LSU interim coach Ed Orgeron said he expects his team to be the healthiest it has been all season for Saturday’s contest against No. 1 Alabama at 7 p.m. in Tiger Stadium.
“Besides the players that are out for the season, we should be at full speed come Saturday night,” Orgeron said. “We’re probably in the best shape we’ve been physically and injury-wise this Saturday night.”
The Tigers have experienced a rash of injuries this season, highlighted by running back Leonard Fournette’s lingering ankle injury.
Three players – fullback J.D. Moore (neck), wide receiver D.J. Chark (finger) and tight end Colin Jeter (wrist) – were held out of practice last Tuesday, but all three suggested their injuries wouldn’t keep them out for the match against the Crimson Tide (8-0, 5-0).
Fournette sustained a high ankle sprain in preseason practice and reinjured it twice during the season. He returned to the lineup against Ole Miss after a two-game absence and set the LSU single-game rushing record against the Rebels.
Though Fournette appears to be the healthiest he’s been all season, Orgeron said trainers are still working with Fournette to improve his conditioning, including during the off week.
“He did some things, conditioning-wise, not on the football field,” Orgeron said. “We feel that he’s going to be in better condition.”
The unit that has experienced the most shuffling due to injury is the offensive line, including right tackle Toby Weathersby’s ankle injury. Weathersby hasn’t played since he sprained his ankle in the second quarter of Sept. 17 win against Mississippi State.
Orgeron said he is still monitoring Weathersby’s progress but didn’t say whether he would start. Maea Teuhema has been Weathersby’s primary replacement at right tackle.
“We're going to see this week as it goes," Orgeron said. "But obviously if he's ready to go, we're going to put him in. I think he's going to be well. ... Tuesday is going to be a big day. We're going to do one-on-ones, stuff like that, and see how he feels – if he's not too sore or anything. But if he's able to start, we'll start him."
Orgeron said he will let offensive line coach Jeff Grimes determine how Teuhema will be used.
“Jeff has a couple of options there,” Orgeron said. “We’ll talk about it. We talk about our personnel on Friday, how we’re going to play everybody. So we won’t know until Friday.”
Here are a few other nuggets from Orgeron’s meeting with the media:
‘Shouldn’t have said it’
Last week, LSU defensive back Dwayne Thomas said he thought the LSU defense could 'dominate' the unbeaten Crimson Tide, a program holding a five-game winning streak against the Tigers.
Thomas is one of four current LSU players that were on the roster for the Tigers' home losses to Alabama in 2012 and 2014. Orgeron didn’t care for Thomas’ comments and said he would have a discussion with him about it.
“That’s wrong,” Orgeron said. “He shouldn’t have said it. You don’t win the game in the papers. You win the game on Saturday night. So I’m going to have a little conversation with Dwayne.”
Cornerback Donte Jackson said Thomas’ comments weren’t out of the ordinary for him, as he is just a “confident” player.
“It’s a Dwayne moment,” Jackson said. “Me and him are in the same room, the defensive back room. There’s a lot Dwanye moments that go on that we as (defensive backs) see that probably a lot of the team doesn’t see. So when we see it, it’s really just no biggie. … Nothing really to get everybody hype around because he does it a lot. He talks a lot.”
‘Hopefully a lot’
Asked about Leonard Fournette’s lack of success against Alabama in last year’s 30-16 loss to the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Orgeron said “hopefully a lot” will be different for the star tailback in this year’s meeting.
Fournette rushed for a season-low 31 yards on 19 carries with one touchdown. This year’s Alabama defense allows the least amount of rushing yards per game and has recorded the most sacks.
“We’re going to do some things with Leonard that he’s able to do," Orgeron said. "I think that whatever happened last year is the past. We’re going to have a great game plan for Leonard. But I will say this to you: it’s going be very tough moving the football on this defense. They’re one of the best defenses I’ve ever seen.”
‘Ain’t thinking about it’
Orgeron said he is not concerned about the results of Saturday’s game affecting whether he will be named LSU’s head coach.
The Tiger are 3-0 under Orgeron, but three of their final four games are against teams currently ranked in the top 25, including the top-ranked Crimson Tide.
“Last thing (on my mind),” Orgeron said.” That’s way out there. I ain’t thinking about that. The focus is about these players. … These next four weeks are going to pass fast. My job is to do the best thing I can to do for this team today. Let the chips fall where they may, and everything will take care of itself.”