On May 25, 1961, President Kennedy stood before Congress and committed the nation to landing men on the moon and returning them safely home.
Kennedy’s moonshot vision led to the Apollo program that did just that a little over eight years later.
Back here on Earth, there are more mundane issues to face closer to home. For LSU football, the issue is how to overcome what has become the program’s greatest technological challenge: beating Bama.
The losing streak now stands at six games and counting after Saturday’s 10-0 shutout, LSU’s longest losing skid against Alabama since dropping 11 straight from 1971-81. It was a tight game for most of it; but in the end, LSU was no closer to scoring a touchdown than it was, well, the moon.
Like Kennedy’s America needed vision and commitment to defeating its Space Race adversary, the Soviet Union, LSU needs vision and commitment to defeat its greatest football adversary.
Let’s call it Project 2018, the goal for LSU of beating Alabama when the Crimson Tide returns to Tiger Stadium two years from now.
Why not Project 2017? Well, frankly, LSU isn’t going to win in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, next year, where the Tigers have lost two straight games by an average of 17.5 points. Beating the Crimson Tide in its home park next season, after players like Leonard Fournette, Kendall Beckwith, Tre’Davious White and Ethan Pocic have left the program, is a low percentage proposition.
So the target is 2018. LSU has lost its past three at home to Bama, but only by an average of a touchdown, and one of those losses was in overtime. Two years to close the gap, level the playing field, have a true chance to come out on top again.
1. Recruit a great quarterback. This is incredibly obvious and incredibly difficult. One can argue LSU hasn’t landed a truly elite quarterback since Ryan Perrilloux in 2005, and hasn’t had one as a consistent starter since JaMarcus Russell in 2006.
Frankly, there’s little hope of beating Bama without one, or at least without a quarterback who plays great. Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly threw for 341 yards and three touchdowns to beat Bama last year. Bo Wallace threw for 251 yards and three touchdowns for the Rebels the year before. Johnny Manziel threw for 253 yards and ran for 92 in 2012.
In fact, of Bama’s seven losses dating to LSU’s last win in 2011, only twice has the quarterback failed to throw for at lest 243 yards (Cardale Jones, 2015 Sugar Bowl): Auburn’s Nick Marshall in the Kick Six win of 2013 (97 yards passing, 99 rushing) and the combo of Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee in 2011 (94 combined yards passing, two interceptions).
With apologies to Danny Etling, he isn’t an elite quarterback. Anyway, he’ll be gone by 2018, and LSU will likely need to turn to one of its incoming recruits: Lowell Narcisse of St. James or Myles Brennan. Both are four-star talents who could give the Tigers the elite edge they will need.
2. Recruit great linemen. You want to know the single greatest reason the Southeastern Conference has won nine of the past 13 national championships? Big, quick, superior defensive linemen. Players like Chad Lavalais, Glenn Dorsey and Barkevious Mingo. The offensive line has to be elite as well. In both areas, LSU isn’t as well stocked as Alabama is, and hasn’t been for the past few years.
Alabama’s best offensive lineman: left tackle Cam Robinson from West Monroe. It’s still a point of pain that LSU didn’t land him in 2014.
“The one that's the left tackle at Alabama should be here,” LSU interim coach Ed Orgeron said of Robinson on Monday. “So we need to get better. We need to get bigger, we need to get stronger, and we need to have guys get drafted in the first round to be able to block first-rounders on the other side.”
The fight will be a difficult one. Alabama already has a commitment from 2017’s Cam Robinson, top-rated offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood of Washington High in Pensacola, Florida. Conversely, LSU has a commitment from 2017’s top defensive tackle, Tyler Shelvin from Notre Dame of Crowley.
Alabama hasn’t reinvented football under Nick Saban, just made it highly efficient, fast and physical with great players and great coaches. Which leads us to …
3. Bring in a hotshot offensive coordinator. Or make LSU’s next head coach an offensive guru, whichever works best.
LSU already has and would be smart to try to retain the man who may be the nation’s best defensive coordinator, Dave Aranda. Now the goal is to do the same with the next play caller.
If Orgeron is the coach, well, his first order of business should be to try to lure his friend Lane Kiffin away from Alabama. Maybe Kiffin is going to be a head coach again somewhere next season (not LSU). But if not, maybe he’s tiring of the Saban a-- chewings on the sideline. Working for his old friend Orgeron might be a welcome change.
If Orgeron’s not the coach, LSU seems bent on hiring someone with a considerable offensive pedigree. A coach like Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, the one-time LSU offensive coordinator; or Houston’s Tom Herman. A young up-and-comer like Virginia Tech’s Justin Fuente also bears watching.
To beat Bama, you’ve got to have great talent and great scheming and sometimes a little luck — like a Kick Six. The great ones make their own luck, and being greater than it is now is what LSU should aspire to over the next two years.
The clock’s already ticking, guys. Nov. 3, 2018, will be here before you know it.