Troy’s offense and the art of stealing signals

I really don’t care to say a whole lot more about LSU’s pathetic game last night against Troy, but the Chicago Tribune gets the headline right:

LSU’s big rally holds off … Troy? (tip thanks to extraface).

There’s nothing heroic about getting yourself into such a hole against a patsy team that you almost can’t get out of it. Teams like LSU should drop 40 points on a team like Troy, but the end result should be like the Tigers’ 41-13 win over App State or the 41-3 win over North Texas. It should be 30 points dropped on the patsy in the first 20 minutes, not the last.

But enough of that. Thinking people will see this for what it’s worth – I’ll leave it to The Advocate (the Baton Rouge daily, not the national gay newspaper) and Scott Rabalais to pretend this was anything but embarrassing.

Now, those of you “lucky” enough to have seen the game on TigerVision no doubt noticed what Troy was doing that got them out to the 31-3 lead and let them throw down four 50-plus-yard drives in their first eight possessions. Their offense – at least against the Tigers – was built around wholesale adjustments on offense to the scheme LSU’s defense lined up in, and it worked really well for more than half of the game. Adjustments at the line are nothing new (Georgia works it very well), but what Troy did was on a completely different level.

Troy’s quarterback checked the sideline before each play, and sometimes the play proceeded as called. But more often than not, the entire offense – linemen included – would step completely off the line to get what must have been an entirely new play call coming in from the sideline. This is what it looked like in the first half:

What Troy adjustments look like

Notice the reactions of LSU’s defense. Sometimes they almost jumped offsides when the Troy line got up; and they always had this “WTF?” reaction to having to get geared back up for the play.

Over on the Troy sideline, here’s what was happening:

So major adjustments were coming in based on LSU’s defensive alignment, and throughout the first half, this was the result:

See the defense, call your play based on what they’re doing … move the ball. Time and time again, that was the story of Troy’s offense.

But a funny thing happened in the second half. LSU’s defenders stopped looking frustrated and started focusing on something else:


That’s Ricky Jean-Francois (90) and Jacob Cutrera (54) picking up the play call from the four Troy coaches calling in signals (and, no doubt, decoy signals).

This play happens to be the Chad Jones interception. Now watch the play run and see how Cutrera keys on the receiver who gets thrown to even before the ball is snapped.

There’s no reading the quarterback’s eyes or thoughts of covering the guy coming across the field the other way – Cutrera clearly reads the signal, adjusts out of what looks like a blitz and doubles the guy they’re gonna throw to. Jean-Francois also seems to adjust out of his pass rush to fall back to where the pass was going after picking up the play.

Maybe the LSU coaches pressed SuperMike into service to decode the complex algorithms of the four Troy coaches flapping their arms, but it’s very clear that just as Troy’s early success came from knowing what LSU was doing on defense, LSU’s success late came from turning the tables on them.

UPDATE: This piece has been picked up by the fine folks at tigerdroppings.com – as well as the very fine folks at gotroytrojans.com – and, of course, the fine members of TigerDroppings have many fine opinions of their own. Several of those opinions are circling around the idea that I’m out of my freaking mind thinking LSU lifted Troy’s signals.

So, as a public service, I shall offer some additional supporting evidence in rebuttal to general questioning I’ve seen of the plausibility and specifically this stuff (that’s right, Josh336, I’m talking to you. Joshes 335 and 337, I got no beef).

The first and best challenge is the “why can’t this guy find another example from a different play with the same thing happening?” Hey, no problem. The play I posted was pretty freaking clear if you ask me, but there’s definitely more.

The three other very clear examples are all Ricky Jean-Francois doing the obvious spying. This one is from the second quarter right before Troy’s third touchdown. You very clearly see R J-F pop up and move to his left to get a look back at the Troy sideline. He then points at a receiver to his left. Turns out he was wrong, perhaps, as the quarterback looked just briefly at that receiver before going to his right.

The second one is from early in the third quarter on Troy’s last touchdown drive. Again you see R J-F get up and actually move over to his left to see around the offensive lineman in front of him. It doesn’t look like he got much but “pass” out of the signals.

And finally, we have R J-F in the fourth quarter. He clearly spies the sideline and, though it’s hard to see with the TigerVision-to-YouTube quality losses, he points eagerly over to the receivers to his right. Guess where the ball is thrown.

So there you go on that.

The second thing out there is the idea that LSU’s players aren’t picking up signals because they stop looking at the coaches before the coaches stop flapping their arms around. That’s very true, but Troy’s offense also stops looking at the coaches before the coaches stop flapping their arms around. There was a very good shot of this on Troy’s first touchdown drive. Watch the coaches behind the quarterback – they continue on with their spasms well after the offense is reset and no longer watching them.

OK, so that’s the stuff clearly refuted by video evidence. The other argument comes from the notion that LSU’s players couldn’t possibly pick up on “all those signals”. People who believe that are missing a couple of very important points:

1) I strongly suspect that three of the coaches are decoys whose signals are not the play, and only one coach is actually communicating the play – my guess, the only guy wearing white pants. No, it wouldn’t be possible to pick up all the signals from all the coaches that quickly (even if you play for Troy), but I seriously doubt you need to.

2) Troy’s entire offense has learned these signals and don’t seem to have a problem picking them up from the coach. I have to imagine the LSU players are equally capable of understanding signals – it’s just that Troy assumes they won’t know which signal is real and what it means. I think they were wrong there, at least later in the game.

Challenge the evidence and theory if you like. I saw what I saw.

I should also clarify a couple of points. It was a cute line for me to say LSU’s late success on defense came from reading signals, but I shouldn’t leave the impression that I think stealing signals was the sole or main reason LSU managed to shut down Troy. LSU switched to a better scheme and Troy played much worse offensively in the second half. But the signal stuff is definitely noteworthy and interesting to me.

Secondly, I don’t really have a problem with this tactic by LSU. I think it’s a reasonable counter-measure for the defense to try to know what the offense is going to do when the offense is seeing what the defense is going to do before calling their play. And NCAA rules talk only of using recording devices to pick up signals, so I’m certainly not saying LSU cheated by doing this.

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8 Responses to “Troy’s offense and the art of stealing signals”

  1. Tank says:

    I think the “Meerkat Offense” will be outlawed soon enough….

  2. Cap'n Ken says:

    Good term for it, Tank. I’m guessing they can do this now because they don’t get fully set first?

  3. TCL says:

    I think so. If you noticed there was one play somewhere in there (I haven’t had the stomach to go all the way back through the game again) where Troy was called for a false start. I backed it up at the time and thought that I saw a lineman go down into a stance, which can be the only distinction between that and the other times they went to the line and did their “psyche” move.

  4. jon says:

    I’m a LSU fan, and I completely agree with you. The defense figured out the offensive play calls in the third quarter, and adjusted what they were doing. (i have a hard time believing this was the Co-Def coordinators too)

    BUT…. If troy would have RAN the ball just a couple more times in the second half and not thrown 72 times in the game, they would have won. Just my opinion.

    Good game Trojans!

  5. Cap'n Ken says:

    Jon, I agree completely on Troy’s stupidity with clock management – check my post on the Tiger offense. They went an average of 56 seconds between LSU possessions after the Tigers scored their first touchdown. That was by far the biggest factor in the comeback. LSU didn’t pull any great feat in their offense – Troy just stupidly gave them enough time to score 30 points.

  6. ben says:

    I work at a company where people play video games for a living and in just about every game you can ¨steal¨signals or at least have a clue about what they are going to do. I think it adds another layer to the strategy and gamesmanship. In baseball they have been doing it for years.

  7. [...] sometimes hitting on a topic that draws attention. Such was the case with my award-eligible piece Troy’s offense and the art of stealing signals. That got a lot of attention; I got called a lot of names. But I was [...]

  8. tim says:

    his is great work, except that RJF can barely spell his own name, let alone distinguish between a dummy signal and the actual call…

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