ATLANTA — This is what LSU looked like one year ago:
It had a head coach (Ed Orgeron) whose achievements didn’t stand out as much the vocal cords soaked in gravel and gumbo. It had a quarterback (Joe Burrow) whose completion percentage was lower than 87 players. It had an offense ranked behind 57 teams.
It had been shut out of every College Football Playoff. It had been shut out by Alabama twice in three years, never scoring more than 17 points during an eight-game losing streak against the Crimson Tide with no end in sight.
“It was a low point,” Orgeron said of the 29-0 home loss in 2018. “I told [offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger], ‘Listen, we’ve got to go to the spread. And he said, ‘You’re right.’ I said, ‘Are you going to be receptive to someone coming in teaching us the spread?’ He said, ‘Yes, I will.’ ”
It took a coach who hadn’t been born when Orgeron, 58, and Ensminger, 61, began their careers to transform LSU (13-0) back into the nation’s top team.
It took Joe Brady, 30, a low-level Saints assistant coach, to become passing game coordinator and turn the Tigers’ antiquated offense into one of the most explosive attacks of all time, leading the nation in total yards, while putting up a school-record 47.8 points per game.
LSU assistant coach Joe BradyAP
It allowed LSU to score 46 points at Alabama this season, ending the Tide’s 31-game home win streak. It allowed Burrow, a 200-1 long shot, to earn the Heisman Trophy’s largest-ever margin of victory and shatter the sport’s all-time mark for completion percentage. It allowed Ja’Marr Chase to put up 50 receptions, 1,185 yards and 15 touchdowns more than the previous year, while winning the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver.
It allowed an anonymous William & Mary alum to earn the Broyles Award, given to the nation’s top assistant coach.
“We had high expectations of all of this,” said Brady, who also serves as wide receivers coach. “I’m fortunate that Coach O took a chance on me and gave me the opportunity. … I’m fortunate the guys that I’ve worked for have shown me how they game-plan and how they scheme.”
When LSU was regularly employing fullbacks and eschewing shotgun snaps, Brady was being schooled in the art of the RPO (run-pass option) under Joe Moorhead, as a graduate assistant at Penn State. When the Tigers were wasting championship defenses with an uninspired run-heavy attack, Brady was watching Sean Payton draw up mismatches, quick passes, deep balls and five-receiver sets for Drew Brees.
When Brady arrived to Baton Rouge, the future was clear.
“I knew immediately this would work out. I knew exactly what we had,” Burrow said. “I knew right away. I knew the guys we had out there and I knew the space this offense would create. It’s all about creating matchups that our guys can exploit. You gotta pick your poison.
“It’s been a great merging of minds and talent. It’s a perfect fit.”
As LSU chases its first national championship in 12 years, it fights off suitors for the hottest coach in the country.
Orgeron said “a plan is in place” and LSU is a “step ahead” in bringing Brady back next season. According to Yahoo Sports, a raise and extension are being negotiated, which would pay Brady roughly $1.5 million per year — up from $410,000 this season.
“He deserves everything he’s gotten,” Ensminger said. “I can promise you that.”