When defender Tyrion Davis-Price set the record for a single LSU game with 287 yards in a stunning 49-42 win over Florida on October 16, he did not just evaluate the offensive line.
“Sir. Jack Marucci, he also had a lot to do with this,” Davis-Price said, referring to the old LSU coach who has taken on a new job – director of performance innovation.
“He went to the coaches, showing them some of our formations and showing them which runs would be better for some people and creating better blocking schemes for the offensive line and it worked. As you can see, it worked. “
After 23 years as head athletic coach, Marucci took on his new role this summer. It is a role that combines his natural curiosity with numbers and experimentation.
He is not alone. There is a stage team after every show, of course. This includes coaches, kinesiology experts and even the players themselves. But it is this collaborative effort that has helped LSU optimize the strengths left in a team that looks beaten and compromised, and why the Tigers are able to stand as weak against teams like Alabama.
“We can identify a weakness, but we really want to focus on their strengths,” Marucci said. “I always believe that if you focus too much on a weakness, then your strengths are neutralized.”
Marucci’s research prowess arose from an idea six to seven years ago when he met with experts from LSU’s kinesiology department such as Neil Johannsen, a professor of kinesiology with a doctorate in human health and performance.
He wanted to understand why so many players were experiencing episodes of body cramps during pre-season camp training. Johannsen wanted to point out that these are not normal in-game cramps that people see in real time. These were cramps that put players in “complete body closure”, where coaches would have to split their arms to do IV treatments.
Johannsen found that players lost 10 grams of sodium in an average 2-3 hour workout, and the average recommended intake of sodium is 2,300 milligrams per day. This meant that elite athletes needed more sodium to stay hydrated.
Normally, Johannsen said, universities use capable individuals who may not be university athletes on campus for these studies – but at LSU, they have the luxury of testing elite athletes through his relationship with Marucci.
From there flourished studies on how the genetic trait of sickle cells could affect hydration, studying subconcussive shocks to lines and, now, the impact of COVID-19 on body composition and mental health, all results are expected to be published in the coming months .
“In high school sports or in high school sports, even Division II or Division III, the variability of the player is quite large, but when you reach this level of elite Division I athletes, the variability is very small,” he said. Johannsen. “Even players who do not play and will play and will be all stars – trying to find those little things that make you so much better. That’s the difference between winning the SEC and being a 0,500 team. “
Unlike the NFL combination, Marucci believes in tracking simulated data from the game to a player’s peripheral vision. Johannsen is a person who helps him get the tools he needs to study the details.
Using hat-tracking equipment that tracks the players’ retinas and pupils, he can indicate which path puts wide receivers in the best place to catch the ball, on which side a defensive end can go faster to the center-back, or which side of the offensive line is best. for a guard.
“If you are dominant with the right eye and you are on the left side of the center, you will be more accurate in perceiving the right arm towards the center and you will get a better crossover run,” Johannsen said. tha. “Or if you are the keeper on the right, you may be able to capture the outside of the field a little better.”
That, and tracking the time it takes a player to reach a center-back in simulated hurry-crossing drills, rather than determining his speed by walking in a straight line.
Combine eye movement with a player’s starting angle in fast passing. Players like BJ Ojulari not only have the natural ability, but the well-adjusted technique to kick at a 45 degree angle. The difference between an Ojular and a passing runner who does not have it sharp can be two to three tenths of a second faster in reaching a quarterback – almost the difference between a 5.0 and 4.4 second run of 40 meters.
“When the center-back tries to get the ball under 2.6 seconds, you knock again four or five tenths of a second, now you’re back there in 2.1 seconds to make a move,” Marucci said.
Eye dominance also plays a role in wide receivers tracking the ball left or right in different patterns, and if the difference is as much as 10% of the balls a player catches, this may be the difference whether he catches or not . a hit-win of the game.
Special team players also benefit.
“He’s helped graph every single NFL kick in a season, and he’s done it for the past, like 20 years,” said LSU player Avery Atkins. “You can look at it and say, ‘OK, if I want to do this kind of kick, is this the most successful way to do that?’ ”
For example, if Atkins is hitting from the left of the hash, is it better for him to kick him, or hit him at the border? Factors like the wind are what get into the intricacies of the works.
Marucci said he also studied 3,000 kicks, thinking the left hash always felt like it was better for a right-footed striker trying to score from the field. But he did not start seeing that shift until he saw no attempt to score more than 45 yards out, missed more often by proper hash in the NFL.
But the subjects of the study – the players – are the ones who best inform his observations. The willingness for them not only to participate, but to add their experienced contribution, is what helps confirm his research.
“I remember Cade York bringing the best,” Marucci said. “I started to notice that there are a lot of lost balls when the ball is in the middle of the field, and he says, ‘Well, when you look at the goalpost, it looks like you can lose left or right when you do that. that, and it was a wonderful observation. “
Former LSU striker Cole Tracy said he was in pain throughout his high school days and feared he might end a career he had not even started at LSU.
An MRI revealed he had a labral fracture of the front and back of his right groin and when he told Marucci, he said he teamed up with special teams coach Greg McMahon to build a plan for Tracy to continue his career.
“Instead of pulling me out the door, he said, ‘We need to make sure you’re healthy,'” Tracy said. “He took me as a project to keep me healthy and to keep me fresh throughout the season. He was very punctual in the number of repetitions I would have, how much work I could have, how much work I could do and which days I needed to rest. ”
Tracy also learned about a stem cell injection, which helped pave the way for a better recovery.
But he said there was always something interesting going on in practice, like the shock study. As an attacker who received almost no blows, he was the control variable compared to line strikers, willing to do frequent MRIs as part of the study.
Those functional MRIs required him to do cognitive exercises so that radiologists could see which areas of the brain were activated as a basis and whether players with accumulated strokes had structural or functional changes in their brains.
“Jack really wanted you to know why and how everything was happening,” said former LSU striker Will Clapp. “So if you had an injury, he would spend a whole day trying to help you understand why something happened.”
Marucci does not love all the merits. He does not want to talk about how he worked with attacking line-up coach Brad Davis to identify the attacking line-up strengths and how they can optimize them to open holes for the historic Davis-Price game against Florida.
He said each project is like a tree and each forms its own branches adding new ideas.
It starts with sowing the seeds, or the belief, that it is possible.
“Just calling the child and giving him that confidence – ‘Look how well he’s doing here’ – every little bit helps,” Marucci said.