BR.lsucarolina.102520 HS 1496.JPG

LSU head coach Ed Orgeron jumps up and down to amp up his players before they take the field for kickoff against South Carolina, Saturday, October 24, 2020, at LSU's Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La.

You have to give Ed Orgeron credit for one thing.

On his self-styled “Tell the Truth Monday,” LSU’s football coach spoke the truth about his team and his program in the wake of Saturday’s embarrassing 48-11 loss at Auburn.

LSU lost the turnover ratio after entering the game tied for first in the Southeastern Conference.

The offensive line couldn’t run block and couldn’t pass protect.

The defense (broken record) gave up over 200 yards rushing and 300 yards passing and 41 points (plus a pick-six) and is allowing 33 points per game this season.

“That’s unacceptable,” Orgeron said candidly. “We’ve got to find a way to get it fixed.”

Therein lies the problem.

LSU can’t go make a trade like the Saints did Monday with San Francisco for former Tigers linebacker Kwon Alexander. It can’t afford to cut loose coaches like LSU fans’ favorite punching bag Bo Pelini and bring in others midstream. Orgeron, his staff and players have to work within the framework of what they’ve got.

And what they’ve got is troubling in the extreme.

LSU players have lacked fire. Orgeron, known for ripping off his shirt and punching his own tooth out in team meetings, seems to lack a bit as well. It certainly hasn’t helped his image any that he just had a book come out and was featured on “60 Minutes” (Is there a “60 Minutes” curse like a Sports Illustrated cover jinx?) and was a regular feature on Fox News in the offseason. It may not be reality, but it implies a lack of focus and effort.

I don’t doubt Orgeron still has passion. And certainly Pelini is a guy we know can match him decibel for decibel. But there has been a disconnect between the coach and his players that has seemed evident since late August when players marched from Tiger Stadium across campus to the LSU Systems building, a march to protest social injustice that caught Orgeron unaware.

The biggest disconnects seem to be the effort of LSU’s players and the inability of the defensive staff to get them to play 60 minutes (the first quarter at Auburn was 0-0) at anything above a flag football standard.

Orgeron talked about eye discipline and gap fixes and admitted that LSU’s coaches have done about as much as they can to simplify the defense. Technical jargon is fine, but you don’t have to be Dick Butkus or Deion Sanders to see LSU’s chronic inability to defend the edge or to allow receivers to run free for huge plays.

Defense is a lot about effort, toughness, a bit of nastiness. LSU has shown very little of that lately other than Derek Stingley’s strip of Seth Williams near the goal line for a touchback. LSU got pushed around by an average Auburn team and eventually gave up, with players caught on camera laughing on the sideline late in the no-contest.

“As a former player you don’t like to see that,” said former LSU linebacker Verge Ausberry, the school’s executive deputy athletic director, Monday morning on WNXX-FM, 104.5. “Nothing’s fun about that day.”

The burning question is how could LSU’s culture, one built on toughness and unity, that led to a 25-3 record the previous two seasons and 2019’s national championship could devolve so quickly? That can’t all be laid at Pelini’s first-year feet. A deeper issue must be that LSU is lacking leadership from its players, and that everyone in the program is suffering from a serious case of laurel resting after arguably the best season in college football history.

It was a point of pride for LSU to set records in the 2020 NFL Draft with five first-rounders, 10 players taken in the first three rounds and 14 overall. But losing players who could be seniors this year like Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Patrick Queen, Justin Jefferson, K’Lavon Chaisson, Grant Delpit, Lloyd Cushenberry and Jacob Phillips has clearly had a steep cost.

It’s hard to fault players like Chaisson, Jefferson, Queen and Edwards-Helaire for leaving early, drafted as they were in the first round from picks 20-32. Even Delpit, who slid to the 44th pick in the second round. But Cushenberry left despite being the 83rd pick late in the third round by the Denver Broncos. Phillips lasted until early in the fourth round before going to the Cleveland Browns at No. 97. Individual decisions will always be tough to handicap, but maybe Cushenberry could have helped LSU get that last winning yard at Missouri. I am certain Phillips, LSU’s leading tackler in 2019, could have made the Tigers’ inept-looking linebacker corps markedly better.

Both Orgeron and Ausberry spoke of roster management, of trying to encourage players to stay for that senior year if they’re not going way up high. LSU has built a lot of its reputation on being NFLSU, and that has its value. But the practically open encouragement of players to sign with LSU with an eye to leaving three years later needs to be curbed for the good of the program.

“I want them to stay and for us to have a mature team next year,” Orgeron said of this year’s draft-eligible Tigers.

That would be a start. The current players finding pride in their white jerseys and gold helmets and that list of championship teams flanking Tiger Stadium’s north end zone scoreboard would help as well.

LSU’s program has solvable issues, ones that may or may not involve shaking up the coaching staff, for which the athletic department would not seem to be in financial position to do given steep, COVID-19 impacted revenue shortfalls. In the short term, LSU may not win many more games this season, starting with its next game against Alabama, but there is no reason the Tigers can’t show more pride, more fight, and less laughter. I won’t say someone at LSU needs to knock their own teeth out, but a ripped shirt or two would be a suitable sacrifice.

Email Scott Rabalais at srabalais@theadvocate.com