BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — LSU receiver Jonathan Giles chuckles as he recounts the incredulous responses he got when he decided to transfer from pass-happy Texas Tech to LSU.
“A bunch of my friends were like: ‘You’re going to LSU? You know they don’t throw the ball there?’”
But Giles looks like he timed his arrival in Baton Rouge well.
As he prepares to play his first snaps for LSU, it’s not clear whether any of the Tigers‘ current running backs will approach the bar set during much of the past decade by the likes of current NFL players Jeremy Hill, Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice.
Meanwhile, 2017 offensive coordinator Matt Canada and his favored jet sweep were sent packing after one season. The new offensive coordinator is Steve Ensminger, a former LSU quarterback who favors a balanced, pro-style offense. He went so far as to suggest this summer that LSU will field “a throw-first offense.”
“This year, our strength is the receiving room,” asserted the 6-foot Giles, who led the Red Raiders with 1,158 yards and 13 touchdowns receiving in 2016. “So, when people will tell me LSU is not really a throwing team, I shake my head at that, because if we have the talent in that room, we’re going to use it.”
Last season, LSU ran the ball on 65 percent of plays from scrimmage. The last time that figure was below 60 percent was 2013, when Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry were teammates and Zach Mettenberger was at quarterback.
That season, LSU still ran 59 percent of the time, spreading carries among Hill and three other productive running backs: Michael Ford, Kenny Hilliard and Spencer Ware. But Mettenberger also pass for 3,082 yards, and the lesson Giles drew from that is that LSU will throw more when the passing game performs well.
“When Odell and Jarvis were here, they had great running backs, but they still threw the ball. (Beckham and Landry) still both had 1,000 yards,” Giles said. “It says a lot about that offense. So, I don’t buy into when people say LSU is not really a passing team.”
Giles joins a receiver corps that also includes returning regulars Derrick Dillon, Drake Davis and Stephen Sullivan. True freshmen Terrace Marshall and Ja’Marr Chase also are expected to compete for playing time.
There will be a new starting quarterback this season, and a couple of the top candidates — junior transfer Joe Burrow and sophomore Myles Brennan — appear to be solid, drop-back, down-field passers.
For now, more curiosity surrounds Burrow, who looks the part at 6-foot-3, 225-pounds, but didn’t seem to fit Ohio State’s system well enough to win the job there.
“He has a great arm, he’s very accurate and also he’s a great leader,” Giles said. “He’s there 30 minutes before workouts, getting in extra work, and then he stays about two hours after, just working on his footwork and fundamentals.”
Ensminger has praised Burrow’s build, athleticism and maturity, and refers to him as a “football junkie.”
“He’s a good quarterback,” added senior tight end Foster Moreau. “He fits in real well.”
Brennan saw limited action as a freshman, completing 14 of 24 passes for 182 yards and a touchdown. He also was intercepted twice.
None of LSU’s QBs have been made available to media since practices began last weekend.
LSU hasn’t run the ball less than 50 percent of the time since 1999 — and that was by necessity because they were often trailing during a woeful 3-8 season. That was the season before LSU hired Nick Saban, and the Tigers have not had a losing season since.
Sophomore running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who backed up Guice in high school, is hoping to emerge as one of the Tigers’ top options on the ground along with senior Nick Brossette.
Edwards-Helaire — who still speaks regularly with Guice — doesn’t quibble with the merits of improving the passing game, but suggests that the Tigers might find out that their running game remains a strength.
“LSU is based off running backs,” he said. “It’s in our identity.”
But perhaps less so this season.