When Ed Orgeron got the LSU job full time at the end of the 2016 season, he received a less than top-tier salary to free up more cash for a big-money staff and an eventual expansion of the program’s cadre of non-coaching analysts.
Less than four years later Orgeron has the big raise to $7 million per season, the spoils justly earned from 2019’s national championship run. And he has highly paid coordinators running his show. Defensive coordinator Bo Pelini gets $2.3 million per year, while offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger earns $1 million per year and new passing game coordinator Scott Linehan is getting just over $800,000.
But how much would all those guys be willing to toss into the collection plate for a few more stops on defense or few more converted third downs? Or even just 1 more yard Saturday at Missouri.
If there is loud and widespread dissatisfaction over LSU’s 1-2 start among Tiger fans, it should be said that it isn’t exactly quiet as a church inside the team’s football complex. Orgeron has been known to go up and down the halls banging on a drum in the early morning hours to get the blood flowing. Now he’s sounding a gong to general quarters, calling all hands on deck to try to bail out this sinking ship of a season before it founders completely.
It starts with Orgeron. And he said he and his coaches have to get it fixed.
“We’ve got to take accountability as coaches,” Coach O said Monday on his weekly video news conference. “We’ve got to have a better scheme and then we’ve got to have better execution.”
The lack of effective scheme and execution was nakedly evident on Saturday, and in LSU’s 44-34 loss to Mississippi State two weeks earlier. Opposing receivers in both games frequently ran wide open. LSU defenders have been caught out of position or letting themselves get easily blocked out of plays. Missouri averaged 5.5 yards per rushing play with its ball carriers frequently skating untouched until they ran past the line of scrimmage.
Even in LSU’s lone win, 41-7 at Vanderbilt, the Commodores’ ground game gashed the Tigers at an uncomfortable rate. On the SEC Network on Saturday night, former Auburn coach Gene Chizik said, “There are are two things you don’t ever want to be called on defense: soft and confused. I see both of those things with this LSU defense right now.”
The shortcomings on offense weren’t as glaring considering LSU scored 41 points and amassed 479 total yards, but they were there. LSU was 0-for-10 on third down at Missouri. The ground game netted just 49 yards, including getting stuffed twice at the 1 in the closing seconds for no gain. That LSU had Ty Davis-Price in there running the ball instead of John Emery, who rushed for over 100 yards at Vandy and was the SEC’s best running back coming in at breaking tackles, was puzzling to say the least.
Speaking of tackles, Missouri was without three of its top four defensive tackles. Monday on the SEC Network, Mizzou coach Eliah Drinkwitz said he was relieved LSU didn’t try a quarterback sneak with the 6-foot-4 Myles Brennan down close considering how short-handed his Tigers were in the trenches.
With a game looming Saturday against LSU’s best opponent at Florida, Orgeron is vowing simplification to try to get things going on both sides of the ball. And Orgeron, a defensive line coach by trade, indicated he is going to take more of a hands-on approach to what formations are called. It certainly didn’t sound like Orgeron is to the point that he is going to take the defensive play calling duties out of Pelini’s hands, but the head coach’s increased input definitely appears to be on the menu.
“Bo’s going to call the defense,” Orgeron said. “I’m going to make sure any one that’s called that we run it right all week and our guys understand it. If we don’t understand it, we’re not running it.”
To bring home the point, Orgeron said LSU may pair things down to one basic, aggressive defensive stand.
“Not letting people run by us and score touchdowns uncontested … that would be a great start,” he said. “I think it's all on mis-assignments, and we’ve got to stop the run. It's not going to be like you're going to see a different defense out there. We're still going to be a 4-3 defense, but maybe we can put people in better positions and play better. Like I say, if we have to play one defense, I'd rather play one defense and get it right.”
The offense probably doesn’t need simplification, but it needs to return to the basics. For all the yards Joe Burrow threw for last season, LSU also had a 1,000-yard rusher in Clyde Edwards-Helaire. There are times when you need to run it on command and the Tigers couldn’t do that Saturday, to their detriment at the goal line.
Whatever happens, it’s quickly becoming evident that Orgeron’s legacy as LSU’s coach is at stake. The players and coaches he brought together to make the 2019 season happen will never be forgotten, and for that he deserves masses of credit. But he also doesn’t want to veer into Chizik territory, who was out at Auburn two years after winning the 2010 national championship with a generational talent in Cam Newton at quarterback.
It’s up to Orgeron to prove he can’t just do it one time, but make LSU a consistent winner at a consistently high level. For now, it starts with just getting a win and moving on from there.