Coach O says his 2020 Tigers should improve weekly

LSU QB Myles Brennan gets his first college start in Saturday afternoon's 2020 season opener vs. Mississippi State in Tiger Stadium

LSU football coach Ed Orgeron delivered a gentle reality check to temper unrealistic expectations during his Monday Zoom video conference previewing Saturday’s season opener against Mississippi State in Tiger Stadium.

The 2019 national championship season is over. The 2020 Tigers have 17 new starters, including quarterback Myles Brennan.

So, even ranked at No. 5 in the Coaches poll and No. 6 by the Associated Press, preseason hype needs to be dialed back.

“I don’t want to put too much pressure on this football team because there’s a lot of young players out there,” Orgeron said. “We have a first-year quarterback. I remember when Joe (Burrow) was a first-year quarterback (in 2018). Not everything was perfect all the time, and I don’t think everything is going to be perfect.

“I’m looking forward to obviously winning one game at a time but getting better and giving these guys a chance to grow and learn each other. You’ll find out a lot about yourself after the first game. It should be tremendous improvement. You’re going to see a team that’s going to improve every week, but there’s no room for error. To get where we want to go and to be the type of team we want to be, there’s no do-overs. Ten straight SEC games, one game at a time.”

Here’s Orgeron on a variety of subjects:

On the importance of starting the season after a summer of uncertainty

“LSU, as I was born and raised, everybody lives for Saturday afternoon, Saturday night, Death Valley, to be able to see those Tigers play again, gather around the TV, cook some gumbo, make some etouffee, have some parties, going back to doing the things we can, obviously following the COVID-19 protocol. Getting back to a sense of normalcy is going to mean a lot for the state of Louisiana and all the great LSU fans we have out there and especially our football team.

“Our football team has been working hard, under extreme pressure, hearing they are going to play, they’re not going to play, they gotta believe the coach, hey, we’re playing, we’re going to compete to play. They never skipped a practice because of too many COVID guys out or nothing like that. We always kept on marching through, and now these guys are ready.”

On if any players will miss the opener because of testing positive for COVID-19

“We’re currently very low with guys that do have COVID. We’re going to test three times throughout the week, so things could change, obviously. But right now, we’re in good shape. We have very few guys that are out because of COVID.”

On new starting quarterback Myles Brennan

“I’ve always believed in Myles Brennan. He’s an excellent young man. He waited his turn, a lot of respect. Has a strong arm, probably a stronger arm than Joe Burrow. Can extend plays with his feet, not quite like Joe did. He’s learning the offense. Spring kind of hurt for him not being with us, or us not practicing with his receivers, he did a good job of catching up during COVID and catching up in the summertime. He was very accurate with the football in all three scrimmages. The only thing that we don’t know, and I do believe that he’s going to do very well is how he’s going to do in the fire, and the only way to know that is put him in the fire. I trust Myles. He’s become a team leader. Short passing game is his strength. The deep ball is something that he is very good at. But that takes time for him and his receivers to get the timing down and hopefully he can improve in that throughout the year.”

On if Brennan will have the same input into game-planning as Joe Burrow did last season

“Joe earned his way. I put Joe in his second year. I said, listen, `If there are some plays that you want to run, you let me know, let Coach (Steve) Ensminger know. If there’s some stuff that you don’t like, let me know.’ That’s how much I trusted Joe. That was after a year of starting, and that was after a year of leading the team. This is Myles’s first year, so obviously he’ll have some input, but it’s basically yes, sir, no, sir right now and go out there and do your job. That’s it.”

On if the passing game can as good as last season

“It all depends on what the quarterback can do. And last year the decisions that Joe made were incredible. And he was a coach on the football field. And then now, this year, Myles can do the same thing, but those guys have gotta get their timing down. They gotta get used to being under fire together. Joe had been there a year. Give these guys second year together. We weren’t near as good at the beginning of Joe’s career as we were at the end, obviously. We need to be patient, show that these guys are going to improve.”

On LSU’s running backs

“Chris (Curry) is going to be the first back in, but I consider him, Tyrion (Davis-Price) and John (Emory Jr.) all starters. They’re going to get equal reps. They’re going to do things very well, and they’re going to complement each other, and eventually as the season goes on, let’s see who our leading back is. But throughout the camp, if I had to say there was a lead back, it would be Chris Curry. He had a tremendous camp, but so did the other two guys. They’re very explosive. We talked about it this morning.

“If we have one strength on our offense, we feel that it is the running back group led by Kevin Faulk, who’s done a tremendous job. Kevontre Bradford is an outstanding running back, and so is Josh Williams; a young man from Houston. We gave him a scholarship, so we feel we have five backs that can go in the game and do very well.”

On JC transfer Ali Gaye starting at left defensive end

“I like his range. He’s 6′ 6. He’s smart. Works hard every day. Very humble young man, wants to learn, physical at the point of attack. A very good pass rusher. He’s tall; he’s got a lot of batted balls. Him and Travez Moore are going to anchor down that left end. They’ll probably have equal reps backed up by Jarell Cherry, but right now that Ali is starting. He’s earned that starting position. He knows his assignments. He does well, plays hard. He’s going to have a great season for us.”

On Mississippi State under new coach Mike Leach

“Mike Leach has done a very good job wherever he’s at with the air raid. We’ve been studying his offense at Washington State, and his running backs could hit the hole, could bounce it out and make people miss.

“COVID-19 was an advantage for us in some ways that we weren’t out spring recruiting, and we were able to game plan all of our teams on our schedule. Mississippi State was on the (original) eight-game schedule. We had already game planned them. You gotta look at Washington State for scheme on offense. You gotta look at San Diego State scheme for defense (because of a new coordinator who came back to SDS), and then you gotta look at Mississippi State for personnel. You’re really scouting three different teams, it’s three times the work.” 

On any update from defensive lineman Tyler Shelvin, who opted out of the 2020 season

“Tyler Shelvin, I have not heard from. Everything is quieting down. Obviously, it’s Monday of game week, so he hasn’t returned. I’m not going to rule it out. But I have not heard a word from his family or from him. I don’t know where that’s at.”

On where Neil Farrell Jr. fits in at defensive tackle after his return to the team last week

“Neil is earning his way back, hasn’t been in pads yet because of the acclimation period. Still has some conditioning to do. We all know Neil can play. How fast he returns and how fast he works his way up the depth chart is basically up to him. And he’s come back with a great attitude and wants to work. If Neil is in shape and he’s working, Neil could pass, be a starter for us. He’s that good. But I can see him starting to get some game reps. I don’t know if he’s going to be ready. I think Tuesday and Wednesday are going to be some big days for him.”

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Ron Higgins

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