ENGSTER: Coach O has chance for redemption after collapse at Starkville

By JIM ENGSTER | President, Tiger Rag Magazine

The appalling SEC opener for LSU at Mississippi State is a bitter reminder that top-flight programs occasionally get embarrassed. Ed Orgeron’s team was devastated at Starkville 37-7 as the Tigers suffered their worst road defeat in three years. Les Miles and Co. were blasted at Auburn by a 41-7 margin on Oct. 5, 2014.

The loss at MSU was so lopsided and unexpected that if Les Miles were still the LSU coach and had compiled the same record as Coach O after last year’s 2-2 start, King Alexander and Joe Alleva would be firing Miles on Sunday, Sept. 17 of this year rather than Sunday, Sept. 25 of last year on the basis of the debacle at State.

Orgeron is 8-3 through eleven games at LSU, better than the 7-4 start for Nick Saban in 2000. The difference is that Saban inherited a program that had endured eight losing seasons in the previous eleven. Orgeron runs a program that has won at least eight games per season for 17 years running.

A more encouraging comparison for Coach O is that Saban lost at home to Alabama 31-0 on Nov. 16, 2002 and was humiliated at the close of the contest by Tide Coach Dennis Franchione, who falsely accused Saban of ridiculing the Alabama team. Less than 14 months later, Saban was hoisting the Crystal Trophy as LSU won the first of two BCS titles.

Saban’s record at LSU and Alabama since being excoriated in defeat by Franchione is 145-25 with five national championships. Franchione’s record at Alabama, Texas A&M and Texas State since his testosterone laden outburst at Saban is 72-72.

This is not the year for Orgeron to shine. It is a season to survive and plant the seeds for a championship run in 2018. When Jerry Stovall stumbled to a 3-7-1 finish in 1981, he was on the brink of being named the National Coach of the Year the following season which included blow-outs of Alabama, Florida and Florida State.

Stovall’s undoing was to have another losing campaign in 1983. Mike Archer was pushed out after two straight losing seasons in 1989-90. Curley Hallman lasted through four losing years (1991-94) while Gerry DiNardo got the axe after losing efforts in 1998-99.

Miles was fired with a 114-34 record. The unpardonable sin was to be at .500 (2-2) after four games in 2016.

With 51 players in the NFL, LSU is the top professional pipeline in the college game. Many members on the current roster will also play in the NFL. There is little doubt that LSU has superior talent to Mississippi State and every future foe with the exception of Alabama. But sometimes the most talented team does not win, and State is guided by a coach, Dan Mullen, who regularly exceeds expectations.

LSU will cruise to victory over two patsies in the next weeks as Syracuse and Troy visit Tiger Stadium. Then comes the next big test on Oct. 7 at Florida. LSU has won four of its last seven visits to Gainesville, and the Gators are vulnerable. The clash in The Swamp in three weeks will determine whether Orgeron will have a strong season or a dud.

Nine times in the last 60 years LSU has lost to an SEC foe by at least 30 points. The worst night in Tiger Stadium history occurred 24 years ago as the Tigers blew a 3-0 lead to Steve Spurrier’s crew and lost 58-3 to Florida. This was Spurrier’s revenge for being passed over for the LSU coaching job in 1986.

Gerry DiNardo recovered from a 56-13 thumping by Florida in 1996 to record ten wins. A year later, LSU upset the No. 1 Gators 28-21 at Death Valley.

One game does not make or break a season or a career. There is no end of the show for Coach O this year. If State beats LSU by 30 points on Oct. 20 of next year in Baton Rouge, it’s curtains for Coach O and Joe Alleva.

Fortunately for Orgeron and Alleva, odds are strong that LSU will rebound and compete for the pinnacle in 2018.

LSU defeats in SEC by 30 or more points (1958-2017)

[table]

Date,Opponent,Score,Margin,

“Oct. 9, 1993”,Florida,3-58,55,Curley Hallman

“Oct. 12, 1996”,at Florida,13-56,43,Gerry DiNardo

“Oct. 5, 2014”,at Auburn,7-41,34,Les Miles

“Sept. 18, 1999”,Auburn,7-41,34,Gerry DiNardo

“Oct. 31, 1992”,at Ole Miss,0-32,32,Curley Hallman

“Nov. 16, 2002”,Alabama,0-31,31,Nick Saban

Sept. 16, 2017“,at Mississippi State,7-37,30,Ed Orgeron

“Oct. 11, 2008”,at Florida,21-51,30,Les Miles

“Nov. 9, 1974”,at Alabama,0-30,30,Charles McClendon [/table]

 

LSU campus forced to face reality

It was a troubling week at LSU as a freshman fraternity pledge for Phi Delta Theta died at a local hospital on the morning of Sept. 14 after a suspected hazing incident that involved alcohol. Max Gruver was 18 years old and had come to LSU from Georgia. His death happened 20 years after Sigma Alpha Epsilon pledge Ben Wynne died from a night of binge drinking at the now defunct Murphy’s bar.

An hour before midnight on the same day that Gruver died, Donald Smart, age 49, was killed on his way to work at Louie’s Café, which is located about ten yards from where Murphy’s was operating in 1997.

Smart was walking to his job when he was shot multiple times in what authorities indicate may have been a racially targeted homicide. Smart worked the overnight shift at Louie’s and had been employed at the popular off campus restaurant, which first operated in 1941, for 20 years as a dishwasher.

Smart’s murder was on Alaska Street, a block from the LSU campus. The lights of Tiger Stadium were shining brightly as police units converged at the scene of the crime. His death was the seventh homicide in seven days in Baton Rouge.

The Capital City is among the most violent cities in America. LSU is often considered an oasis from the hard scrabble streets in the 70802 and 70805 zip codes.

Baton Rouge is two tales in one city as the affluent southern part of the community is oblivious to the violent, drug-addled, poverty-stricken area a few miles away. The deaths of Gruver and Smart show the campus is not immune to the gritty reality north of Florida Boulevard.

LSU will hopefully acknowledge the tragic ends to the lives of Gruver and Smart at Saturday’s game against Syracuse.

 

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