This is what Ed Orgeron wanted out of his LSU defense.
No, not THIS debacle on Saturday, with Mississippi State receivers running free all over Tiger Stadium like a herd of antelope in a David Attenborough documentary. But this attacking style, 4-3 defense that Bo Pelini brought back with him in his return to LSU this season.
Now, that defense is just getting attacked after the Tigers surrendered a Southeastern Conference-record 623 yards passing to the Bulldogs in a head-spinning 44-34 upset loss.
Orgeron and former defensive coordinator Dave Aranda didn’t come to an acrimonious end the way Coach O did with one-and-done offensive coordinator Matt Canada in 2017. But as a defensive line coach himself, Orgeron wasn’t enamored with the passivity of Aranda’s cerebral, exotic, 3-4 system. And it must be said that Coach O didn’t kick Aranda out, he got the head coaching job at Baylor, where his Bears kicked former boss Les Miles’ Kansas Jayhawks around 47-14 on Saturday for his first win.
But the veiled jabs were there, even when Orgeron was praising the way LSU’s defense looked in preseason practice.
Ed Orgeron was in his personal locker room inside Tiger Stadium when the LSU coach heard someone at the door.
“We are so much better on defense right now than any part of the season last year,” Orgeron said Sept. 15. “I feel Bo Pelini has come in and brought a new energy, a new excitement. Dave Aranda did a tremendous job for us, but I’m glad we’ve moved to the 4-3.”
Even athletic director Scott Woodward, who agreed to pay Pelini $2.3 million per annum to return to LSU from his less-lucrative head coaching gig at Youngstown State, got in an oblique shot at Aranda last week during the TAF Coaches Caravan.
“We will be in a four-man front, attacking the ball,” Woodward said. “Doing things LSU players like to do, not overthinking and overplaying. We will be aggressive. I think LSU fans will enjoy watching that style of ball.”
Well … not just yet.
Let’s be clear: As head coach, especially one coming off a national championship season like Orgeron is, has more than earned the right to have his team play the kind of offense and the kind of defense he wants. Orgeron’s philosophy, and temperament, mesh better with Pelini’s mindset than Aranda’s. There is nothing wrong with that.
One of the major problems against Mississippi State was LSU’s defense looked like a flipped version of LSU’s old offense under Miles, whose stubbornness to dismiss the need for modernization got him fired in 2016 and replaced by Orgeron. As former Saints safety Roman Harper, now an analyst for the SEC Network, observed Saturday night, the Tigers did not appear to make any significant defensive adjustments against the Bulldogs. They remained wedded to their press-man coverage, leading State coach Mike Leach and his quarterback K.J. Costello to throw over the top to devastating, napalm-like effect.
How devastating? Orgeron, candidly, said the Bulldogs piled up 383 yards receiving AFTER THE CATCH. State faced nine plays of third-and-9 or longer and Costello completed six passes on them for 181 yards, three for touchdowns.
“Obviously, that's tackling, that's assignments to any guys running free,” said Orgeron on Monday, taking responsibility for the loss as a good coach should. “We’ve got to work on our coverage. We had some mistakes in our coverage in leverage and technique and assignments.”
Being unwilling or unable to make adjustments didn’t help things. Neither did being without cornerback Derek Stingley, who missed the game after falling acutely ill in LSU’s words and being hospitalized. As effective as State's offense was, Stingley's presence Saturday might have given LSU a winning edge. Perhaps the Tigers had so much youth on the field Saturday wholesale scheme changes would have proved just as disastrous.
Orgeron said Stingley could be cleared to return to practice as early as Tuesday, obviously a huge step toward getting him back on the field in time for Saturday’s game at Vanderbilt (6:30 p.m., SEC Network). Experience and more, healthy players (cornerback Jay Ward included, who missed a lot of practice time leading up to the opener) will make a difference. But what awaits Stingley if he can play? LSU will certainly not see anything remotely as dynamic an offense from Vandy as it saw from Mississippi State — the Commodores lost 17-12 at Texas A&M on Saturday — but the Vanderbilt defense certainly showed out a darned sight better.
All-American LSU cornerback Derek Stingley, who spent Friday night in a hospital with an illness, could return to the team as soon as Tuesday,…
Asked about why there weren’t more (or any) in-game defensive adjustments, Orgeron skated away from a direct answer like a Mississippi State receiver and said those were Bo’s decisions and that they had talked about it.
As the days tick away in Week 2, the week where coaches always say the most improvement comes, talk for LSU's sake needs to turn into action.
OVERTIME: If you’re looking for “good news” about Saturday’s game, here are a few things:
• While LSU’s passing defense is dead last in the FBS by a wide margin, State didn’t have to bother trying to run the ball. Conversely, LSU is No. 1 nationally in rushing defense (9 yards allowed).
• There was no traffic to speak of arriving at or leaving the game.
• It didn’t rain Saturday in Tiger Stadium, as it never does (eyes rolling).
• Would you rather be a fan of a Big Ten or Pac-12 team and still waiting for your team to play?
Don’t answer that.