LSU football: 10 things that have gone absolutely the wrong way since 2019
It has been exactly 21 months since LSU won the CFP Championship.
The Tigers handled Clemson in the Superdome to finish a 15-0 season that ranks among the very best in college football history.
That seems like a long time ago to a lot of LSU followers because next-to-nothing has gone right for the program since.
LSU (5-5 a year ago) is 3-3 and 1-2 in the SEC as it prepares to host No. 20 Florida on Saturday morning.
Debate as to whether it’s time to buy out Ed Orgeron has intensified this week after a 42-21 beatdown at the hands of Kentucky last Saturday.
If someone is going to take the fall for how far the program has fallen, it will be Orgeron, who is primarily but not exclusively responsible for all that has gone wrong.
Here are 10 things that have gone absolutely the wrong way since 2019:
10. Bad timing
Things already were headed the wrong way when the defending champions prepared to kick off the 2020 season.
Then they got worse.
On the eve of the season-opener, All-America cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. fell ill, was hospitalized and missed the game against Mississippi State and new coach Mike Leach’s “Air Raid” passing attack.
Stingley’s 11th-hour absence exacerbated a bad matchup and the Bulldogs’ had a historic passing day while exposing the Tigers’ defense.
The defense and the entire team’s fragile psyche was further damaged and future opponents saw Tiger blood in the water.
9. Stingley stung again and again
Stingley came back, but missed more time and was hampered by an ankle injury the rest of the season.
LSU was optimistic that he would bounce back to the All-America form of his freshman season as a junior, but he got hurt in preseason camp, didn’t play up to expectations and now is likely done for the season and his career because of a foot injury.
8. Bye, bye Boutte
This one might seem worse than it really is because it’s the most recent one.
Or it might wind up being even worse than it seems because Boutte was by far LSU’s best player this season before suffering a season-ending lower-leg injury against Kentucky.
It’s too early to tell just how much his absence will impact the remaining 6 games, but he was tied for the NCAA lead with 9 touchdown receptions on a team otherwise devoid of bright spots.
7. Negative off-the-field news
The Tigers could have gone to a bowl last season, but they self-imposed a bowl ban to try and mitigate anticipated NCAA sanctions.
The NCAA has merged the football investigation with that of men’s basketball coach Will Wade, delaying a resolution for football.
The investigation still hangs over the program as does a series of revelations accusing the athletic department (most prominently the football program) and the university at large of failing to act responsibly when presented with credible evidence of sexual abuse of and by student-athletes.
None of the investigations are fully resolved, and they all have contributed to a negative perception of Orgeron’s program that has transcended wins and losses.
6. Early departure aftershocks
Just when the Tigers were putting the earthquake of losses from the championship team behind them and focusing on forging an identity with the players on hand, another wave of departures hit.
Defensive lineman Neil Farrell Jr. postponed his senior season because of COVID, safety Kary Vincent Jr. opted out and reigning Biletnikoff winner Ja’Marr Chase left the team during preseason practice to focus on the draft.
A half-dozen potential role players entered the transfer portal and highly-touted freshman tight end Arik Gilbert and wide receiver Terrace Marshall Jr., one of the few key players from the championship team that was still around, bailed during the season.
5. Rejected by DC candidates
Orgeron’s top 2 choices to become defensive coordinator after last season didn’t work out.
University of Cincinnati defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman chose Notre Dame over LSU, and Ryan Nielsen, who held Orgeron’s old job as defensive line coach with the New Orleans Saints, stayed put when head coach Sean Payton used language in Nielsen’s contract to keep him with a promotion and raise.
Orgeron ultimately hired Minnesota Vikings assistant Daronte Jones and the defense has shown only marginal improvement from last season’s abysmal performance.
4. Myles Brennan injuries
Even with all the departures from the championship team, the hope was that Myles Brennan could give the Tigers a puncher’s chance even if he wasn’t another Joe Burrow.
He was outstanding in the first 3 games last season – even though the Tigers lost 2 – but his season-ending hip injury took away the puncher’s chance.
His return to health made him the presumed starter for this season, but another injury (a broken non-throwing arm) sidelined him just before preseason practice and it’s unclear if he will play last season.
3. Replacing Dave Aranda with Bo Pelini
It was bad enough when Baylor snatched up the defensive coordinator of the championship team to be its head coach.
Then Orgeron exacerbated the situation by hiring Pelini without even conducting an in-person interview.
Pelini was a terrible fit and the results were disastrous.
Hiring Scott Linehan as passing game coordinator had a similar outcome.
2. Early entrants in 2020
The Tigers – who wound up providing 14 picks to the 2020 NFL Draft – were bound to lose the majority of starters from the championship team.
But the early departures were nearly unprecedented, leaving the program with a dearth of experience, leadership, confidence and depth that remains.
1. Losing Joe Brady
The single biggest factor in the championship run was the partnership of passing game coordinator Brady and Burrow.
The quarterback ran out of eligibility, but keeping Brady could have mitigated the loss. Instead, Brady became offensive coordinator of the Carolina Panthers.
Orgeron hired 2 Brady aides in offensive coordinator Jake Peetz and passing game coordinator DJ Mangas last off-season and talked often about bringing back “Joe Brady’s offense.”
The results have looked more like 2020 than 2019.
The hiring of Brady helped produce the pinnacle of Orgeron’s tenure.
The inability to adequately replace him may be the defining element in the tenure’s end.