BATON ROUGE, La.—When it comes to college football, there is always drama.
But then there is LSU drama.
And let the record show that Ed Orgeron’s first season as the full-time head coach of the Tigers was filled with drama—both good and bad—with a capital “D.”
The record was 9-4 overall, 6-2 in the SEC. Only three other teams—Alabama (national champ), Georgia (SEC champ), and Auburn (which beat them both)—won six or more SEC games last season.
“We’re basically two plays away from being 11-2 which is a pretty good season around here,” said Orgeron. “Instead its 9-4 which is not what we expected.”
Which is why, when I visited Baton Rouge this Spring, it was hard to get a vibe on what to expect from LSU in 2018.
Last season there was plenty of bad:
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**--In the third game at Mississippi State, LSU was simply not ready to play and got thumped 37-7.
“They (Mississippi State) had an excellent scheme and we were not ready for it,” said Orgeron as we met in his office. “We did not play with a lot of fire and intensity. They jumped on us and we did not respond. That’s on me.”
**--Two weeks later LSU was again not ready to play and got beat by Troy 27-24, touching off a social media storm and sending conventional media scrambling to find Orgeron’s buyout. It was $12 million. After five games LSU was 3-2, 0-1 in the SEC. It was ugly.
**--There were stories that Orgeron and Matt Canada, his offensive coordinator, were not on the same page. It got to the point where athletics director Joe Alleva summoned them to a meeting to clear the air.
**--With the score tied 14-14 with Notre Dame in the Citrus Bowl, Orgeron elected to kick a field goal on fourth down and inches away from the end zone.
“I decided to put the game in the hands of our defense,” said Orgeron.
Oops. Notre Dame’s Miles Boykin made an acrobatic catch for a 55-yard touchdown and a 21-17 win.
But there was also good:
**--After the inexplicable loss to Troy, LSU went on the road the following week and beat Florida 17-16.
“No question that the loss to Troy was the turning point of our season,” Orgeron said. “The leaders of our team met right here and recommitted themselves. We made up our minds that we were going to get on that plane (to Florida) and not come back until we had won the game.”
It should be noted that Eddy Pineiro, Florida’s usually-reliable kicker, missed an extra point in the third quarter that would have tied the game at 17-17. But it should also be noted that with a one-point lead LSU did not let Florida score again in The Swamp.
“If we don’t lose to Troy I don’t know if we go down to Florida and win,” said Orgeron.
**--The following week at home LSU fell behind 20-0 to No. 10 Auburn and then stormed back to win 27-23. It was the only regular-season game that Auburn lost.
**--After the loss to Troy, LSU went 6-1 the rest of the season with the only loss being to No. 1 Alabama (24-10).
Normally when I finish a Spring visit I have a reasonable handle on what that team has for the coming fall.
With LSU I have no clue.
None at all.
There are just too many questions:
**--Is Steve Ensminger going to work at OC? Orgeron and Matt Canada obviously did not get along. So LSU paid Canada $1.7 million to go away and never talk about his time at LSU. Ensminger, who was the LSU OC when Orgeron was interim head coach in 2016, was moved back into that chair.
I asked Orgeron why Ensminger again.
“Trust,” he said. “I’ve known him since 1979. Remember when we took over (as interim head coach in 2016), he called plays and we averaged 41 points per game.”
**--Who’s going to play quarterback? Myles Brennan, Justin MacMillan, and Lowell Narcisse competed all spring for the job of replacing Danny Etling.
“All of them made good progress but you really won’t know until they go against live bullets,” said Orgeron.
“More than likely we’ll play two quarterbacks,” Orgeron said.
**--Who is the next star running back? For the past four seasons LSU has had Leonard Fournette or Darrius Guice or both in the backfield.
“We don’t have a premier running back but watch out for Clyde,” said Orgeron. “He may be one of those guys.”
That would be Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who got nine carries last season as a backup to Guice (1,153 yards last season) and Darrel Williams (776 yards).
There is also some concern at cornerback after LSU lost premier recruit Patrick Surtain, Jr., to Alabama at the 11th hour on national signing day.
“That hurt,” said Orgeron.
And did we mention the schedule? The Tigers open up with Miami, the defending ACC Coastal Division champs, on Sept. 1 in Arlington, Tex. In addition to the rugged SEC West schedule, LSU has to play Georgia and Florida (in back-to-back weeks) from the East.
Here’s one final tidbit to keep in mind. The 2019 high school recruiting class in Louisiana is supposed to be one of the best in a generation.
“It’s loaded,” Orgeron said of the class. “If we can get most of those guys we should be in pretty good shape.”
But what if LSU finishes fourth or worse in an SEC West? Right now that certainly seems possible with Alabama, Auburn, Texas A&M (new coach), and Mississippi State (new coach) all expecting to have good seasons and Ole Miss featuring another high-powered offense?
Looks like Orgeron will need a big December early signing period to convince the fan base that the future will be promising.
Stay tuned. Sounds like there’s going to be a lot more drama in Baton Rouge.