By GLENN GUILBEAU
Tiger Rag Featured Columnist
BATON ROUGE – No. 1 Alabama looks unbreakable once again, but who knows? LSU has The Three Amigos for this year’s matchup with a few new wrinkles on offense, a new quarterback, a new offensive coordinator, a new defensive coordinator, tailback Leonard Fournette returning to form and some definite wild cards coaching on the sidelines.
Coach 0 (auditioning head coach Ed Orgeron), Coach A (defensive coordinator Dave Aranda) and The En-Slinger (new offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger) are the Three Amigos.
“We’re going to be very excited to play a very good football team,” Orgeron said after the Tigers ran over Ole Miss, 38-21, Saturday with Fournette setting a school game records for rushing with 284 yards and for average yards per carry at 17.8.
“We’re going to be up for the challenge,” O said. “It’s going to be a physical football game. They have very good athletes. They are very well-coached, but so are we.”
He is right on there.
This will be the game of Orgeron’s life, and he has two weeks to get ready for it on Nov. 5 after an open date this weekend. LSU has not beaten Alabama since the last time they played on Nov. 5, which was in 2011 – 9-6 in overtime in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The Tigers have lost five straight since, including two by 21 points – 21-0 in the BCS national title game later in the 2011 season in New Orleans and 38-17 in 2013 at Alabama – and last year by two touchdowns, 30-16, at Alabama.
No. 1 Alabama, 8-0 overall and 5-0 in the Southeastern Conference after dismissing former No. 6 Texas A&M by 33-14 on Saturday, is favored by 10 to 14 points to win again over No. 19 LSU (5-2, 3-1 SEC).
Should Orgeron somehow upset the Tide, it would obviously be hard to imagine him not getting serious consideration for the permanent job. Such a win might mean this scenario:
One mob of euphoric LSU fans may carry athletic director Joe Alleva on their shoulders to meet the other mob of euphoric LSU fans carrying Orgeron on their shoulders at midfield, where a pen and contract wait on top of a barbecue pit.
There is no telling how electric LSU’s pregame locker room will be shortly before kickoff a week from Saturday. There is no telling what Orgeron may try. There is no telling what the En-Slinger may draw from his holster of plays and – more importantly – from his holster of formations that enhance matchup advantages and help plays instead of just saying, “Here we are. Here is Fournette. Come stop us,” which tended to be the run game plan last year.
An LSU win could mean an Orgeron permanent hire, which would likely mean an Ensminger as offensive coordinator permanent hire as well.
The En-Slinger will sure as shootin’ be on his game as well. This will be a rare chance for him to match bullets against the Clint Eastwood of College Football – aka Alabama defensive genius Nick Saban.
The Crimson Tide is great again this year, but it does not have two platoons on defense as it had last year as it lost six starters. Its defense is putting up similar numbers and has an uncanny knack for scoring points (No. 1 in the nation in defensive touchdowns with nine). But it will not be as good as the bunch that suffocated Fournette last year in holding him to 31 yards on 19 carries for a 1.6-yard per carry average.
LSU is not as one-dimensional and as dependent on Fournette this year as it was last year. Danny Etling is the best quarterback LSU will have for an Alabama game since Zach Mettenberger came within a first down of beating the Tide in 2012 before losing 21-17. He is up to fifth in the SEC and 49th nationally in passing efficiency at 136.7 on 89-of-147 passing for 1,129 yards with three interceptions and seven touchdowns.
The defenses LSU has played in the Orgeron Era have been average to bad, but Ensminger has nevertheless proven that he can call and plan a better game than previous offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, who more than anything else got Les Miles fired. Miles didn’t let his offensive coordinators coordinate, you say? Well then, how did Jimbo Fisher manage to do so well as LSU’s offensive coordinator with Miles? And Gary Crowton, too, for that matter for one year anyway – the one that Miles gave him a decent quarterback.
The En-Slinger and The Etling will be ready along with new wide receiver weapon D.J. Chark, who leads the team with three touchdown receptions from 37, 40 and 80 yards. Fournette can’t wait as he no longer feels the weight of the offense and the Red Scare on his shoulder pads.
“Whew,” Fournette said and laughed when asked how much the offense has changed under Ensminger Saturday.
“A lot,” he said. “I mean, how wide open was D.J. Chark? I don’t know what he ran, because I was blocking. The vibe of the offense has completely changed, and knowing that we have those play makers on our team to make those catches is great. Malachi (Dupre) and Travin (Dural) have been making big plays.”
Dupre led LSU with five catches for 52 yards against Ole Miss, and Dural is beginning to return to form. He caught four for 48 yards.
The only bad thing from LSU’s end is this open date. For the second time in just three weeks, LSU is on a roll and has to take a week off.
Alabama’s offense, meanwhile, does not look as dominant as last year’s offense. There is no Derrick Henry. And freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts is 44th in the nation in passing efficiency and fourth in the SEC just ahead of Etling at 140.1 on 128-of-203 passing for 1,549 yards and 11 touchdowns with five interceptions. He is the best dual threat quarterback of the Saban era at LSU, though. Still a freshman, however, and good defensive game plan by Aranda could create havoc. LSU has more talent on defense than any opponent Alabama will face all season. It is Aranda’s job to lasso that. What will be key for LSU will be in-game adjustments, and Aranda came through in flying colors in that department against Ole Miss, which led 10-0 early and gradually disintegrated.
The wild card factor is in LSU’s favor for this game like in no other Alabama game since Miles’ early years. When Saban does lose, it is more often when he is matching wits against a coach or coaches for the first time or two. Remember, Miles beat him three out of their first five meetings, including two of those with equal talent. Once Saban got used to him, it was over. Same thing happened with Saban and Urban Meyer for the most part.
Saban’s first Alabama team in 2007, which was not very good, did have trouble with Orgeron’s last Ole Miss team, which was much worse, in a 27-24 Tide win. But that was Ole Miss. Saban will be busy preparing for the En-Slinger wild card as well.
Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has gone against Aranda and did quite well in a 35-17 win over Wisconsin last season, but Aranda has more talented and fast players now. He also does not have the burden of history in this series as all LSU fans, players and many coaches do. And that’s a good thing. He’s fresh, and he is just now coming into his own with his first LSU defense, which improves every week.
It could be very interesting. Maybe for just a half or three quarters, but it could be very interesting.
GUILBEAU POLL: 1. Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC). 2. Texas A&M (6-1, 4-1). 3. Tennessee (5-2, 2-2). 4. Auburn (5-2, 3-1). 5. LSU (5-2, 3-1). 6. Florida (5-1, 3-1). 7. Arkansas (5-3, 1-3). 8. Ole Miss (3-4, 1-3). 9. Kentucky (4-3, 3-2). 10. Vanderbilt (4-4, 1-3). 11. Mississippi State (2-5, 1-3). 12. Georgia (4-3, 2-3). 13. South Carolina (3-4, 1-4). 14. Missouri (2-5, 0-3).
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “After watching the tape, I might not be as excited. … No, I’m just joking.”
—LSU interim coach Ed Orgeron on playing Alabama on Nov. 5.