This time last year, LSU coach Ed Orgeron was selling Tiger fans on the presence of Matt Canada -- an innovative offensive mind who would utilize misdirection to kickstart an offense that had become stagnant under former coach Les Miles.
On Thursday, he was selling a different direction under new offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger -- who served in the same role on an interim basis when Orgeron replaced Miles in the middle of the 2016 season.
Orgeron's job is now tied to Ensminger.
Whether he likes it or not, the split from Canada and return to Ensminger one year after getting the job full time is a shift to the old school. A trip down memory lane. A return to a style that -- quite frankly -- played a huge role in Miles' dismissal, as former Tiger offensive lineman T-Bob Hebert laid out on Twitter prior to the official announcement.
*laid out— T-Bob Hebert (@TBob53) January 9, 2018
Canada and Orgeron split for what Scott Rabalais of The Advocate termed as a "fractured relationship." Due to the terms of the separation agreement, Orgeron can't discuss the specifics publicly, and didn't during his press conference announcing Ensminger on Thursday. Trading in Canada for Ensminger is like giving a new Mercedes-Benz back to the dealer in favor of your old 2002 Saturn because the voice on the navigation system doesn't sound sexy enough.
The truth of the matter is that Orgeron's meddling prevented the Tigers offense from being just that in 2017.
The offense didn't look like Canada's early due to lack of jet sweep motions and misdirection, Orgeron admitted that he meddled with the offense the week of the loss to Troy and pressure to back off allowed Canada's offense to finally see the light of day during the next game against Florida. The Tigers beat the Gators, upset Auburn the next week and won six of their final seven games -- scoring 30 or more points in their final four wins.
It wasn't perfect. LSU was last in the SEC in red zone scoring (76.79 percent) and 11th in red zone touchdown percentage (58.93 percent) under Canada's watch. But it was a diet version of what Orgeron promised.
Ensminger was solid in a pinch in 2016 calling the plays on an interim basis after Miles was let go, especially when you consider that Danny Etling became the starter in mid-September after Brandon Harris struggled out of the gate.
Under Ensminger last season, the Tigers set some impressive records including:— LSU Football (@LSUfootball) January 11, 2018
- Total offense in an SEC game: 634 vs. Missouri
- Rushing yards in game (set twice): – 284 by Leonard Fournette vs. Ole Miss; 285 by @DhaSickest vs. Texas A&M pic.twitter.com/ClZUu725r1
But four of those opponents -- Missouri, Ole Miss, Arkansas and Texas A&M -- finished eighth or worse in the SEC in total defense in 2016. Ole Miss and Missouri were 13th and 14th in the 14-team conference, respectively. LSU lost the other two SEC games it played with Ensminger as offensive coordinator in 2016 -- 10-0 at home to Alabama and 16-10 at home to Florida.
Ensminger's Tiger offenses didn't exactly light it up against competent SEC defenses in 2016.
If Ensminger is going to be successful, he'll have to do what LSU fans have been pining for -- make sophomore Myles Brennan, redshirt freshman Lowell Narcisse or junior Justin McMillan a difference-maker.
"We have a great group of quarterbacks," Ensminger said in his introductory press conference. "We have three outstanding quarterbacks, and they all bring something to the table. It's my job to develop them. It's my job to take what's best for each one of them. It's my job to take them, if they are in the ball game, and preparing them to win for us. I'm going to do what's best for them."
But constant shifting in offensive direction under Orgeron and Miles -- insistence to recruit dual-threat quarterbacks and make them pure pocket passers -- has prevented the program from establishing an offensive identity.
Orgeron got the job in the first place because he sold the administration on an innovative system with a hot shot, up-and-coming coordinator. Personality differences got in the way, and Orgeron went back to the future by hiring Ensminger.
If it fails, and the offense returns to the dark ages, it's Orgeron who should shoulder the blame.