LSU-Louisville

LSU coach Ed Orgeron celebrates with his team during the trophy presentation Dec. 31 after the Tigers' 29-9 win over Louisville the Citrus Bowl.

ADVOCATE STAFF PHOTO BY BILL FEIG

ORLANDO, Fla. — Like with most people who speak their minds candidly, Booger McFarland often tells people something they don’t want to hear.

He got into a running Twitter battle this season with Louisville fans over comments he made about the Cardinals on ESPN's "Russillo and Kanell" radio show.

“I said Louisville is Lamar Jackson and a bunch of dudes,” said McFarland, the former LSU All-American and now one of ESPN’s hottest college football analysts and personalities.

“They started hammering me. I was just being honest. I never thought Louisville was a great team. I just said what I saw.”

Saturday in the Citrus Bowl, the Tigers proved McFarland’s postulate correct.

Aside from one early long bomb from the Heisman Trophy winner, the Tigers dominated the Cardinals from kick to final horn. Subtract that 53-yard pass and LSU limited the nation’s No. 1 scoring offense to 167 yards and three field goals in a 29-9 rout.

Louisville was without some key defensive players, sorely lacking depth on that side of the ball. But there was no disputing that the Cardinals’ offensive line was no match for LSU’s defensive front, which accounted for seven of the eight sacks on Jackson. Overall, it was the fewest yards allowed by LSU in a bowl game since limiting Miami to 153 yards in a 40-3 rout in the 2005 Peach Bowl.

The Tigers made Jackson look like one of the dudes, too. He had his worst day of the season, completing just 10 of 27 passes for 153 yards and rushing for 33 net yards on 26 attempts. This from the man who piled up nearly 5,000 total yards and 51 touchdowns this season.

The performance continued LSU’s trend of treating Heisman winners roughly in bowl games.

John Cappelletti managed just 1.9 yards per carry in the 1974 Orange Bowl, though his Penn State team won 16-9. Oklahoma quarterback Jason White had a Jackson-like stat line in the 2004 Sugar Bowl, completing just 13 of 37 passes for 102 yards in a 21-14 victory that gave LSU the BCS national championship.

The win allowed the Tigers to finish this tempest-tossed campaign at 8-4, their 17th straight season of eight wins or more. It’s a more impressive achievement than it sounds, especially considering it’s the longest such active streak in the Southeastern Conference.

That said, four-loss teams were a proverbial dime a dozen in the SEC this year, making the Tigers “a bunch of dudes” by SEC standards. LSU is a fairly pedestrian 19-13 in conference play the last four years. Squeezing the juice out of Louisville in the Citrus Bowl was nice, but taking this win and building back toward being a championship contender now becomes the goal.

It begins, McFarland said, with Ed Orgeron and his staff getting out and beating the recruiting bushes, especially in-state.

“You’ve got to be able to keep the top guys in-state,” McFarland said. “That starts with the head coach cultivating relationships.

“If Coach O does nothing else, he’s got to go visit every high school in Louisiana over the next 18-24 months. I don’t know that Les Miles went to three high schools the last four years. Very few. You can see that relationship isn’t cultivated.”

Being a Louisiana guy gives Orgeron a built-in advantage. If he doesn’t know every high school coach in the state, it must be because that coach just moved in from Medicine Hat or something.

“He’s got a leg up, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to keep it,” McFarland said. “I like the position LSU’s in. It’s not great, but I see a path to becoming great. It’s up to them to do it.”

Three thoughts as LSU’s 2016 season goes into the books:

1. The 2017 Heisman race: Citrus Bowl MVP Derrius Guice finished LSU’s 12-game season with 1,387 yards, making him the SEC’s current leader in yards rushing. Considering he split time with Leonard Fournette (who rushed for 843 yards), it’s conceivable Guice could have been the first 2,000-yard rusher in LSU history if he had the Tigers’ canceled game and more of the carries Fournette got. He’s clearly positioned himself as a Heisman contender going into 2017. Jackson will be the favorite, but Louisville’s three-game losing streak to end 2016 will be an anchor. That and Heisman voters, at least subconsciously, will want to be even more impressed somehow than they were this season.

2. Put the over/under on LSU at 9-3: If safety Jamal Adams goes pro, the Tigers will lose at least six defensive starters. It's unclear how many offensive starters will go, depending on whether receivers Malachi Dupre and D.J. Chark leave early. That said, LSU has plenty of talent returning with the likes of Guice, Danny Etling, Arden Key and Donte Jackson. Players like Devin White and Dee Anderson are rising stars. And what defensive coordinator Dave Aranda did to Louisville and all season, limiting LSU’s 12 opponents to 16 total touchdowns, gives LSU reason for optimism. That said, the schedule is brutal with five SEC road games because of the Florida debacle.

3. O Aranada: If Matt Canada can do anything for LSU’s offense resembling what Aranda has done for the defense, the Tigers could be better than 9-3, but the realistic hope for returning to championship contention is 2018.

Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.​