Good, but not good enough.
On the right track, but not adaptive enough.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron had some interesting words and phrases Wednesday mingled in with his praise of his team’s two new assistant coaching hires: offensive coordinator Jake Peetz and passing game coordinator DJ Mangas.
Let’s breakdown some key areas, starting with …
OFFENSE: LSU’s offense was far from broken in 2020. Despite a string of opt outs and injuries – by the end of the season the Tigers were without starting quarterback Myles Brennan and his top four receiver targets entering the campaign – LSU was still fifth in the Southeastern Conference in yards gained (433.9 yards per game) and sixth in scoring (32.0 points per game). Not 2019’s record-shattering production, but not abjectly awful. Like the defense was.
But it could be better, and like LSU fans everywhere Orgeron longed to embark on a “get back” tour for his offense. So he eased offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger into the hammock of semi-retirement with an analyst’s role, fired one-year passing game coordinator Scott Linehan and brought in Peetz and Mangas.
Both coaches worked with the Carolina Panthers in 2020 under Joe Brady, LSU’s super-popular and successful passing game coordinator for 2019’s national championship team. Orgeron couldn’t have insinuated that Peetz and Mangas were any closer to Brady than if they shared the same socks and drank the same whisky. And Mangas had the added cache of playing with Brady at that new cradle of coaches, William & Mary, and working under him as an analyst in 2019.
“DJ Mangas was instrumental in our championship season,” Coach O said Wednesday. “He worked hand in hand with Joe Brady, left and went to Carolina. We missed him. He knows Joe’s offense. He knows the Saints passing game (Brady was a down-the-line offensive assistant with the Saints before coming to LSU).
“He and Jake have both already brought some fire to our offense. Our whole offense is excited. With all the guys coming back we feel we will have a tremendous offense.”
The other selling point for both is their youth. Or, more to the point, being brought up in the Spread Offense Generation.
Coach O thanked Ensminger for helping him change the culture of the LSU offense when Orgeron became interim coach in 2016. Coach E was crucial in helping Coach O get the permanent gig. But Ensminger is of the pro-style offense generation, and it was clear to Orgeron, especially when measuring 2020’s offense against the 2019 standard, that it was a style more past than prologue.
“He brought tremendous leadership. He was like John Wayne every day,” Orgeron said of Ensminger (pilgrim). “But he’s getting older, and I knew it was time for him to retire. I can feel it. He was getting tired.
“They (Peetz and Mangas) come from a different era. We were hard-nosed, basic football coaches. Get after ‘em. These guys are power points, organization, very smart. You go in an offensive meeting and you could be at IBM. It’s just different. I’m glad we brought it to LSU.”
DEFENSE: Orgeron still has to hire a defensive coordinator and two defensive assistants to replace the fired Bo Pelini (DC) and Bill Busch (safeties) and defensive line coach-turned-analyst Bill Johnson. He aimed high and missed with University of Cincinnati defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman, who picked that job at Notre Dame over LSU. But that shouldn’t be characterized as failure. Orgeron still has a proud program and lots of zeroes in the LSU bank account to wave at another candidate, and he’s confident he will find his man soon.
A man who, interestingly, may be more multiple like former defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and less a disciple of the 4-3 like Pelini. Orgeron sounded a bit like a guy who touched the stove with last season’s ruinous defense and figured out he needed something more adaptable to counter 21st-Century offenses after all.
“I’m a fundamentals guy,” Orgeron said. “Whether it’s a 4-3 or 3-4, me personally I think you have to have both with the (modern) offenses. I didn’t see anyone shutting down these offenses this year. As defensive coaches we have to learn how to do it. I’ve interviewed some coaches who have some very good ideas, but I haven’t found the right fit yet. But we’re going to.”
Interestingly, as a defensive line coach, Orgeron said he felt more “security” finding offensive coaches first because “that’s not my specialty.
“I knew that I could wait and get the right guys on defense and I know we’re going to get them,” Orgeron said. “I have a good idea of who that is going to be, we just have to be patient, wait until the right time.”
Does the right time include coaches still working in the NFL playoffs? Not saying that’s the case, but it makes sense.
QUARTERBACK: After Orgeron fills all his staff vacancies, the next big question will be about quarterbacks. That starts with whether Brennan can return in time for spring ball or what sort of timeline he’s on to return from a devastating abdominal muscle injury.
It may be nothing, but Max Johnson was the first name Peetz mentioned when he was asked about the quarterbacks. And Orgeron stressed competition, not handing the job back to Brennan, perhaps because he doesn’t know when he can.
“It’s a new offense so I need to talk to Jake and we need to make some decisions,” Coach O said. “But we’re not ready to announce that. Obviously, somebody has got to take the first snap. But it’s always going to be a competition.”
With a new OC calling the plays, the playing field among Brennan, Johnson, TJ Finley and incoming freshman Garrett Nussmeier is a crowded one. How it gets sorted out will be a major story of the offseason.