There’s an oversimplification out there that says that all Ed Orgeron needs to do at LSU is to win against Alabama.
Obviously, that’s the game LSU fans want most. The question is whether things have reached the point that one unexpected win would fully restore confidence in the Orgeron regime in Baton Rouge before it goes the way of Blockbuster Video.
If beating Alabama comes as part of a season where LSU wins against a daunting schedule and positions itself to contend in the SEC West, then, yes, a win over Alabama might be the final piece of much-needed confirmation. But before that game even happens, LSU has to navigate a schedule that includes a neutral-site opener with Miami, road games at Florida and Auburn and the toughest possible divisional crossover opponent, Georgia. If the Tigers come into November with four losses, would playing a spoiler against Alabama be enough? Feelings would be soothed, but would it be the equivalent of saying, “Sure, the Titanic sank — but it never ran short of ice cubes.”
At any rate. LSU still seems to use the Alabama game as a benchmark. There’s nothing wrong with that.
“I think if you look at last year’s game at Alabama, it was a physical contest,” Orgeron said Monday as SEC Media Days got started in Atlanta. “We felt that we could handle them physically and compete with them, and that was the first time I think our players felt that in a while.”
That comment merits a brief review: perhaps LSU didn’t feel that it could handle the Crimson Tide in 2016, when Alabama had one of its most talented teams ever. But when else has the issue been one of LSU’s physical ability? The quality and quantity of LSU athletes have never seemed to be a problem, under Orgeron or under Les Miles. The issues have been offensive dysfunction, perhaps caused by extreme conservatism or, possibly, by the quarterback issues that have never really been resolved since the Crimson Tide stifled LSU in 2011. (The Tigers got one win in two meetings that season, but no touchdowns.) Perhaps Ohio State transfer Joe Burrow will be the answer, but what if November rolls around and it’s obvious that he is not? There’s no Leonard Fournette to carry the offense in those early games, no proven running back at all. The defense will be good, but when has that not been the case?
Back to Orgeron on last year’s game.
“We missed some plays,” he said. “We had DJ Chark open. We didn’t hit him. Their passing game gave us problems, and their quarterback made plays and we didn’t. Give Coach (Nick) Saban and his staff the credit. They won the football game.
“Almost is not good enough against Alabama. But we feel that a couple of plays here and there and continue to be physical, we’re going to be right in there with them.”
Again, the issue has not been “being there” physically against Alabama. Things have been more complicated than that. On the one hand, it gives LSU a puncher’s chance if all those intangible things come together: If Danny Etling hits that pass to Chark, or Trent Domingue doesn’t jerk a kickoff out of bounds to let Alabama start its game-tying drive in 2014 at the 35-yard line, or a half-dozen other plays had gone differently in a losing streak that it about to start carrying the adjective “lengthy” in front.
This may be the year that the cards fall in place for LSU. For Orgeron’s future, it might have to be, and not just against the Crimson Tide.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.