LSU coach Ed Orgeron went from embraced to embattled in record time
Homecoming week is supposed to be one of the best times of the year on campus, with a blowout victory on the football field all but assumed.
However, what should’ve been a dream for LSU homecoming king Matthew Boudreaux and queen Camille Faircloth quickly turned into a nightmare, as their team was upset 24-21 by Troy on Saturday. Tiger Stadium went from disinterested early to distressed late.
The Tigers had won 16 consecutive homecoming games — UAB was the last to do rain on Baton Rouge’s parade in 2000 — before laying an egg in Week 5 against the Trojans, as the offense continued to sputter, the defense didn’t take advantage of the talent disparity and special teams again misfired. To put it bluntly, Troy was the better team.
From the opening snap, the Bayou Bengals didn’t seem prepared for what should’ve been an easy win over a Sun Belt foe.
LSU’s premier player, running back Derrius Guice, was unavailable due to injury, so the ground attack would have to lean on Darrel Williams and Nick Brossette. While Williams has been effective here and there during his career, Brossette doesn’t have much of a résumé.
According to Tigers coach Ed Orgeron — the Pelican State native has gone from embraced to embattled in a hurry — Williams was supposed to get the ball on the first play of the initial series. Instead, quarterback Danny Etling handed it to Brossette, who fumbled and immediately put his club in peril. The Trojans took an early 7-0 lead.
It was indicative of what was to come at not-so-deadly Death Valley. Orgeron is now just 5-3 in front of the home crowd.
“I wanted Darrel to get the ball,” he told reporters after the game, according to NOLA.com. “Our third-string running back got the ball. I should have done a better job game-planning.”
Orgeron refused to throw first-year offensive coordinator Matt Canada under the bus, which is commendable for any head coach. Nevertheless, it’s not a good look when the coaching staff can’t even get on the same page for the primary play call.
“I was not aware we were going to do that,” Orgeron said. “That’s not the way we want to start the game.”
Canada came to the Bayou Bengals with a reputation as an innovator on offense and a fixer of QBs. Instead, the pre-snap shifts and motions we saw earlier in the season were all but eliminated with Etling — he’s obviously not the next Jacoby Brissett or Nathan Peterman, who flourished under Canada at N.C. State and Pittsburgh, respectively — at the controls.
“I make all the calls,” Orgeron said. “Everything goes through me. I should have checked it. I didn’t, all right? Everything goes through me. No pointing the fingers at anybody.”
While everything may indeed go through Orgeron, he’s a glorified D-line coach. It’s Canada’s task to get more out of this offense.
“If I could have had the call back,” Orgeron said. “Darrel would have got the ball.”
After an encouraging 2-0 start, which included a shutout of BYU and a beatdown of Chattanooga, LSU has lost two of its last three. Mississippi State tamed the Tigers 37-7 on Sept. 17 in Starkville, which appeared to be awfully impressive at the time.
But the Bayou Bengals struggled to put away lowly Syracuse — a 21-3 lead in the third quarter turned into a narrow 28-26 advantage in the fourth — seven days prior to the Troy disaster, and the schedule hasn’t even gotten difficult yet. All of their remaining seven opponents are members of the SEC, including four on the road.
It’s not unreasonable to think LSU may not get to six wins and become bowl eligible, which would’ve been unthinkable a month ago.
The problems for this program are clear, but the solutions are nowhere to be found right now. Etling is a mediocre passer, just like last season. Even if Myles Brennan is the future, he’s a true freshman and not ready to take the reigns.
Also similar to this past year, the injury bug has bitten the backfield. A bum ankle robbed Leonard Fournette of a potential run at the Heisman Trophy, and now Guice can’t get off the injury report. After averaging 8.6 yards per carry as a freshman and 7.6 as a sophomore — backing up Fournette, for the most part — he’s at 4.8 as a junior.
The defense is down five starters from 2016, and all five of them were drafted and currently in the starting lineup at the next level.
Not to mention the fact that the Tigers have been far from special on special teams. They only average 39.3 yards per punt. They’re just 3-of-7 on field goals and haven’t split the uprights in three games. Coverage units have been average at best.
That being said, this is mostly about coaching. Orgeron getting this job full-time following his second shot on an interim basis — first taking over for Lane Kiffin at USC, then Les Miles with his beloved Bayou Bengals — was more satisfying to the locals than a big bowl of gumbo. That familiar accent won’t lengthen his rope, though.
Orgeron has said for weeks he needs to coach his team better, prepare his team better, and he promised that he would.
Nevertheless, the same issues that came back to haunt Miles are still there with Orgeron on the sideline. The offense lacks imagination. The aerial assault scares nobody. The game’s most important position isn’t being developed.
To be fair, Orgeron didn’t walk into a perfect situation. Etling was a 3-star recruit in high school and a transfer from lowly Purdue. There have been 18 first-time starters in 2017, eight of them true freshmen — that’s the most for this squad since 2005. His two studs, the aforementioned Guice and pass rusher Arden Key, have been limited.
Still, the “how much is Orgeron’s buyout?” questions are already being asked. Just like Matthew Boudreaux and Camille Faircloth, his own homecoming isn’t going according to plan, either.