LSU football: Opening loss illustrates challenge of coming back
Ed Orgeron wanted to return to what he called “Joe Brady’s offense” of 2019.
He wanted to move on from Bo Pelini’s defense of 2020.
In No. 16 LSU’s 2021 season opener Saturday night, Orgeron got a little of what he wanted but appreciably more of what he didn’t in a 38-27 loss to UCLA in the Rose Bowl.
New offensive coordinator Jake Peetz and passing game coordinator DJ Mangas were brought in after one season working under Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Brady, who helped the Tigers win the 2019 national championship, to regain the magic of two years ago.
New defensive coordinator Daronte Jones was brought in from the Minnesota Vikings to improve the communication with the LSU defenders and guide them in a more efficient manner than Pelini had during an embarrassing season as the defending national champs plummeted to 5-5.
The attempted offensive walk-back to 2019 featured merely baby steps, as did the attempted walk-away from 2020.
The offense did look a bit more like the 2019 than the 2020 version, with the periodic creation of favorable matchups that helped Max Johnson and Kayshon Boutte team for 3 touchdown passes.
But the running game was woefully inadequate, partly because the offensive line lost its battle with the Bruins’ defensive line.
The defense didn’t look as bad as the 2020 defense, though there were periodic flashbacks to the breakdowns, confusion and sloppiness that created far too many big plays.
Jones’ defense played a very good first quarter. But as time went on, Chip Kelly’s offense got better and better, and LSU’s defense got worse and worse.
The Bruins had big gainers in the running game and the passing game. The Tigers had big misses in the defense against the run and the pass — mental mistakes, missed tackles and just plain inferior execution to that of their opponent.
The befuddlement, finger-pointing and exasperation that were trademarks of Pelini’s defense weren’t as prevalent Saturday night. Still, there were an unacceptable number of examples of inferior execution to that of the Bruins.
UCLA had the benefit of having played a game before LSU opened its season.
UCLA is beginning its fourth season under an accomplished coach in Kelly, and it has the advantage of a senior-laden team featuring nearly 20 graduate students.
Continuity and experience are really important.
LSU has little continuity, though it does have experience — at least among most of the players. But Peetz, Mangas and Jones were all coordinating in live action for the first time.
That doesn’t excuse the fatal shortcomings, because these coordinators were hired for their perceived ability to thrive immediately in their promotions.
But it is a reminder that Orgeron’s decision to go with younger coaches presumably better able to communicate with their pupils requires the patience that goes with choosing, as your most important lieutenants, individuals who haven’t previously done exactly what you are hiring them to do.
Perhaps Peetz and Mangas will soon emerge as a tandem as productive as Brady and former offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger were in 2019.
Perhaps Jones will soon prove to be as productive as former defensive coordinator Dave Aranda was before his contributions to the 2019 national championship earned him the head coaching position at Baylor, leading to the failed hiring of Pelini.
What this season opener demonstrated was that the climb back from the mediocrity of 2020 to the summit of 2019 is a long and difficult challenge.
Just how long and difficult that challenge is will be revealed on a weekly basis.
This first game suggests it’s longer and more difficult than was originally assumed.