First and 10: 2019 has never felt farther away for Ed Orgeron. It's win or walk, now
1. I don’t want to get on a soapbox, but …
No one likes where this is headed. Not LSU, not coach Ed Orgeron and certainly not a talented LSU roster watching the season slip away.
But this is a big boy job that demands big boy results. And a whole lot of self-reflection.
“Let’s just look at the film and tell the truth,” Orgeron said after LSU’s 24-19 loss to Auburn.
The truth is the capital built from that 2019 national championship season is gone. Orgeron, fair or not, is on the clock.
Win or walk.
The truth is LSU is a shadow of the program that won it all in 2019 with the greatest single season in college football history, a mediocre 8-7 since the national title season, and worse (6-7) vs. Power 5 teams.
The truth is LSU has used two offensive and two defensive coordinators since 2019, and all four hires have been overwhelmed by the moment.
The truth is if you’re going to praise Orgeron for orchestrating the magical 2019 season (which I did, and will continue to do), you also must criticize him for the disaster that has followed.
You’re not orchestrating success when you’re compounding problems on the field with dysfunction on the sidelines, blowing timeouts because play calls can’t reach the huddle on time (see: overwhelmed coordinator).
The only thing worse than a team that loses games it shouldn’t is an unprepared team that loses games it shouldn’t.
These problems began last season but were quickly placated with the catch-all excuse: the loss of multiple elite players to the NFL, and the COVID season.
But you can’t use that excuse, even if there’s some validity to it, when you follow 2019 with the No. 4 and No. 3 ranked recruiting classes in the nation, according to 247Sports.
In the past 2 recruiting classes, LSU landed 5 5-star players and 29 4-star players. That’s exactly how you overhaul a roster that has been decimated by losses to the NFL.
So if players aren’t performing, they’re not being developed. If they’re not being developed, that’s a coaching problem.
This, everyone, is a talented team. It’s also a poorly coached team.
Orgeron admitted as much after the loss to Auburn, twice stating with emphasis that it’s time to “tell the truth.”
“Players and coaches, we have to take responsibility,” he said. “(If it’s) where we can coach them better, we’re going to admit it. If it’s where we can make plays, we have to admit it. That’s all you can do – just tell the truth.”
Here’s some more disturbing truth: The remaining schedule is brutal for an offense that can’t consistently run the football or protect the quarterback, and for a defense that gets lost in coverage and (still) struggles with tackling fundamentals.
The final 2 months of the season for the Tigers will be unlike anything anyone in the SEC has dealt with in years: at Kentucky, Florida, at Ole Miss, at Alabama, Arkansas, Texas A&M. The combined record of that group: 23-6.
That gauntlet, that unthinkable stretch of games, will be managed by an offense that’s averaging 70.6 rushing yards per game – a number that hasn’t been that low in decades. LSU is 128th out of 130 FBS teams in rushing offense, averaging – are you ready for this? – a lousy 2.58 yards per carry.
That schedule will be navigated by a defense that is No. 11 in the SEC in total defense, No. 10 in scoring defense and No. 13 in opponent 3rd-down conversions – giving up a whopping 46.3% of opportunities. There are only 15 teams in the nation with a worse 3rd-down conversion rate.
All of this, fair or not, falls on the shoulders of Orgeron.
He knew what he was walking into when he accepted the big boy job. He also knows how quickly the SEC chews up and spits out coaches.
He also knows he’s on the clock.
2. Six weeks to glory – or gone
This is a crossroads moment for Orgeron at LSU, and more than likely the reason he publicly stated it was time for coaches and players to “tell the truth” and accept responsibility.
Because if this goes bad on the field, the university has a built-in excuse off the field to fire Orgeron and mitigate some or all of his massive $21 million buyout.
Orgeron is part of a Title IX lawsuit against the university, a complaint that alleges Orgeron and others in the LSU administration stymied LSU’s entire Title IX policy by protecting athletes from Title IX claims.
The lawsuit alleges that Orgeron learned in 2016 about a rape allegation against running back Derrius Guice and failed to properly report it to LSU’s Title IX office or any other university entity. There was a second rape allegation against Guice, and another incident where he allegedly took nude photos of a woman without her consent.
Orgeron, according to the Husch Blackwell report on LSU’s response to sexual misconduct, has not been mentioned in any coverup of those incidents.
But make no mistake, those allegations will play a role in any decision to terminate Orgeron if it goes bad on the field. Using off-field problems is the only way universities can get out from under large contracts.
Tennessee did it most recently with Jeremy Pruitt, and Florida did it with Jim McElwain.
Every coaching contract has a morality clause, and if it goes bad on the field, that clause will be used as a wedge in separation negotiations. The game plan is simple: protect your coach until it goes bad on the field, then get out of the contract any way you can.
3. Revisionist history
It’s time to take a deep dive on all things Orgeron before we leap into the unknown of running him out of Baton Rouge.
Under Orgeron, LSU is 18-10 vs. ranked teams and 13-5 vs. Top 10. He’s 7-8 vs. primary rivals Alabama, Florida and Auburn, and 10-0 vs. secondary rivals Ole Miss and Arkansas.
Imagine running off a coach with a 13-5 record vs. the top 10. LSU has 1 game remaining this season against a top-10 team (No. 1 Alabama).
More than anything, the question that must be asked and is often overlooked: Where does LSU go if it fires Orgeron? It’s not as simple as it sounds.
The qualifications alone make the job a difficult sell.
— An elite recruiter (good luck knocking heads with Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Texas, Texas A&M and Oklahoma).
— A strong history of developing quarterbacks (the most important position in the game).
— Big-game experience/success.
How many are falling off the coaching tree with that résumé? Better yet, how many are falling off with that résumé and a 13-5 record against the top 10?
Be careful what you wish for, LSU. Be aware of what you have.
4. Alabama, Georgia and everyone else
A couple of things before we proclaim Alabama and Georgia the 2 best teams in college football.
— The Georgia defense, the foundation of the Dawgs’ College Football Playoff hype, has faced the 118th (Clemson), 84th (UAB), 115th (South Carolina), 120th (Vanderbilt) and 55th (Arkansas) ranked offenses in the nation.
Auburn (No. 17) and Florida (No. 10) are the only offenses the remainder of the regular season that can push back, and likely Alabama (No. 26) in the SEC Championship Game.
Georgia travels to Auburn this week to play an offense that may have found itself in a win at LSU. At the very least, erratic QB Bo Nix should play with more confidence this weekend at home, and after the best performance of his career last weekend at LSU.
More problematic for Georgia is the idea of playing at Auburn with Stetson Bennett, not JT Daniels (lat injury), running the offense. Georgia can’t get away with throwing 11 passes (for 72 yards) against the Auburn defense like it did Arkansas.
Meanwhile, there’s Alabama, which despite what you saw against Ole Miss, still has issues defensively.
“If you can consistently block them,” an NFL scout told me, “you can exploit their weakness.”
“They really don’t do anything exceptional,” the same scout said. “Not like those defenses of the past. They don’t run as well, and they’re not as physical at the point of attack. They’re not as good as they’ve been on the outside in coverage, either. If you block it right, it becomes last team with the ball wins. Or has a chance to win. Florida blocked them, Ole Miss couldn’t do it play after play.”
5. The Weekly Five
Five picks against the spread.
- South Carolina at Tennessee (-10)
- Georgia at Auburn (+14.5)
- LSU (+3) at Kentucky
- Alabama (-17.5) at Texas A&M
- Arkansas (+5) at Ole Miss
Last week: 0-5.
6. Your tape is your résumé
Each week an NFL scout breaks down a draft-eligible SEC player. This week: Alabama CB Josh Jobe.
“Pretty much everything you want out of a corner, and a player. A high-character guy, an elite athlete. He’s long, he’s physical and he can run. He’s a cover corner who loves to mix it up in run support. There are some who think he’s too big, too stiff to play outside. He’s primarily a boundary corner at Alabama, and the obvious question is his ability to play field corner without the assistance of the boundary. He’s a physical guy and uses the boundary as well as anyone I’ve seen coming out of college in a while. I’ve seen him in some field (corner) plays, and he gets clingy. Much more than he does on the boundary. He’s likes to mix it up out there. When he has more area to cover, he gets more grabby, and that’s where you get penalties.”
7. Powered Up
This week’s Power Poll, and one big thing: the October goal.
1. Georgia: Keep JT Daniels healthy. Dawgs aren’t escaping October (at Auburn, Kentucky, vs. Florida in Jax) without a loss if he’s not.
2. Alabama: Get more pass rush from OLB Drew Sanders. Christopher Allen was lost for season in the opener and it has impacted the pass rush. Sanders is quickly developing.
3. Kentucky: QB Will Levis must cut down on turnovers in the passing game (6 INTs), and the Wildcats must be more efficient throwing the ball.
4. Auburn: The more TB Jarquez Hunter plays, the more dangerous the offense.
5. Florida: Increase snaps for QB Anthony Richardson vs. Vanderbilt to get him ready for back-to-back games against LSU and Georgia.
6. Ole Miss: Convert more 4th downs. The defense isn’t much better than 2020, and converting 4th downs keeps the offense on the field.
7. Arkansas: Don’t let an abysmal performance against Georgia ruin a month that has 2 season-defining games pinned to it (at Ole Miss, Auburn).
8. LSU: Find a way to run more efficiently, with personnel moves on the offensive line or tweaks to the scheme/play calling.
9. Mississippi State: Finish October with wins vs. Vandy and UK, and the month is a wild success no matter what happens vs. Alabama).
10. Texas A&M: The expectation of competing with Alabama is gone. The hope now: Don’t stumble against Missouri or South Carolina and make a bad situation worse.
11. Tennessee: Stay focused, beat South Carolina – then set up a critical home game against Ole Miss that can turn the season.
12. Missouri: Fix the tackling (it’s putrid). One more thing: focus on the fundamentals of tackling. And don’t forget to tackle.
13. South Carolina: Get WR Josh Vann more involved in the offense. He is South Carolina’s most dynamic offensive weapon, and must be featured in both pass and run sets.
14. Vanderbilt: Get talented QB Ken Seals more comfortable. The Vandy offense has an OC (David Raih), a pass game coordinator/QB coach (Joey Lynch), and a run game coordinator (Norval McKenzie) — and one too many voices for Seals.
8. Ask and you shall receive
Matt: Have you changed your tune on Tennessee yet? Still think the Vols will struggle to make a bowl game? — James Thompson, Nashville
James: How could you not be impressed with what Tennessee did on the road against Missouri? What impressed me more was how the Vols played in Gainesville the week prior. They were in that game deep into the second half, and were a dropped 4th-down pass from making things interesting in the fourth quarter.
They found a quarterback that game with Hendon Hooker, and the entire team realized they could play winning football in the SEC if they played mistake-free. So they went out and did it at Missouri.
The next step is consistency. Can this team that was essentially gutted after losing coach Jeremy Pruitt, continue to want more – and work for it? Josh Heupel is a terrific offensive coach, and that’s wildly apparent at this point in the season. This week against South Carolina is must-win, and more than likely gets the Vols to a bowl game.
At this point, Heupel isn’t playing for a bowl game. He’s playing to get an upset – Ole Miss, at Alabama, at Kentucky, Georgia – somewhere in the back half of the season that can show recruits what he’s building.
44. The Florida defense, which set school records for futility last season, gave up 44 combined points to Alabama and Kentucky – and lost both games.
The problem: the Florida offense, the backbone of the team under coach Dan Mullen, hasn’t pulled its weight. Against Kentucky, the Gators had 13 red-zone plays in the final quarter and got 3 points.
10. Quote to note
Mississippi State coach Mike Leach: “It’s always good to win in Kyle Field, and I’ve done it more than most people have.”