Orgeron, LSU better than expected

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LSU coach Ed Orgeron applauds on the sideline after a touchdown in the first half Saturday against Mississippi in Baton Rouge, La. LSU won 45-16. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Way back in July, back when the love bugs were still quiet and football season seemed so far away, back before we got on the college football treadmill set to extreme speed, we had an easy task.

We had to pick a winner for the SEC divisions at the Media Days and Clambake in Atlanta.

Then we had to do the hard part.

Figuring out the rest.

And we ended up putting LSU in fifth place in the West. Not me. I was smarter than that.

I had the Bayou Bengals sixth.

So how could we have been so wrong about LSU?

The LSU team that comes to town Friday for a Saturday CBS game with the mighty Gators is ranked fifth in the country and is probably underrated. Let’s put it this way, if the selection committee had to vote today to decide the College Football Playoff and left LSU out, it would be a farce.

The Tigers have wins over teams currently ranked eighth (Auburn) and 17th (Miami) in the latest Associated Press poll (I happen to think both are overrated and had both lower on my ballot, but I digress).

Also, there’s this — LSU’s opponents have the best record of any team in the Top 10 at 16-8.

So we’ve made the point that LSU has fooled us all. Ed Orgeron was supposed to be on the coaching hot seat instead of pouring hot sauce on his victory jambalaya.

What happened? This wasn’t just a Southern thing. LSU was 25th in the first AP poll, which is where you stick the team most likely to drop off after opening day.

1. We didn’t trust Coach O

This is the same guy who lost to Troy last year and whose teams at LSU had been wildly erratic, dominant at times and ineffective at others.

There was that taste of Ole Miss (where Orgeron went 10-25) that the media couldn’t get out of our mouths. There was the cartoonish persona that we couldn’t believe could work.

And there was this feeling that he botched things so badly on offense that it would implode. Orgeron wanted Lane Kiffin two years ago, but Kiffin got the FAU job. He hired Matt Canada, then undercut the coordinator when they clashed. When he promoted Steve Ensminger (again), it gave nobody confidence in what was going on.

Orgeron has the ability to get his players to bust their tails for him and block out the noise that isn’t coming from his gargling throat. He’s learned a lot on his long journey and this year it seems to be paying off.

Let us not forget that since that loss to Troy, LSU is 11-2 and the only losses are at Alabama and Notre Dame in the bowl game.

2. Oh, that schedule

This was the biggest reason we all saw disaster headed LSU’s way.

You open with Miami. Two weeks later Auburn. By then, we figured, the seat would need ice cubes.

And if that wasn’t enough, October would clinch it. Florida, Georgia, Mississippi State, then Alabama on Nov. 3. Tanks for nuttin’.

But that first game turned out to be a Miami nightmare. LSU put the game away early and even though Miami may have been playing the wrong quarterback, it was a tremendous confidence builder.

Then, of course, the clutch win over Auburn at the buzzer.

Suddenly, everyone was looking at LSU differently.

And we were all looking back at the July poll results.

South Carolina, Florida, Mississippi State and Missouri all got votes to win the conference.

LSU had zero. Just dummy.

3. Personnel department

When Alabama loses a hundred players to the NFL, the Tide is still voted No. 1 the following year. Nick Saban just keeps, well, we’ll stay away from his metaphor but he just keeps producing excellent players.

When LSU loses its stars, we assume there will be a downturn. That’s one reason there was an expectation for failure.

Who would play quarterback? We knew about transfer Joe Burrow, but there certainly was no guarantee he could handle the SEC.

Who would replace Derrius Guice? As if LSU doesn’t always have great backs.

The truth is that the offense — despite a stat-stuffer of a game against Ole Miss and it’s matador defense — hasn’t been that spectacular. Which is just fine with Orgeron because his defense has been so good (plus-seven in turnover margin).

Burrow ranks 10th in the league in pass efficiency. But he has yet to throw an interception this season. That’s exactly what LSU needs.

The Tigers are only ninth in total offense in the SEC, but when they have needed to do something, they have found a way.

The Orgeron Way.

How could we have been so wrong?

Well, college football is a weird sport. And let’s not forget we’re not even halfway through the season. October could still be the downfall for LSU.

Or not.

And then we won’t know what to think.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

50 COMMENTS

  1. I’m not surprised at all, as I’ve been following Orgeron for years and have always seen him as a capable and inspirational coach regardless of his circumstances. I think LSU was foolish to fire Les Miles, much in the same way Tennessee screwed the pooch when they ran Phil Fulmer off, but I said at the time that if this guy could survive the classless and arrogant AD at LSU — it would be a good fit for him and we’d get a good look at what he might really be capable of.

    LSU has earned their spot this year, but separation-wise from Florida, even at this point, I don’t see it as insurmountable. I know a little about how these guys think, and they will come in overconfident even if Orgeron implores them not to. This is the perfect time for the Gators to play them, in my opinion, regardless of any lectures I may subsequently receive from other parties hell bent on displaying their supposedly superior knowledge of the game. If we lose, it will not be a tragedy, it will not be catastrophically diagnostic, the end of the world as we know it, or a crying shame. It will just be a loss to an (apparently) better team. On the other hand, I think we will win this game in a close contest — a good, old fashioned SEC game if you will — and it will be because the Gators have turned yet another corner in terms of their character, team work, and ability to execute a game plan.

    • Gator-6. I’m with you on the firing of Les Miles. I am a big believer in the Football Gods. And nothing brings their wrath like successful programs (unfairly) scuttling the coach because of implausible expectations (see Texas – Fred Akers, Ohio St. – Earl Bruce, Tenn. – Phil Fulmer, etal). Typically that leads to a long walk in the wilderness. I predicted doom for LSU for this reason. I’m not saying Miles hadn’t slipped a notch. I’m saying his track record and NC bona fides should have earned him a longer scholarship. I’ll even say that patience would have been rewarded eventually. Ce la vie.

      For this game on Saturday? I have been forever agog that the (2) teams that have arguable the most ferocious home field advantage in the Conference routinely lose at home to the other. Maybe it IS the familiarity with the wall-of-sound the home crowd brings. Maybe it’s the similar, hot, humid, sweaty, swampy environment. It won’t surprise me if LSU wins this. And as long as it’s competitive, I agree that we’re not going to learn some awful truth about the Gators if that happens. But I am sipping the Koolaid and I think the Gators win a close one (fake field goal, anyone?). We’ll see. Go Gators.

        • The Gators have been much improved on special teams this year. I think that is the phase where this game will be won or lost. LSU has punked the Gators repeatedly with fake outs on special teams. It’s time to return the favor.

    • An exception: In 2000, Bobby Bowden was too old to be his own OC anymore and should have passed the Holes to Richt…but Nooooooo, he couldn’t graciously retire. Instead he thought he was more important than FSU and hung on, putting them in the wilderness until he was force out of the way of Jimbo.

    • Gator 6…yeah…all that…and a few receivers who can get open and catch when the ball reaches them…and a rb with “gumption” (Perine) who can find daylight. Not to mention creative play calling….Oh…and a legit mlb who knows how to direct the D. Did I mention a LOUD SWAMP!!! Plenty of positives.

    • Yea, if they win this, the Gators will have turned a HUGE corner or have been very fortunate. Some games fall that way, everything going right and then that same team can have a game where everything seems to go wrong.
      “Orgeron has the ability to get his players to bust their tails for him”. That is a sign of a great coach. great coaches can motivate good ones dont. I also think that LSU will come in overconfident. Sttill think the game is theirs to lose. Either way Im happy with my Gators under Mullen. He WILL eventually get them there. Anyone else saddened that Mullen doesnt think he will be here in 14 years? He said it would be the last time he coached a game at MSU. We play them again in 14 years. I had hoped he would want to be a dynasty here. Maybe he’s eyeing the pros as more teams use the spread.

      • They play at Florida Field in 2025. He meant playing at Davis Wade Stadium. The next time the Gators play there isn’t scheduled yet but assumed that it will be sometime in the mid-2030’s. I’m pretty sure at the time he said that, it wasn’t because he saw a limited tenure here. It just seemed very far off.

      • Daz, I thought there same thing. While some coaches succeed in the pros and I’m sure that is the dream the landscape is littered with coaches that left and came back. Spurrier, Saban, Harbaugh, Kelley with a lot going back and forth. I hope he stays. He could be a legend in Gainesville. I’d hope he gets us to a few NC’s before he goes.

  2. Give credit where it’s due. Burrows, new O coordinator, year-in-year-out, a team of good competitive athletes. All this headed up by an experienced head coach. Recipe for success. Coaching is just like most successful business models. If you have all the pieces it usually works. Orgeron didn’t have the right pieces last year and he made some excellent changes to fit his vision for success. Much like Mullen has done in his first year in Gainesville. It will be interesting to see which one of the two prevails on Saturday…a good rivalry. LSU is know for their propensity of trick plays and 4th down conversions against the Gators. They will pull all stops as they say…be ready Gators. Gator Nation has your back! Go Gators!

  3. Orgeron on the recruiting trail, “State of Louisiana first. One star, two star, three star, four star, five star, any star, I don’t care. We going to get them. If we think they can be an LSU Tiger and they can perform like we want to, they can perform in the classroom, have a high character, have the skill sets to be a Tiger. We’re starting off with Louisiana first.”
    Hey Mullen: ”Florida FIRST!”
    And then watch the other ”big stars of high school” (slightly sarcastic) come from ”outside our borders,” too. Work those ”Cajuns” over! Beat ’em like a damn drum! Chomp-Chomp! Go Gators!

    • Well stated. Attack out state!!

      Louisiana may not have the numbers of a state like Florida, but they have the quality and the equalizer is they are the only Power 5 team in the state…there is zero competition for the elite athletes other than school picking them off if they are somehow overlooked. They have always been the proverbial mirror in terms of type of athletes, so I always respect them.

      Funny thing though…my man SOS was 11-1 against LSU. They were really not a big factor until Saban got there. They had some decent teams…but my fav game oif all time was when they came to the swam undefeated with 2 backs, Faulk and Mealey, avg 100 yds per game. We held Faulk to 13 and Mealey to 7 in the moist dominating performance of the year…56-13 beatdown. The second fav was Spurrier and Rex Grossman lighting up LSU and Saban in 2001. After the game Saban said Florida was clearly the best team he had seen…if not for that Tenn game we would have had another shot at Miami.

  4. Why would anyone research what the writers said in July? Their history of picking winners is worse than that of a monkey throwing darts at a list of SEC teams. Ask them about the best press box food or worst WIFI – something they know and care about. Vegas thrives on the good folks who place bets based on what some sportswriter (journalism student) said.

  5. Our TEAM best be ready as we’ll get PUNCHED IN THE MOUTH as they say on the first drive. LSU will be more physical than UK or MSU imo. Looking forward to Saturday & a motivated group of Gators.
    Go GATORS!

  6. The actual point is Dooley knows very little about football. Miami played very poorly, and if he really thinks they are now under rated well time will tell. They are better than assumed, but probably not that great. When Ga and Bama each beats them easily we will know, if they win we will also know.

  7. I agree with Pat. I would have put them 6th for the same reasons. Article made perfect sense to me.

    Maybe coach o does a holmgren and wins a super bowl after losing 45 straight in highschool. Might as well assume so. Anything else would be a mistake imo.

    This game is really about Franks. Did he choose correctly in switching his commitment from LSU to Florida. Has he become a difference maker in tough spots. Will he get hurt this game? Did he get lucky to get Mullen after choosing Mac. Has he become good enough that telling Grier good bye was an awful choice. Will another qb have to come in and maybe win if the offense sputters. Or will 2 losses if it happens means other QBs in the mix

    All eyes on Franks.

    • I hear you bro…but 2 losses would be a great season and further reason to stick with Franks. I believe the improvements he has made will continue..JMHO. I could be wrong, but I think he has the tools. He was always viewed as raw as he had Gavin at 6’4 225 to throw jump balls to at Wakulla High…the Mac and Nuss doing their nonsense. I see the improvements…and really believe this game will once again being our ability to stop the run.

  8. One of the things Mullen said about the Toney play made me more of a believer in his method. They observed the corners and called the play based on what was happening. AKA taking what they are given. But this required adjusting something we never used to do. Above someone mentioned getting punched in the mouth and I think they expect that but being able to adapt, change your play calling to fit the situation is how he works. We have seen several phases of this in each of the games to date just not in one game together. I’d expect all in this game with some we haven’t seen and maybe a rabbit out of the hat to win. The coach is a winner he is teaching the players how to win. To win with what we got. Franks, Scarlett, Toney, Swain, Cleveland, Perine, Pierce, Stephens, Lang, Lewis, Pitts, Krull some of the offensive weapons with a defense that has started to play like a Florida D. I like these guys are getting no respect in the media. ESPN U reporters were split on the outcome though both said we were not the team LSU is. Play hungry GATORS.