If you follow LSU football, by now you probably know interim coach Ed Orgeron has a label for every day of game week.
Taking our cue from the affable Coach O, here’s a look at LSU as the Tigers build toward Saturday’s prime-time showdown with No. 1 Alabama:
Tell the truth Monday
Alabama has a great team. No. 1 in the nation. Twenty straight wins. No. 4 in total defense. No. 8 in scoring offense. A juggernaut.
“It might be one of the best defenses in college football history,” Orgeron said at his Monday news conference, noting the Tide is led by Nick Saban, “one of the greatest coaches in college football history.”
But his team will be ready for the fight — that he is sure of, as much as he knows Alabama is a handful to deal with.
“The key is for us to explode Saturday night at 7 o’clock,” Orgeron said. “We’re looking forward to playing Alabama.”
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Last week, LSU safety Dwayne Thomas got a little carried away with his bravado leading into this game.
“I really see us dominating this team,” he said. “This is the year.”
This may be the year LSU snaps its five-game losing streak against Bama that dates to the 2012 BCS title game, but Orgeron wants to curb the enthusiasm a tad.
“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. I'm going to have a little conversation with Dwayne.”
Twitter was ablaze with Orgeron’s admonishment of Thomas. One can imagine Thomas checking out his Twitter feed at lunch Monday and choking on his turkey on rye.
Still, Thomas isn’t all wrong. LSU can’t beat Alabama without self-confidence. Striking a balance is key.
“I think it’s a combination,” Orgeron said. “They do respect this football team. They do want to have success against them.”
Two years ago, LSU took Alabama to overtime before falling 20-13, victimized in part by a poorly judged unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Vadal Alexander, helping the Tigers settle for a field goal when they were close to scoring a touchdown.
“I think that two years ago they felt they played good enough to win the game and some unfortunate things happened,” said Orgeron, who wasn’t on LSU’s staff at the time. “Last year, they handed it to us (30-16 in Tuscaloosa). We know that —like we knew that Ole Miss handed it to us over there (in 2015). We had a chip on our shoulder against Ole Miss. I expect those guys to come out hungry.”
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No turnover Wednesday
LSU has to balance aggressiveness and a bit of swagger with not taking foolish chances that lead to turnovers.
Bama has scored nine defensive touchdowns in eight games, a critical stat that LSU must match or erase Saturday.
“You never want to turn the ball over,” quarterback Danny Etling said.
LSU had three turnovers against Ole Miss, including an interception and a sack of Etling at the Tigers’ 9-yard line that the Rebels turned into a touchdown just before halftime.
“You want to play your game still," Etling said. "You want to be aggressive but not reckless.”
Orgeron, who said he has a vivid image in his mind of Bama defensive end Jonathan Allen hurdling a Texas A&M running back to drill Aggies quarterback Trevor Knight a couple of weeks ago, said LSU must start with protecting Etling.
“Then it’s taking care of the football,” he said. “Don’t force the ball where you don’t need to. But, again, realize they’re going to make plays, too. This is going to be a battle. If we do make a mistake, we have to wipe it out and go on to the next play. We have to match them.”
Danny Etling told his parents to pull off the interstate.
No repeat Thursday
With a 3-0 record since replacing Les Miles, Orgeron has put himself squarely in the hunt to be LSU’s permanent head coach. The last time he was in that position, he was 10-25 at Ole Miss. But he learned, going 6-2 as interim coach at USC in 2013 when he replaced Lane Kiffin, his friend and now Alabama’s offensive coordinator.
But he refuses to inject himself and his coaching future into LSU’s preparations for this game, arguably the most important of his brief tenure. Win it, and the job may be all but his. Lose, and he probably has to go at least 2-1 the rest of the way to have a chance.
“That's way out there, man,” Orgeron said. “I don't even think about that. The focus is about these players, the LSU family. To tell the truth, one day at a time. These next four weeks are going to pass fast. My job is to do the best thing I can do for this team today; let the chips fall where they may.”
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ESPN will produce its “College GameDay” show live from LSU’s campus Saturday morning, adding to the heap of distractions surrounding what is always the biggest game on the schedule.
Orgeron has been asked to make an appearance on the show, but by Friday night when his players are buttoned up at the team hotel, he wants them to be honed in on the game, not concerned about which mascot headgear Lee Corso will pick.
“We have a strict regimen of things that we do to keep them focused,” Orgeron said. “Obviously there's going to be 'College GameDay' there; guys are going to be watching. We can't stop that. They're going to be on their Twitter. They're going to call their girlfriends. Everybody does that.
“But when we get them there, we have little drills. We have little sayings that click them back in. Hopefully that is going to pay off Saturday night.”
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Game day Saturday
In its latest odds on winning the national championship, Bovada not surprisingly has Alabama as the 8-5 favorite. But, despite its two losses, LSU is listed as a respectable seventh at 25-1, easily the best odds of any two-loss team. The Tigers should be somewhere in the teens when the College Football Playoff committee unveils its first rankings of 2016 on Tuesday (7 p.m., ESPN).
The wise guys pay homage to LSU’s talent and revival under Orgeron and recognize a team that at least has a puncher’s chance at reaching the national semifinals. That, of course, requires running the table through what has to rank as LSU’s toughest November ever — three of the Tigers’ final four opponents are in the top 10, and Arkansas has beaten LSU by 17 points twice in a row — and then winning the SEC championship game.
As with Alabama, LSU’s respect is earned. Now the Tigers have to go out Saturday night and prove themselves.