The question put to Ed Orgeron was whether his LSU team can get to where it wants to be without a more effective running game.
Orgeron was, as often, candid in response.
“I don’t think so,” he said Monday to crack open what is always one of LSU’s most-anticipated weeks against Auburn. “Not at all. You’re going to have to run the football.
“There’s some things we can do to help our offense. We need to find a way to run the football. We have some great backs. We need to find something in the run game that can give us some relief so we’re not always throwing the football.”
The question, and Orgeron’s answer, are well taken. The Tigers rank 122nd in the 130-team Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) in with just 80.0 yards rushing per game.
This LSU football team’s biggest flaw is an easy mark. And yet, LSU is 3-1 going into the Auburn game, having rolled up three straight wins after most recently pulling out a 28-25 victory Saturday at Mississippi State.
Derek Stingley Jr. suffered the same injury at practice last Wednesday that kept him out of preseason camp.
When you follow a team up close it’s hard to see past its imperfections. But looking beyond LSU’s stately oaks and broad magnolias, there’s a whole college football nation out there full of teams with imperfections.
Perennial national contender Clemson is already out of the CFP hunt with two losses, the latest in overtime to an N.C. State team that lost 24-10 at Mississippi State. The entire ACC is out of the hunt, really, unless you believe in Wake Forest or Boston College.
Oklahoma, which nearly fell to a furious Tulane comeback in Week 1, skates by from one narrow escape to the next. Ohio State already has a loss and has had a player quit midgame Saturday. The two most dominant teams are the top-ranked ones, Alabama and Georgia, but the Crimson Tide was maybe a missed Florida extra point away from facing the unpredictability of overtime against the Gators.
Each season is an unknown, Orgeron said. True enough. True also that his team and his youth-movement infused coaching staff is learning and improving — except for the running game — week by week. And while it’s no stretch to make dire predictions for LSU amid the final eight games littered with land mines like Auburn, Florida, Ole Miss, Bama, Arkansas (yes, Arkansas looks for real) and Texas A&M, the unpredictability meter is pegging the needle this season. And isn’t that one of the things we love most about college football, the wacky, week-to-week randomness of it?
Coaches, of course, are into eliminating the unknowns. Smoothing out the bumps. Orgeron knows as well as anyone his team has limitations, problems that might never be fully rectified this season.
But LSU has assets, too. It has a growing quarterback in Max Johnson, who doesn’t look at all likely to give up his starting post when Myles Brennan is cleared to play a month from now (Orgeron reconfirmed Brennan’s status Monday). Not when he’s throwing at least three touchdown passes a game — 15 in all, tied for second nationally — most of them to All-American candidate Kayshon Boutte. The Tigers only got one sack at State because of its drop eight coverage defense engineered to neutralize the Bulldogs’ Air Raid offense, but it still possesses a fearsome pass rush that leads the nation with 5.0 sacks per game.
No word on when Derek Stingley Jr. may be back in action at cornerback, but Dwight McGlothern got a passing grade Saturday. And LSU could ask Cade York to match Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker’s NFL-record 66-yard field goal Sunday and be reasonably expect he could make it.
“Once you get to play games, you see the strengths of your team, the strengths of your staff and then you get to work on those strengths,” Orgeron said. “You get to work on the weaknesses, and you get to fix it.
“We still have a lot of things to fix, I think our offensive line needs to jell a little more to get us to where we want to go. We still need to eliminate the mistakes that we’re making on defense that are giving up touchdowns. And we still need to get better on third down, so there’s some things that we need to improve on.
“But do we have the players to do it? Yes. Do we have the coaching staff to do it? Yes.”
In other words, LSU has issues, but so does everyone else. Like Auburn. Those Tigers are dealing with a potential quarterback controversy between former LSU starter TJ Finley and Bo Nix, and just fired their wide receivers coach after a sweaty-palmed 34-24 win over lowly Georgia State.
Problem for problem, LSU’s in a better place.
The SEC announced on Monday that the Oct. 9 LSU-Kentucky contest is scheduled for a 6:30 p.m. CST kickoff on the SEC Network.
Remembering Gardner Dickinson: Dustin Johnson led the U.S. to a resounding 19-9 win over Europe this weekend in the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits, going a perfect 5-0-0.
Johnson is the fourth American and first since Larry Nelson in 1979 to win all five of his Ryder Cup matches. The feat was first accomplished in 1967 by the great Arnold Palmer and Gardner Dickinson, a former LSU golfer who died in 1998. Palmer and Dickinson teamed for two of their wins that year in a 23½-8½ U.S. rout of Great Britain-Ireland at Champions in Houston, the most lopsided result in Ryder Cup history.
Dickinson had seven PGA Tour wins and led LSU to the 1947 NCAA championship. But he’s probably most remembered for a quote about the game to which just about any golfer can agree:
“They say golf is like life, but don't believe them,” Dickinson said. “Golf is more complicated than that.”