Orgeron gets best of both worlds -- but just barely
LSU coach Ed Orgeron wanted to see freshman quarterback Myles Brennan in a competitive game.
Orgeron got his wish and then some in the 25th-ranked Tigers’ 35-26 victory against Syracuse on Saturday night in Tiger Stadium.
LSU led the Orange 21-10 when Orgeron replaced senior Danny Etling, whose touchdown passes at the end of the second quarter and on the first play of the third quarter had made a precarious lead slightly less precarious.
Orgeron said early this week that he hoped game circumstances would allow him to give Brennan significant playing time against the Orange and next week against Troy.
Brennan, a highly touted recruit and likely the Tigers’ quarterback of the future, had mop-up duty in easy wins against BYU and Chattanooga, but hadn’t had an opportunity to play when the outcome wasn’t assured and both LSU’s offensive playbook and the opponent’s defensive playbook were both wide open.
When Mississippi State started pouring it on during a 37-7 rout of the Tigers last week in Starkville, Orgeron understandably decided the circumstances weren’t right for Brennan to make his SEC debut.
But on Saturday, Orgeron went searching for the best of both worlds — an opportunity to let Brennan get on-the-job training in a game whose outcome wasn’t yet decided but in which the risk of losing wasn’t terribly high either.
On Brennan’s first possession he completed both of his passes, easy tosses to running back Darrel Willaims, who gained three and 43 yards during a march on which he gained 80 of the 91 yards. His 20-yard run finished the drive and provided a 28-10 cushion.
Williams finished with 16 carries, twice as many as Derrius Guice, who played the first half but not the second as a result of being beat up against Mississippi State.
Though Brennan didn’t need to do much on that drive, it appeared the offense had done enough to put away the Orange.
But Syracuse didn’t cooperate.
The Orange got a safety and then a touchdown, after which they inexplicably chose to kick an extra point rather than trying a two-point conversion that could have made it a one-possession game.
The Tigers were in position to extend their nine-point lead when Brennan threw a interception right to defensive back Juwan Dowels. It was LSU’s first turnover of the season.
Syracuse then drove to a touchdown to get within two with 5:01 left before strangely trying an onside kick that gave the Tigers the ball at their 44.
Back in went Etling and LSU drove to a clinching touchdown without Etling ever having to put the ball in the air.
Afterward, Orgeron said that Etling remains his starting quarterback. He wanted to see Brennan play under competitive circumstances and he now has a better gauge of where his quarterback of the future is in the present without paying a price for that risky switch.
All’s well that ends well, although whenever things started to go well for LSU in this game, Syracuse made things harder.
On the first play from scrimmage, cornerback Greedy Williams made an interception and returned the ball to the 1, setting up Guice’s touchdown on the next play. It was the start of an outstanding first half by Dave Aranda’s defense, which got pushed around a week earlier. But after giving up just three points in the first half, the defense gave up three touchdowns in the second.
The offensive line spent much of the first half getting pushed around itself, much like it had a week earlier. But the difference this week was that midway through the second quarter, the line started playing better.
LSU put together a 71-yard drive late in the second quarter that ended with a 43-yard touchdown pass from Etling to Stephen Sullivan and provided a 14-3 halftime edge that marginally reduced the stress level in the stadium.
Then on the first play of the third quarter, the line gave Etling time and he launched an 87-yard touchdown pass to Drake Davis, the second-longest scoring pass in LSU history.
Suddenly — and briefly — it was 21-3 and what looked like a life-and-death struggle for much of the first half started to look like it might be relatively stress free the rest of the way.
But Syracuse wouldn’t go away.
In the end, LSU had a much-needed, though very flawed win and Orgeron had the extended look at Brennan that he wanted.
One of the reasons Orgeron has this job is that Les Miles was deemed too predictable in how he handled his offense.
After Saturday night, no one can accuse Orgeron of that.