For Ed Orgeron, the true test now begins.
The Coach O Show got rave reviews through three winning weeks. Against Missouri, Southern Miss and Ole Miss, LSU set offensive records while Orgeron also earned a “W” in the public relations game. He had the Tigers as poised as possible going into their annual showdown with perpetually top-ranked Alabama.
For the guy who was all jambalaya, crawfish pie and filé gumbo his first six weeks on the job, that game turned out to be a bitter bite of a reality sandwich.
As I write this, LSU’s encounter with Alabama ended about 44 hours ago. If the Tigers and Crimson Tide had played from that moment to this, I’m not sure if LSU would have scored a point on offense.
The bottom line is, for all the great things Orgeron has done as he tries to remove the interim tag from his title as LSU’s head coach, Les Miles could have achieved the same results. Miles’ Tigers could and likely would have beaten Mizzou, Southern Miss and Ole Miss, albeit not as impressively. (Combined score: 125-38.) Then Alabama would have taken LSU’s playbook, set it on fire and written “Thou shalt not pass” on both goal lines with the ashes — just like the Crimson Tide did Saturday night.
This, for the Cajun candidate, is no mortal wound. Sure, LSU lost 10-0 to Alabama, but everyone loses to Alabama. The Crimson Tide has won 21 straight. Other than a handful of plays, the Tigers defense was superb. Only Ole Miss gave Bama a closer game, somehow scoring 43 points in a 48-43 defeat. Rumors that the Rebels posted two touchdowns at halftime could not be independently confirmed.
Now comes Arkansas. For Orgeron, it’s his first best chance to put his stamp on the program with a result that is a cut above the recent Miles era.
That makes this game more important to Orgeron than even Alabama was.
The past two years, the Tigers have come off disheartening losses to the Tide and found themselves at a low ebb with a pair of 17-point drubbings by the Razorbacks: 17-0 in icy Fayetteville in 2014 and an even more embarrassing 31-14 last year in Tiger Stadium.
Orgeron said Monday that his Tigers faced their shortcomings and mistakes against Alabama, put them behind them and turned the focus squarely to Arkansas. Coach Megaphone promises a more enthusiastic performance against the Razorbacks this time.
“We were going to play with energy,” he said. “We were going to play with excitement, and we were going to play one game at a time. None of that has changed.”
If the first day of the work week is “Tell The Truth Monday” for Orgeron-led LSU, there’s still enough to spill over to Tuesday.
The Tigers' remote championship aspirations are gone; even at 3-2 in the Southeastern Conference, LSU is mathematically eliminated from the SEC West race. Leonard Fournette’s Heisman Trophy hopes are again toast after Saturday’s 35 yards on 17 carries. And the LSU offense that Orgeron entrusted to new coordinator Steve Ensminger looked mighty Miles-like against Alabama, conservative and harmless.
LSU had two weeks to prepare. Knowing it was likely to be at a big handicap trying to hold off the Crimson Tide’s withering front seven, the Tigers didn’t show nearly enough imagination and daring in terms of trying to move the ball. Bama’s defense is great, but Kent State is the only other team it shut out this season. Even Tennessee managed 10 points against the Crimson Tide, albeit in a 49-10 rout.
“We're going to change a lot of stuff,” Orgeron said. “Obviously, hindsight is 20/20. I gave it to coach Ensminger and those guys to manage their group. They did a tremendous job for us, for the LSU family, for three weeks, so I'm not going to second-guess. Obviously, we see some things that didn't work. We all saw that.”
LSU did not get embarrassed by Bama like Tennessee did. Not in the least. It was a loss, a frustrating and predictable one, but just one loss. Now the Tigers have to pick up the pieces of their collective psyche and attack the rest of this schedule.
The challenge for Orgeron is, to a great degree, unfair. LSU’s November consists of No. 1 Alabama, 6-3 Arkansas on the road, No. 22 Florida at home and No. 10 Texas A&M on the road again — all compressed into a fateful 20-day span.
For what he has been asked to do, the mountain he has been asked to climb to capture the flag at the top, Orgeron’s task is almost impossible. Returning to the fiasco that was the postponed LSU-Florida game, imagine what it might mean to Orgeron to be playing South Alabama — currently 4-5 overall and 10th in the 11-team Sun Belt Conference at 1-5 — on Nov. 19 instead of Florida with its steel-belted defense.
But that’s the deal. Three enormously important games left — all winnable, all eminently loseable.
If you like your college football with a side dish of drama, you've come to the right place.