle of the defense, he's gone, pure and simple.
But, Oregon's horizontal stretch offense forces a defense to its limits, but LSU found an answer to that last season and perhaps not even by design. John Chavis, LSU's defensive coordinator put six defensive backs on the field, and not just in passing situations. The Tigers have taken one step closer to keeping six defensive backs on the field permanently by moving former safety Karnell Hatcher to linebacker.
What I love about Chavis' use of the six defensive backs is the fact that he'll often use one to blitz and play like another linebacker and sometimes that can be playmaker Tyrann Mathieu. Using the Mustang package is a must against Oregon to match up a bit better with Oregon's play makers. Where the Mustang is most valuable is when Oregon wants to use Josh Huff and Kenjon Barner on speed sweeps out of the gun. When they get a step on the DE or LB, they're gone. But, the Tigers are going to be able to stay with them and perhaps shut down any down hill lanes those two speed merchants may be used to finding.
One of the big keys in this game is going to be which group wins the interior battle—Oregon's offensive front vs. LSU's defensive tackles. The key for both groups is the fact that both groups will be starting “green” interior players.
Oregon will start a redshirt freshman at center Hroniss Grasu, who'll have to handle all the line calls and snap the ball out of the gun all game long. Typically snapping the football isn't a huge deal, or shouldn't, but against a powerful, quick Tiger front, that could be a problem. But, Drake Nevis is gone and a number of young, inexperienced tackles are in his place. Mike Brockers, Anthony Johnson, Josh Downs, Bennie Logan, et al. are talented, but not one of them has any true experience playing inside.
It's a bit easier—wait, heck, who am I kidding, it's a whole lot easier—playing the defensive tackle position as a young player. Grasu will need to rely on both of his experienced leaders – Carson York and Mark Asper – and his quarterback Darron Thomas. But, his ability to win at the point of attack is going to be huge to allow guards to get up to Ryan Baker and the Tiger linebackers to keep the running lanes open for James, Huff, Barner and Thomas.
Sure, LSU has lost its starting quarterback for this one, but I think that loss pales in comparison to the loss of All-American CB/PR Cliff Harris. Jefferson can be replaced, but I'm not sure the Ducks are going to truly find a way to replace Harris at corner and in the return game. The key is for Lee, starting for Jefferson to exploit Harris' vacancy. If he doesn't, the Tigers can still chip away at the Oregon defensive front with an offensive line that has a ton of career starts.
Oregon's defensive front had a difficult time moving the ball against an average Auburn defensive front (although it had one tremendous player), it'll have even more trouble against this type of speed, especially when LSU goes to its Mustang/6 DB package. No Jefferson, no problem. Well, it's a little bit of a problem, but LSU will still win this monumental opener.