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- American football coach
At this point, this is not breaking news, but Mike Denbrock will be calling the plays for LSU in 2022. It had been speculated for a while given the history between Denbrock and Kelly, but after Alabama put an end to Cincinnati’s season, it became official.
Denbrock has been around the game for a long time. He’s 57 years old and hails from Michigan. Denbrock and Kelly go all the way back to the late ’80s where they both got their starts in coaching at Grand Valley State.
Debrock has never coached in the SEC before and LSU fans may be unfamiliar with his offenses, so today we will take a by-the-numbers look at what we might be able to expect from Denbrock’s unit.
Mike Denbrock’s first time calling plays at a high level was at Notre Dame in 2014. LSU and Notre Dame actually met that year, when the Irish downed the Tigers in the Music City Bowl.
Notre Dame’s 2014 offense wasn’t special, but they were good. The Irish ranked 18th in the country in touchdowns, but only 40th in points thanks to some bad field goal kicking, which doesn’t fall on Denbrock.
It was an offense that ranked 15th in third-down conversion rate and 45th in red zone touchdown rate.
Unlike a lot of Notre Dame offenses in recent years, they were held back by their rushing game. The Irish were below average in most rushing categories.
Through the air, Notre Dame found more success. Denbrock was able to take advantage of having a talent like Will Fuller on the outside and his unit ranked top 25 in most passing categories.
Denbrock was only the OC at Notre Dame for one year before sliding to other positions on the staff. To get a bigger sample size, we have to look at Cincinnati, where Denbrock had been the OC since 2017.
The year before Denbrock’s arrival, Cincinnati was bad. The program was left in bad shape and head coach Luke Fickell had a long rebuild in front of him.
In 2017 under Denbrock, the offense showed some improvement, especially in the running game. They were still not by any stretch what one would consider good. But they did not sit outside the top 100 in most categories such as they did the year before.
2018 is where they really made the jump. It was Desmond Ridder’s first year as a starter, and it was now Fickell’s program.
Cincinnati was pretty much a top 25 offense across the board. Ridder wasn’t the most prolific passer, but he proved competent with his arm and legs.
The Bearcats ranked 7th in the country in third-down conversion rate, an area LSU has really struggled with outside of 2019. Denbrock’s unit this year also showed some explosiveness, something his groups haven’t always done.
In 2019, the passing game took a step back. The offensive line was one of the worst in the country in pass protection. Ridder only completed about 55% of his passes, saw his touchdown total go down and his interception total increase. The Bearcats had also lost their top receiver from the year before.
Cincinnati’s inability to create an effective pass game in 2019 with a bad offensive line should concern LSU. It’s no secret LSU’s had issues with that position the last couple of years and it’s no guarantee it’ll be better next year. That is certainly something to watch.
People may be more familiar with what happened with Cincinnati in 2020 and 2021. They were one of the biggest stories in college football with their only losses coming to Georgia and Alabama.
In 2020, Denbrock had them back closer to what they looked like in 2018. They just lacked some explosiveness.
2021 might have been the best year yet for their offense. They were balanced, proving they could be near the top of the country in efficiency in both the pass and run games.
It was Ridder’s fourth year in Denbrock’s system, and he put together his most complete season yet.
The Bearcats had a solid roster all-around, but it seems like they never had that standout receiver that can elevate an offense to the next level. At LSU, Denbrock will take over a receiver room that has a few guys with that type of potential.
Denbrock has proven to be a competent play-caller. He’s never run a high-flying offense like some people may want to see, but this is a safe hire.
That doesn’t mean it will be good enough. These days, offenses need to be elite to win championships. They need to be able to spread it out and keep up with whatever Heisman contender Nick Saban has at quarterback.
It’s fair to ask whether Denbrock is the guy that can bring that offense to LSU. He’s never had the skill position talent as he does now, and he’ll have a sixth-year quarterback in the room in Myles Brennan. If he can take advantage of that, LSU may see immediate improvement on the offense.