Maybe it really was nothing. But Ed Orgeron’s body language when he met with the media Thursday in his final pregame gaggle before Saturday’s Utah State tilt didn’t exactly communicate what you think being the leader of the nation’s fifth-ranked team should look like.
Maybe Orgeron’s words from Wednesday’s SEC coaches’ teleconference painted a more accurate picture of what may be worrying Coach O:
“We haven’t faced much adversity yet,” Orgeron said Wednesday. “Usually when you get adversity, that’s when these things creep in. We haven’t faced that yet.”
Perhaps not in a full-fledged way. But adversity is starting to chip away at the monolith that LSU has built over the first third of the season, like pieces being pulled out of a vulnerable Jenga tower.
Concerning things such as:
• A number of injured key defensive starters like defensive ends Rashard Lawrence and Glen Logan, and linebacker Michael Divinity, all expected to be sidelined for the third straight game.
• Saahdiq Charles getting replaced at left tackle by Adrian Magee, who slides over from left guard thanks to the reinstatement of Ed Ingram who will start there. Charles has missed the past two games with what Orgeron termed “coaches’ decisions,” which of course sounds like some form of discipline.
• The suspension of linebacker Ray Thornton.
• Safety Kenan Jones entering the NCAA transfer portal.
• The “retirement” of running back Lanard Fournette.
• The unavailability of wide receiver Terrace Marshall, who fractured a bone in his foot two weeks ago at Vanderbilt.
Don’t misunderstand. There are a lot of positives for LSU going into the regular season’s final non-conference game, though one of them is not the 11 a.m. start that will likely leave a lot of sun-splashed empty seats in Tiger Stadium despite $11 tickets being available.
The return of Ingram, arguably the Tigers’ best offensive lineman outside of center Lloyd Cushenberry, is the biggest plus, potentially lifting the overall quality of the LSU O-line to a significant degree. Freshmen like cornerback/kick returner Derek Stingley and kicker Cade York have done exceptional jobs filling critical roles like no one else could have. And then there is the Thor’s hammer that has been the right arm of quarterback Joe Burrow, which like a conductor’s baton has accomplished the twin achievement of making Joe a prime Heisman Trophy contender and directing an LSU offense that leads the nation with 57.8 points per game.
Let that sink in for a second. LSU has an offense that leads the nation in scoring with fifty-seven point eight points per game. Even with all the electric buzzing about the new Steve Ensminger/Joe Brady crafted offensive scheme in the preseason, who could have imagined this?
Barring a huge rash of injuries, this offense should continue to produce points at a high rate of speed. And LSU’s prolific offense is the oil lubricating the rattling gears and belts of the Tigers’ football engine that might otherwise threaten to seize up.
With eight games remaining, this essentially boils down to a three-game season for LSU. The Tigers will be double-digit favorites to beat Utah State (LSU by 28), Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Arkansas. And a strong favorite to close the season with a home win over Texas A&M.
It’s those other three games — Florida next Saturday, Auburn on Oct. 26 and at Alabama on Nov. 9 — that will define LSU’s season. Whether or not the Tigers are a 9-3 or 10-2 team — records that at this point would be disappointments — or an 11-1 or 12-0 team that is fighting for the SEC title and one of those four precious berths in the College Football Playoff.
It’s all led to an air of nervous optimism among LSU fans, who are left breathless by the offense but fretting over the defense that ranks 50th nationally in pass efficiency defense and 69th nationally in passing yards allowed.
That defense is going to get stretched once again by Utah State quarterback Jordan Love, a potential 2020 first-round draft pick and likely the best passer LSU will face the rest of the way not named Tua Tagovailoa. Another 100-plus point combined score fest like the Tigers’ 66-38 win last time out at Vanderbilt (albeit with two defensive touchdowns by the Commodores) is not out of the question, considering Burrow is facing an Aggies’ defense that ranks 103rd nationally surrendering 263.5 yards per game.
But another offensive explosion, even if accompanied by the season’s strongest defensive effort against a quality opponent, won’t calm the jitters too much.
The Florida Gators, a serious LSU nemesis even when times are good for the Tigers, are up next. One more chance to get things as right as possible for LSU before the defining stretch of this 2019 season unfolds.