By CODY WORSHAM
Tiger Rag Editor
Ed Orgeron could have been talking about anybody when he responded to an inquiry concerning Danny Etling after LSU’s 45-10 win over Southern Mississippi on Saturday night, a second straight dominant showing from the Tigers in as many games under Orgeron’s watch. The question addressed whether Etling had progressed beyond a label as merely “good.” Orgeron’s response indicated his mind was elsewhere.
“We’re going to be challenged coming up now,” he said. “The competition is going to get a little bit stiffer and we’re going to see if we can make those tight throws. We’re going to see if we can make those throws under duress. We’re going to see what happens when he gets knocked around a little bit. I think he’s able to do that, but we’re going to get tested.”
Substitute “throws” for “runs” in the quote above, and O could’ve been speaking about Derrius Guice; “tackles,” and he could’ve been speaking about Kendell Beckwith, Jamal Adams, or any of the other players comprising LSU’s stout-and-only-getting-better defense; “calls,” and he could have been speaking about himself.
What’s true of Etling is true of Guice and Adams and Beckwith and Orgeron and everyone else from the best player to the worst walk-on.
LSU, finally, is going to be challenged. LSU, finally, is going to be tested.
If the hypothesis being tested is “Can Ed Orgeron be the head coach of the LSU Tigers?”, the first two iterations of the Coach O experiment at LSU have yielded overwhelmingly positive results. Orgeron’s been just the catalyst the Tigers needed, following Les Miles’ sudden but not unexpected firing after LSU’s second loss before October. Following the same methods he implemented at USC in 2013, when he went 6-2 as interim head coach, Orgeron’s shortened and labeled practices — ‘Tell the Truth Monday,’ ‘Competition Tuesday,’ etc. — and increased film sessions to produce a team that’s, so far, looked sharper, fresher, and more dominant on Saturdays since his battlefield promotion.
But the results of the experiment, while thus far promising, are insufficient. The conditions have been too favorable. Wins over Missouri, no better than the 12th-best team in the SEC, and a 4-3 Southern Miss team will earn Orgeron style points, but they’ll not land him his dream job.
However, wins over Ole Miss, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, and Texas A&M — LSU’s next five opponents — will do exactly that.
If that stretch sounds exceptionally difficult, that’s because it is. According to stats from ESPN’s David Ching, LSU has the nation’s toughest schedule the rest of the way and had just a four percent chance of both winning out and winning the conference — which, of course, would require LSU to win out.
— David Ching (@davidching77) October 17, 2016
Of the remaining five foes on LSU’s scheudle, four rank in the top 17 ESPN’s Football Power Index: Ole Miss (12), Alabama (1), Florida (17), and Texas A&M (7). Only Arkansas at No. 33 ranks outside of that mark, and the Razorbacks a) are coming off of a resounding win over Ole Miss and 2) have beaten LSU in consecutive seasons by an average of 17 points per game.
The combined record of LSU’s first six opponents: 21-16.
The combined record of LSU’s final five opponents: 26-6.
Orgeron’s trial by fire will begin with the school that last fired him. Ole Miss axed Coach O in 2007 after three seasons and a combined SEC record of 3-21. Then-athletic director Pete Boone had planned on keeping Orgeron in 2008 — both he and Chancellor Robert Khayat had given Orgeron a vote of confidence just a month earlier — but after the Rebels blew a 14-point fourth-quarter lead in the Egg Bowl, Boone pulled the trigger on the Orgeron era at Ole Miss.
Surely, that’ll weigh on Coach O’s mind in the week leading up to the game. But despite his openness with the press and public since taking over for Miles, Orgeron will, wisely, play this one close to the vest.
As he’s preached since his promotion, it’s about his players, not himself.
“It’s going to be for these guys,” Orgeron said of Saturday’s matchup. “Whatever happened there happened for a reason and I moved on. I’ve been a coach at several other places before. I don’t have many memories of that place that I want to remember, so I kind of just let it go, and I moved forward and I’m glad to be an LSU Tiger, I tell you that.”
How long he’ll remain an LSU Tiger remains to be seen. He couldn’t have gotten off to a better start, but the next five games will spell Orgeron’s future. Just a single loss could spell the end of Orgeron’s time as LSU’s head coach, fair or not. But win them all, and it’d be hard to imagine anyone else leading the Tigers out of the locker room come 2017.