Opening loss exposes depth of Ed Orgeron's latest challenge at LSU
Ed Orgeron took the blame for LSU’s poor performance in a 44-34 season-opening loss to Mississippi State.
The Tigers appeared to be less well-prepared than their opponent, and at times they were terrible on both offense and defense.
The head coach should be the one held most accountable for a performance such as that. And the head coach will be the one most accountable for how the team recovers from that opening performance and performs in its next test.
“It’s my job to fix it,” Orgeron said Monday. “I guarantee you this week we’re going to fix it.”
LSU returns to Nashville to face Vanderbilt on Saturday night. Last season the Tigers paid the Commodores a visit and rolled to a 66-38 victory, but we saw last week that this season is much different than last season for LSU.
And Vanderbilt played well in its opener, hanging with No. 10 Texas A&M on the road before losing, 17-12.
The starting lineup that LSU used against Mississippi State featured as many players who were playing for FCS programs a year ago (3) as were in the starting lineup for the CFP championship victory against Clemson in January.
There was going to be a transition period. There were going to be growing pains. There were going to be bumps in the road. There were going to be even more clichés to describe how the 2020 team wasn’t going to be the 2019 team.
But it didn’t figure to be this bad – KJ Costello passing for more yards than any quarterback on any SEC team in any game ever had (623).
The Tigers didn’t just lose talent, they lost leadership, they lost confidence when 14 players went to the NFL, 3 others chose to skip this season then the biggest stud to stick around – cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. – was unexpectedly taken away less than 24 hours before the opener because of an acute illness.
LSU couldn’t run the football effectively with any consistency. That made things even harder of Myles Brennan in his first start at quarterback. The Tigers couldn’t defend or tackle the Bulldogs receivers effectively with any consistency.
Those two things did as much damage to the Tigers’ psyche as it did to their side of the stat sheet.
It’s up to Orgeron and his staff to help the players regain their confidence and a positive frame of mind as a foundation for fixing all the football shortcomings.
Orgeron has faced a variety of challenges since becoming the head coach at LSU and those challenges have often had a lot to do with the mental side of the game as the physical.
His first challenge was to salvage the 2016 season after the team’s performance during a 2-2 start led to the firing of Les Miles, one of the most successful coaches in the history of the SEC.
The Tigers pulled together and Orgeron directed a 6-2 finish.
In 2017 Orgeron had to prove he could handle the program and not just one team when LSU finally settled on him as Miles’ permanent replacement after vainly pursuing bigger names. That season didn’t start so great – a 37-7 loss at Mississippi State in the SEC opener and a home loss to Troy were part of a 3-2 start.
But the Tigers weathered that storm and wound up 9-4 with a bowl victory.
In 2018 LSU was a clear-cut Top 10 team and contending for the SEC West title before being manhandled by Alabama 29-0 for an 8th consecutive loss to the Crimson Tide.
The Tigers were getting better, but the question was whether the stagnant gap between LSU and Alabama was evidence that the ceiling on Orgeron’s program was unacceptably low.
Then came last season – a championship season, a perfect season, a validating season.
Orgeron showed conclusively that he could handle the job, that he could take the program to the loftiest height attainable.
But that was so pre-COVID-19.
So much has changed since Orgeron and the Tigers hoisted the crystal football back in January.
Then Mike Leach and Costello came into a mostly empty Tiger Stadium and exposed exactly what it looks like when so many really good players are removed from a team – even a team for the ages.
So Orgeron and the rest of us now have a clearer vision of precisely what the challenge is with this new team.