LSU's Mr. Fix It: Orgeron reversed a struggling team in 2017 and says, 'I'll do it again'

Glenn Guilbeau
Lafayette Daily Advertiser
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BATON ROUGE — LSU football coach Ed Orgeron laughed at the brief thought of last season.

On Dec. 1, 2019, the Tigers were No. 1 in the nation for a fourth straight week, 12-0 on the season and fresh off a 50-7 win over Texas A&M. A year later, and LSU is 3-4 after a 20-7 loss at Texas A&M and is a 28.5-point underdog for its home game against No. 1 Alabama (8-0) Saturday (7 p.m., CBS), according to BetMGM.

"Last year everything was hunky dory, couldn't have been better," a reporter said to set up his question on a teleconference on Monday.

"Ha, ha, ha, I like that," Orgeron interrupted before the question came.

"This year, where is this program heading? And where is the light at the end of this kind of dark 2020 tunnel?"

Orgeron answered instantly.

"We're building a championship program," he said. "And we will be champions again. Our recruiting's going well. We've got some great young players."

LSU Tigers head coach Ed Orgeron and quarterback Joe Burrow celebrate with the national championship trophy.

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LSU does have the No. 4 recruiting class in the nation for the class of 2021, according to Rivals.com, at the moment with 22 commitments. Orgeron's 2020 class also finished No. 4. His 2019 class was No. 3.

The Tigers started nine underclassmen in their 20-7 loss at No. 5 Texas A&M on Saturday, including three true freshmen — quarterback TJ Finley, wide receiver Kayshon Boutte and tight end Arik Gilbert.

Another true freshman, Max Johnson, replaced Finley at quarterback and has a chance to start Saturday.

"We have some stuff that we have to get fixed," Orgeron said. "And I know we have to fix it. But I've done it before. I'll do it again."

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In Orgeron's first full season as LSU's head coach in 2017, he suffered a 37-7 loss at Mississippi State and a 24-21 upset to 20-point underdog Troy at home before winning six of his last eight games to finish 9-4. LSU's first double-digit win season since 2013 followed in 2018 at 10-3, and then the 15-0 campaign last season.

"Our offense, No. 1, our scheme has to be better," Orgeron said. "We need to put our best players in better position, call better plays and have answers to their blitzes. They had too many free blitzes hitting our young quarterbacks. Then, our execution has to be better. It starts with pass and run blocking. We did not control their front. We did not control their blitzes."

LSU's offensive line was not supposed to struggle like this, and Orgeron even raved before the season about being "three deep" on the line.

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The line did lose four starters, but offensive line coach James Cregg did return several veterans with experience for his third season. Right tackle Austin Deculus, a junior, started 13 games last season. Left guard Ed Ingram is a junior who played 12 games and started three last season, and he started 12 games in 2017. Right guard Chasen Hines is a junior who played 10 games last season. Center Liam Shanahan is a senior transfer who started for three seasons at Harvard.

LSU's offensive line allowed three sacks at Texas A&M and was dominated in the run game as the Tigers managed only 36 yards on 25 attempts. The line also struggled mightily at Auburn in a 48-11 loss on Oct. 31 as it was held to 32 yards rushing on 27 carries and allowed four sacks.

"We identified what went wrong and came up with a lot of solutions," Orgeron said of the A&M game. "We did not have them in the right position a lot of the times (on blitzes). The way they we turned the protection, the way we protect, those things can be fixed easily, things that we have done before. There were a couple of times we got beat one-on-one. We have to get better together. We have to play better and compete better."

Considering a very late "opt out" by junior wide receiver Terrace Marshall Jr. on Sunday, Orgeron was asked about his team's culture.

"I feel good about what we’ve built here over my time as a head coach," he said. "I think that we have some things to work on. We have some leadership things to work on. I have some things to work on to get better, but overall I think we’ve built a great culture inside the building."

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Nevertheless, LSU is apparently headed to its first losing season since a 3-8 mark in 1999.

"This year, it has been a challenge, obviously with COVID-19, and other stuff going on has kind of put a little spin on everything," Orgeron said. "You don’t know when the next guy’s going to opt out. But I think that overall we’ve built a good culture here, and we have a good young foundation."

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