The first painful loss for LSU that comes to mind from the 2017 season was its upset at home to Troy.
The most impactful loss might have come two weeks before.
In Ed Orgeron's first full season as LSU's head coach, the No. 12 Tigers marched into Davis-Wade Stadium and took their biggest beating of the season, a 37-7 loss to an unranked Mississippi State team.
Orgeron said it was like walking into a hornet's nest. Junior defensive lineman Glen Logan called it an ambush. Whatever it was, it set off a change in the culture at LSU, which, two years later, is No. 2 in the country and on a path toward the College Football Playoff in its first trip back to Starkville since its lopsided loss.
“I didn't have them ready,” Orgeron said. “That was one of the loudest stadiums we played in all year. Not only the cowbells, but the music, the fans were into it. Obviously they played lights out.
“What happens with Mississippi State, they're going to pick one game a year that there's a target on. Always seems to be LSU. They're going to play their best game. We're going to expect their best football game. I'm going to have them better prepared.”
Orgeron wants to make sure the Tigers don’t have a repeat appearance in Starkville. Much has changed within the program since that fateful September night in 2017, most notably, players say, in leadership.
Senior defensive linemen Breiden Fehoko calls it “night and day.”.
“It’s player-driven now,” Fehoko said. “I think when you have a team led by players, your coaches can actually do (their) job and just coach. When you’ve got guys who are leading with example, when you’ve got leaders at each position, it makes it so much easier for the coaches to just do their job and just give us the game plan and for us to be accountable for everybody.”
That leadership comes from the top down. Fehoko said players like Joe Burrow, K’Lavon Chaisson, Mike Divinity and Clyde Edwards-Helaire won’t let LSU settle on a win.
Burrow told the team after LSU’s win over Florida last week to not “let good enough get in the way of greatness.” That’s only a glimpse of what Orgeron said he expects from him.
“LSU standard of performance,” Orgeron said. “Joe knows where we want to go. We all know where we want to go. We got to do it one date at a time.”
Burrow is so motivated he was thinking about Tuesday’s padded practice mere hours after Saturday’s game.
“I told him jokingly, I said, ‘I'm glad you're not the head coach; we'd be practicing tomorrow morning,’ ” Orgeron said. “He was kind of PO'd, but I like that. That's what you want your leader to do. That's true leadership."
The Tigers’ leadership has a consistent winning mentality this season, Fehoko said, which is an even bigger chance from two years ago.
Everybody comes in relaxed and does their job. They let the coaches do most of the talking in meetings and fix what they need to fix on the field.
“But you’ve got to treat every game like it’s your last,” Fehoko said. ”You’ve got to treat it like it’s a national championship game. I kind of felt it (on Monday). We came in, you kind of felt like we lost. Everybody’s just kind of really focused. And not in a bad way. We kind of felt like, ‘Let’s move on to the next game. See what we can do to get better.’ You kind of felt it.”