When Steve Ensminger was introduced as LSU’s offensive coordinator in January, he declared that wide receiver is “the strength of our offense.” He doubled down on those comments when meeting with reporters in June, saying, “The strength of our offense right now is our wide receivers.”
It was a bold declaration considering the Tigers have lost their top two pass catchers from 2017 and have been mostly anemic at the pitch-and-catch part of the game for the past decade.
Further doubt crept in about the efficiency of the LSU passing game following this weekend’s scrimmage, where quarterbacks Joe Burrow and Myles Brennan combined to go 15-for-43 (!) for 167 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.
“There were a lot of dropped passes, and I thought many of the passes were on the money,” head coach Ed Orgeron acknowledged after.
So much for being the strength of the offense.
Make no mistake, the LSU receiving corps is physically impressive. Seven wideouts are 6-3 or taller. That doesn’t include Texas Tech transfer Jonathan Giles — who is wearing the coveted No. 7 jersey — or 5-star freshman Ja’Marr Chase, who are both 6-1.
The most impressive part of an LSU game day might be watching the receivers run back line drills during pregame warmups where they snatch footballs out of the air like eagles attacking their prey.
If the Roman army stood on a battlefield across from this group of LSU receivers, history might remember Emperor Dee Anderson (6-6, 229).
Unfortunately, despite all of the physical attributes of those wideouts, their production is non-existent. LSU returns 31 combined receptions from its receivers. In fact, tight end Foster Moreau is LSU’s leading returning pass catcher with 24 receptions for 278 yards.
LSU’s fourth-leading returning receiver, in terms of receptions? A fullback. Overall, the Tigers return just 41% of their targets and 38.5% of their receptions from last season.
LSU Returning Receiving Production
The coaching staff has put a lot of pressure on Giles, awarding him the number worn recently by playmakers such as DJ Chark, Leonard Fournette and Tyrann Mathieu. Still, Giles has yet to show he’s ready to match the success of his sophomore season in Lubbock, where he racked up 1,158 yards and 13 touchdowns.
In the spring game, Giles had just four catches for 24 yards. He was held out of the second fall scrimmage after catching just two balls for 58 yards in the first.
Perhaps Giles will regain his sophomore form and build upon it. Or maybe Giles is a product of the Air Raid system at Texas Tech and will struggle to match that production in Baton Rouge.
Complicating matters for Ensminger is the staple of the LSU offense for a quarter-century is a giant question mark. Dating back to Kevin Faulk’s days in the late 1990s, the Tigers have churned out All-American and All-SEC running backs like Taylor Swift churns out hits. Recently, it’s been Derrius Guice, Fournette and Jeremy Hill.
A version of those guys isn’t on this LSU roster.
In fact, this is the first time since 1974 that LSU will begin a season with no running backs having scored a single career rushing touchdown.
“This offense is what every LSU fan has been wanting,” Ensmigner said in January. “And I’m going to give it to them.”
The Tigers have yet to name a starting quarterback, have no proven running back and the “strength” of the offense dropped a dozen balls on Saturday. That doesn’t exactly feel like the dream scenario Tiger fans have been longing for.
Nonetheless, LSU has a major challenge waiting in the season opener against Miami and a defense that finished third nationally in takeaways in 2017 and 20th in yards per pass attempt allowed.
The Tigers have less than two weeks to figure out how to turn its perceived strength into an actual one.
Matt Moscona is a contributor to The Action Network and hosts After Further Review, weekdays from 3-6 p.m. CT on 104.5/104.9 ESPN Baton Rouge and 100.3 ESPN New Orleans.