You had to give LSU coach Ed Orgeron his props on this particular “Tell the Truth Monday.”
Usually, Orgeron is lavish in his praise of the Tigers’ opponent at his news conference to kick off game week. But considering his No. 1-ranked LSU team is back home in Tiger Stadium to take on what might be a historically bad Arkansas team on Saturday, Coach O made no attempt to invent attributes that the woebegone Razorbacks — 2-8 overall, 0-6 in the Southeastern Conference and losers of 17 straight conference games going back to 2017 — do not possess.
In 10 of the SEC’s major statistical categories — scoring offense and defense, rushing offense and defense, total offense and total yards allowed, passing offense and defense, passing efficiency and pass efficiency defense — Arkansas ranks 10th or worst in nine of those. The one relatively bright spot, and a bone of contention for LSU, is in pass defense, where the Razorbacks rank ninth and the Tigers rank 11th.
Quarterback Joe Burrow answered questions from reporters on Monday afternoon, two days after he had broken the school record for passing yards in a season and led LSU to a win over Ole Miss.
Of course, considering Arkansas gives up an SEC-worst 225.4 yards rushing per game while allowing 221.3 ypg through the air, perhaps throwing it all over the yard hasn’t been a major priority for its opponents. Opponents who, the past four weeks, have smoked the Hogs by a combined 198-60.
There is one area in which Arkansas may have a little mojo, allowing the Razorbacks to come out with a flicker of fire for Saturday’s 6 p.m. kickoff:
They’ve already kicked off their coach.
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Chad Morris was jettisoned after just two seasons. No, that’s not quite accurate. He was fired 22 games into what will go down as the worst tenure in Arkansas football history and one of the worst in SEC history. Two of Morris’ four wins were against FCS teams; he went 0-14 against the SEC.
Morris leaves with a winning percentage (if I may use the term loosely) of .181. Somewhere, John “Bud” Tomlin, who went 2-7 in his lonely season as Arkansas’ coach in 1943, is mouthing a silent “thank you” for Morris getting him off the hook for the worst tenure ever at the school.
Give Bud credit, though. He did win a Southwest Conference game against SMU.
Saturday’s game will be Arkansas’ first under interim coach Barry Lunney Jr., a former Razorbacks quarterback. Orgeron thinks the move may give the Hogs a little momentum to play better than they might have otherwise.
“They're going to be fired up,” Coach O said. “Interim coach, they had an open date, obviously he's changed things around. He's going to rally the troops. They going to come out and give their best effort. We know they will.”
There have been times this season when it seems like Joe Burrow is unstoppable, whether he's delivering the ball to one of his talented receiv…
Orgeron knows of what he speaks, interim-wise.
He was 6-2 as interim coach at Southern California in 2013 after the school fired Lane Kiffin. It wasn’t enough to keep the job permanently, though, as USC hired Steve Sarkisian, now Alabama’s offensive coordinator.
In an ESPN interview aired Saturday, Orgeron said the day he didn’t get the job was the worst day of his life outside of the day his father died. His wife, Kelly, tried to boost his spirits, telling him God had a plan.
“It better be a good one,” Orgeron told her.
Three years later, Orgeron was LSU’s interim coach after LSU fired Les Miles four games in. Orgeron went 5-2 before being named the coach permanently, then led the Tigers to a Citrus Bowl win over Louisville.
Notably in his first game, the Tigers came out roaring against Missouri. Orgeron loosened the reins on the LSU playbook and allowed then interim offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger to start chunking the ball deep with quarterback Danny Etling. The result was a 42-7 victory and 634 yards of offense for LSU, a school record for an SEC game that stood until Saturday when LSU rolled up 714 yards in its 58-37 win at Ole Miss.
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Orgeron did everything he could the week of the Missouri game to, as he said, “flip the script.” He let coaches get home early. He passed out cookies. LSU probably would have beaten Mizzou under Miles, but the change in mood within the football complex was tangible.
“I think they ate 500 cookies the first day. Everybody was happy,” Orgeron said with a grin.
On LSU’s website, you can still find a photo of Orgeron in the postgame locker room, smiling broadly, being handed a game ball with his name on it and the quote “Hold that Tiger!” It’s his now famous catchphrase on the “Twitter machine,” as he puts it, when the perpetually recruiting Orgeron lands another commitment.
Maybe Lunney is dreaming of such a moment Saturday night in the Arkansas locker room.
“When you’re an underdog, which obviously we are, you hear you don’t have much to lose,” Lunney said. “I don’t believe that. I believe we have a lot to gain as a football team this week as far as re-establishing our identity.
“It’s about us.”
Again, Orgeron can relate. And on “Tell the Truth Monday,” it may be the thing, if anything, about Arkansas that gives him pause.
THE JOE BURROW FACTOR: If you haven’t noticed, this has become a community and state obsessed with LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, the Tigers’ Heisman Trophy frontrunner. So we want to know how the Burrow factor has affected your life.
Does your favorite restaurant now serve a Joe Burrow sandwich? Have you named your cat “Joe Burrow?” Is there chance your grandson on the way is now suddenly going to be named Joe instead of after you?
If you have a documented case of Joe Burrow-ness, we’d love to know about it. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.