Game on at Arkansas? Coach O and the Tigers don’t know yet

Terrill Weil

The itinerary for LSU’s football team Friday includes a meeting with players at 10 a.m., later boarding busses to Baton Rouge’s airport with an anticipated arrival in Fayetteville, Ark. between 4:30-5 p.m.

The team has bed check at 9 p.m. and face a 7 a.m. wake-up call Saturday in anticipation of kickoff off Saturday’s Southeastern Conference Western Division game with Arkansas at 11 a.m. in Reynolds Stadium.

However, there may be extenuating circumstances surrounding Arkansas’ ability to play the game, a development that’s not expected to gain clarity until time Friday once the school receives information on the team’s latest round of coronavirus test results.

“I didn’t even know that,” LSU head football coach Ed Orgeron said on Thursday’s post-practice news conference. “As far as I know we’re going to play. We’re getting on that plane and we’re going.”

LSU (2-3) has already been on either side of rulings by the SEC’s office when it’s come to having to postpone football games amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Tigers have already had their original game at Florida pushed back to Dec. 12 because of an outbreak within the Gators’ program.

LSU had its Nov. 14 home game with Alabama postponed when the Tigers experienced their own outbreak with several players reportedly testing positive for COVID-19 and an undisclosed number requiring the league’s mandatory 14-day quarantine because of contact tracing.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that at least one Arkansas player and two staff members tested positive for the virus on Sunday. Head coach Sam Pittman, who didn’t coach in last Saturday’s game at Gainesville because he was quarantined because of COVID-19, said Thursday his team’s roster was “thin” but wanted to play the game with LSU.

“If we have good test results tomorrow, by golly we’re going to play,” Pittman said. “We want to play.”

The SEC mandates that teams have 53 scholarship players available to play, including a quarterback, seven offensive linemen and four defensive linemen.

Pittman didn’t specify which areas his team’s roster was deficient.

“It’s a fluid situation, we’ve got to deal with it,” Orgeron said. “I’ve been in that situation two weeks ago. We wanted to play Alabama. We were way under the (53 player) mark. It would have been dangerous for our team to play and according to the rules we couldn’t play. If they can’t play and it’s under the mark, I understand. It’s a fluid situation. We want to play. We’re ready to go.”

Here’s what else Orgeron had to say:

Opening remarks

“I feel like we’ve had our best week of practice so far this season. It started Monday morning in the weight room. (LSU strength and conditioning coach) Tommy Moffitt called me, the guys were rested, fired up, ready to go. They had a players-only meeting with Terrace Marshall on Monday. Tuesday was a physical practice. Wednesday was a third-down day, (they) came out with a lot of energy. There was a lot of energy out there today. By far our best week of practice and we’re looking forward to getting on the plane. It’s going to be a business trip. We know this going to be a tough battle. It’s a well-coached team in Arkansas, but we’re looking forward to playing them.”

On whether you could play Arkansas somewhere else on the schedule

“That’s out of my control. The league handles that. They make those decisions. My job’s to get this team ready to play. I feel like we had a great week of practice. We’re ready to go. We’ll just see.”

On the uniqueness of learning the fate of a game the day before

“No. It’s 2020. You’ve got to deal with it. We’ve been in that position, but on the other side. I understand. I hope we get to the play. We’re going to wake up tomorrow knowing that we’re going to play. That’s going to be our mindset. If they tell us we can’t play, there’s nothing we can do about it.”

On the prospect of getting notice Friday that Saturday’s game is called off

“I haven’t thought about it. This is the first I’ve heard of it. My mindset’s been on going to play Arkansas. I’m going to wake up tomorrow going to play Arkansas. If we don’t, we’re going to have to make a decision.”

On the return of Dare Rosenthal to the offensive line and the lift it provides to the line

“It’s been phenomenal. Cam Wire’s done a good job. Dare came back in good shape. He’s had a good week of practice. He’s still with the second team, but he is going to play. Dare’s kind of a team leader. Everybody loves him. He has some spirit about him, he brought some spirit at practice. He gives a lot of confidence to the offensive line, he gives confidence to the quarterback, he gives confidence to the head coach.”

On team’s morale if they have to go a month without playing a game

“This week they were the most fired up they’ve been all year. There’s tremendous leadership on our football team. But it is going to take some motivation, it’s going to take the guys to keep on going. These guys want to play, they want to represent LSU and end up on a good note.”

On the challenge Arkansas’ up-tempo offense presents

“We practiced a bunch on the hurry-up offense. We have a good system. We have what we call “fastball”, we run them every day. Guys got tired doing it. Obviously, we’re going to have to rotate our guys. The shifts, the motions, fly sweeps, crossing routes, play-action passes – all the things we’ve had trouble with – we have practiced and practiced over and over again. We’re going to have to do it against another offense full speed. It’s all about eye discipline, it’s all about communication. I think we made some improvement but we’re going to find out.”

On status of your starting quarterback

“We haven’t made the final decision. It looks like he’s (TJ Finley) going to start although Max (Johnson) had a great two-minute (drill) today. We have a plan for Max. We have some different plays that Max can run, different plays that TJ can run. It looks like it will be TJ but I am playing Max.”

On the team’s sense of urgency

“I sense a lot of urgency by the way they practiced. It started Monday in the weight room. These guys made their minds up that the standard of performance is unacceptable. The coaches have made their minds up the standard of performance is unacceptable. It starts with me. We’ve all got to get better. We’re hungry to go prove what we’ve been doing for the last three weeks. We’ve been working our tails off.”

On how the running backs have looked this week

“They came back with fresh legs. John Emery and Tyrion (Davis-Price) are running very well. We’ve added some stuff to our running game. Hopefully, it’s going to help. I think it is. We’re going to rotate all backs. I’m not sure who is going to start yet, but all of them will play.”

On whether the defense can apply pressure to Arkansas’ offensive line, effect QB Feleipe Franks

“The key is not letting him run. The guy’s a dual-threat quarterback. You can’t wide in your rush, and you can’t give him lanes because he’ll break contain and make some big plays. If we stay in our lanes, be disciplined I think we can put some pressure on the quarterback.”

On Arkansas’ secondary which lead the nation in interceptions

“(Arkansas defensive coordinator) Barry Odom does a tremendous job of disciplined coverage. A lot of their coverage is zone, they’re in the right spots. They have their eyes on the quarterback. He dropped eight against Mississippi State. I think they had six interceptions against Ole Miss by dropped eight. He’s going to have a game plan. We’ll probably know what the game plan is right away. Usually he shows you his game plan, sticks to it. He’s very disciplined football coach. We’re going to have to be smart with the football. The first thing I told the football team is we have to go on the road and win the turnover battle. That’s critical of taking care of the ball.”

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