clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Who is Steve Ensminger? A former LSU QB who’s upgraded the Tigers’ offense, that’s who

Ed Orgeron isn’t the only native Louisianan who’s auditioning against Bama for a dream job.

NCAA Football: Mississippi at Louisiana State Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

There was a time before time when LSU was fed up with its offensive coordinator. That time was, oh, right around Sept. 25. That’s the day head coach Les Miles and former OC Cam Cameron got handed pink slips.

Now it’s no unique situation to dislike your team’s offensive coordinator. But now that Cameron’s out, new OC and former tight end coach Steve Ensminger is partly benefiting from not being Cam Cameron.

Before becoming LSU’s TE coach in 2010, Ensminger spent more than a decade as a college OC (Cameron came from the pros), was a position coach at Auburn for six years, and also worked as a high school coach. He’s also a Baton Rouge native who started at QB for LSU in the 1970s.

Under Cameron, and also under Miles in general, frustration over the inability to maximize talent was particularly maddening:

On one hand, it would’ve been odd to throw that much with running backs like Joseph Addai, Stevan Ridley, and Leonard Fournette on the roster, and with pedestrian quarterbacks in a lot of Miles’ years at LSU.

On the other hand, LSU had some brilliant receivers during Miles’ tenure. Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry were both prolific in 2013 but not nearly as heavily targeted in other years. NFLers like Dwayne Bowe, Brandon LaFell, and Rueben Randle had good-to-great seasons, but having them didn’t suddenly turn LSU into a passing team.

Still, Ensminger is, in his own right, showing that he can actively engineer goodwill in the hearts of LSU fans.

LSU hasn’t changed all that much on offense.

It’s not necessarily because Ensminger doesn’t want it to, but because overhauling an offensive scheme in the middle of the season would be kinda dumb and pretty hard. Training camp is the time for installation, not a game week with already limited practice time.

Rather than a full-scale overhaul, it’s more about little tweaks here and there. LSU didn’t go from what it was doing to a Baylor-style spread. What it did do was use formations in different ways to manipulate defenses who weren’t expecting schematic perestroika. Our Ian Boyd explains.

On their first snap under Coach O’s new offensive coordinator, promoted tight ends coach Steve Ensminger, LSU lined up in a four-WR set and threw a traditional y-stick route combo:

Nothing fancy or shocking from that formation, but it was such a tendency-beater that it made for an easy 10-yard pitch-and-catch. The Tigers aren’t even luring the middle linebacker in with run blocking. It’s a normal drop-back concept, but Missouri can scarcely believe LSU is opening a game by simply throwing the ball.

Still, this did mean a midseason crash course.

Sure, new offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger and interim head coach Ed Orgeron "simplified" LSU’s offense, especially for the quarterbacks, but the "simpler" plays still needed to be learned before they could be simple.

“Shoot,” [QB Danny] Etling said after Saturday night's 42-7 win over Missouri, “this week it was a lot of learning. It wasn’t too simple for us. New stuff here and there; new formations and new reads. It’s tough to do when you have class and all that stuff.”

It also doesn’t hurt that the Tigers are stacked with talent. Their five-year recruiting ranking average is No. 7. In short: they have the horses; you just gotta put ‘em in the best position to run with their noses in front.

The subtle changes prompted a big boost in morale.

Confidence can breed success, and success makes everyone happy. Ensminger talked to our Steven Godfrey about that.

“In two of our three games, we’ve had nine different players catch a pass. We’ve had every position possible involved in the passing game. Tight ends catching the football, fullbacks. Our players are excited, because on any given play they could catch a pass,” Ensminger said.

“I would sit with our tight ends in position meetings, and look, they’re a great bunch of guys and they want that team win, but when you think you’re never going to catch a pass, that affects a player.”

Players are happier in the offense, and fans are happier watching the offense. It’s a win-win so far for LSU and Ensminger.

The impact of his small changes were immediate.

LSU has scored 38 or more points in the three games since Ensminger took over.

In LSU’s first four games, yards per play looked like this:

  • 5.14 vs. Wisconsin
  • 6.63 vs. Jacksonville State
  • 5.52 vs. Mississippi State
  • 5.73 vs. Auburn

Then Ensminger stepped up:

  • 7.73 vs. Missouri (along with a 634-yard, school record for total yards in an SEC game)
  • 10.93 vs. Southern Miss (a school record for yards per play)
  • 8.05 vs. Ole Miss (along with a 284-yard, single-game school rushing record by Fournette)

Raw averages not your thing? That’s fine. These percentiles, via Football Study Hall, show how LSU’s offense performed in each game, compared to how all other offenses would’ve likely performed on these days:

  • 31st percentile
  • 53rd percentile
  • 45th percentile
  • 51st percentile

And after:

  • 84th percentile
  • 86th percentile
  • 85th percentile

In other words, LSU performed like a below-average offense in its first month, even adjusted for the fact that it played good Auburn and Wisconsin defenses.

It’s played like a nearly elite offense in the last month, even adjusted for the fact that it’s played weaker defenses.

They’re better, OK?

Orgeron is going to get the lion’s share of the credit for turning LSU around if they play Alabama close or even beat them.

That’s kinda what happens when you’re as fun as O is and also when you’re the boss. If the Tigers can keep the offense humming the rest of the season, it’s going to make it even harder to can Orgeron at the end.

But for whoever becomes the permanent head coach, fighting to keep Ensminger around is probably the move.

“It’s believed that Ensminger would be amenable to remaining on staff if Orgeron hired a major name at OC,” Godfrey wrote earlier this week.

With small changes in-season, he’s already paying dividends. Give him a whole offseason and more authority, and things might get really fun on the Bayou.

“Steve is LSU through and through,” former boss Tommy Tuberville has said. “I’ve always known that.”