BATON ROUGE, La. -- As LSU’s newest assistant coach explained it, there is no “Matt Canada system.” At least, not in terms of a rigid philosophy that his offense must adhere to, or else.
Canada made clear Wednesday at the news conference introducing him as the Tigers’ new offensive coordinator that his goal is to do what suits LSU’s personnel best, not make his job some kind of vanity project.
“There was nothing about him. It was all about the team,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said of what impressed him Tuesday in his interview with Canada. “‘Coach, I’ll do whatever it takes to win. I want to come in here and be a team player. I want to adjust to the personnel that we have and run a great offense.’”
Describing his system as a “spread offense,” full of pre-snap motion designed to confuse opposing defenders, would technically be correct, but Canada sees no need to define himself as a spread coach.
“I don’t like to pigeonhole us that we’re this or we’re that,” Canada said. “When you watch teams in the league right now -- the Patriots, what are the Patriots? Are they a pro-style team? Are they a spread team? Obviously our team here, what are the Saints? They’re a pro team, what are they? We’re going to do what we do to get our players on the field. If we have a multitude of tight ends, you’ll probably see more of those guys on the field. If we have great receivers, you’re going to see them on the field more.”
It’s easy to find evidence of that statement in Canada’s track record through the years. There might be some common trends, but the overriding theme was that he always looked to maximize his team’s strengths, whether that meant running more often or chucking the ball all over the field.
This season at Pittsburgh, he ran the ball 63 percent of the time behind an offensive line that has three All-ACC performers and two running backs with 1,000-yard seasons on their resumes: James Conner and Qadree Ollison.
He still got 48.7 percent of his yardage through the passing game, with Tennessee transfer Nate Peterman posting the highest Total Quarterback Rating (81.8) of any Canada-coached quarterback in the last decade. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the Panthers have already set a school record for most points in a season.
In other seasons, Canada’s tendencies are all over the map.
In his four seasons as offensive coordinator at his alma mater, Indiana, there were seasons when the Hoosiers had the Big Ten’s top passing attack. Indiana quarterback Ben Chappell ranked 14th nationally in passing yards per game (274.6 ypg) in 2010, a year when the Hoosiers threw the ball 59.6 percent of the time.
The next season at Northern Illinois, Canada helped the Huskies win the MAC title by relying on the dual-threat skills of quarterback Chandler Harnish, the only player at his position to rank in the nation’s top 25 in rushing (98.5 yards per game).
In 2012 at Wisconsin, he shifted to a power running game with three future NFL backs – Montee Ball (1,830 yards, 22 TDs), James White (806 yards, 12 TDs) and Melvin Gordon (621 yards, 3 TDs) – prompting the Badgers to run the ball nearly 70 percent of the time.
Canada went back to a balanced spread in three seasons at NC State, especially when dual-threat Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett arrived in Raleigh, allowing the quarterback run to re-enter Canada’s weekly plans.
“Our offense hasn’t changed. The philosophy hasn’t changed. What’s changed, if you look at the places I’ve been, has been the players,” Canada said.
To boil down Canada’s message on Wednesday, LSU’s new offensive coordinator believes in keeping things simple for his players. He hopes to maximize the Tigers’ strengths and minimize their weaknesses. He doesn’t care about leading the nation in total offense or making sure that he runs the ball more than he throws.
He wants to score points and win games, and he’s willing to do whatever LSU’s personnel executes best to achieve that goal.
“I don't think it's anything magnificent or super creative, but we're going to use our players’ talents to find a way to win,” Canada said. “Stats are overrated. Stats are funny to talk about when you need to have something good to say. It matters about winning games. For me my job is to score enough points to win games, and that's what I'm going to do.”