AUBURN, Ala. — Of all the go-to football mantras that live near and dear to Ed Orgeron’s heart, perhaps none get more play than “block out the noise.”
Whether it’s pundits picking LSU to finish fifth in the SEC West, a string of arrests and subsequent suspensions or half the quarterback room transferring during fall camp, the fiery coach preached that same message.
And dammit, the door that separates the visiting locker room from the media at Jordan-Hare Stadium did its best to block out the noise, but it could barely muffle the raucous celebration of the players and coaches who pulled off LSU’s stunning 22-21 upset of Auburn on Saturday night.
“We were stronger!” Orgeron’s gravelly voice bellowed through the lock room walls. “We were ready! We were bigger! We were more physical than them! Yeah baby! Yeah!”
There were some four-letter epithets in there too that aren’t fit for print, but you can use your imagination. It was the same kind of raw elation that poured out of Orgeron as he skipped through the bowels of AT&T Stadium a few weeks ago after LSU finished its demolition of favored Miami in Dallas.
Orgeron got most of that raw Cajun fire out of his system surrounded by his players and staff before putting on a calmer face for his post-game press conference. That’s how he managed to provide his standard go-to response when asked what taking down another top-10 foe meant for him personally.
“It’s not about me,” Orgeron responded, asked if upending Auburn again was the biggest win of his roller coaster coaching career. “It’ll never be about me. We’re 3-0. It’s about this football team and coaching staff.”
With all due respect, LSU’s improbable 3-0 start is very much about its underdog of a coach.
The Tigers have shown the college football world that they’re better than anybody in Baton Rouge or aboard had thought with two wins over top-10 foes in three weeks, both of which came away from the friendly confines of Tiger Stadium.
And Orgeron is subsequently making a Freezing Cold Take of everyone who listed his name among college football coaches on the hot seat in 2018. Things can change in a hurry in this sport, but it’s time to stop treating Orgeron like he’s the punchline of a coach who crashed and burned at Ole Miss.
It’s sort of poetic that Orgeron improved his career record to 34-33 — one game over the .500 mark — by beating Auburn. He’s now 18-6 since taking over at LSU and a respectable 24-8 as a head coach since getting fired at Ole Miss. Winning at a .750 clip is solid, no matter who you are.
This LSU team is proving itself to a reflection of its head coach. Not perfect by any means, but a group that never stopped fighting and appears fueled by those who continue to pick against them week after week.
LSU came flying out of the gate against Auburn as a 10-point underdog in a stadium that’s been a house of horrors for the program since before anybody on the roster was even born yet.
An interception by Grant Delpit on the second play from scrimmage led to an early touchdown and a 7-0 LSU lead. There were numerous chance to stretch the advantage, but LSU led 10-0 before Auburn got on the kind of roll that makes Gus Malzahn’s team a perennial SEC West contender.
Auburn ripped off two touchdown drives to take a 14-0 lead into the half. If that wasn’t demoralizing enough, an attempted fake punt blew up in Orgeron’s face to allow Auburn to score again early in the third quarter.
Trailing by two scores on the road under an avalanche of 21 unanswered points, LSU could have bemoaned the early opportunities it let slip away and packed it in. They could have become resigned to what seemed at the time like certain defeat.
Instead LSU rolled with the haymakers and kept on swinging. That’s a testament to LSU’s mental toughness as a football team, and like it or not, that’s a credit to its head coach.
Quarterback Joe Burrow, the coveted graduate transfer Orgeron went out and landed, led the charge back. He threaded the needle on a 71-yard scoring strike to Derrick Dillon that got LSU within two points late in the fourth quarter.
A defense that appeared discombobulated and tired during Auburn’s run found its footing, getting stop after stop to get the ball back Burrow and Co. The final five Auburn drives ended with three punts, an interception and a missed field goal.
Aided by two pass interference flags, Burrow led LSU on a game-winning drive that ate up the final 5:38 remaining on the clock. The out route he hit to Dee Anderson on third-and-seven and the slant to Stephen Sullivan on fourth-and-seven were nothing short of clutch dimes.
That set the stage for Cole Tracy, the Division II kicker who Orgeron was roundly mocked for using a scholarship on. Tracy calmly trotted out onto the field and drilled the 41-yard field goal to set off jubilation on the LSU sideline and silence the sellout crowd at Jordan-Hare.
“We had confidence that he was going to make it,” Orgeron said. “There was no doubt in my mind that he was going to make that field goal. It worked out perfect.”
If this season works out as perfectly as that fourth-quarter comeback will be determined in the weeks to come. LSU figures to be favorites in its next three games (Louisiana Tech, Ole Miss and at Florida) before a brutal three-game stretch during which Georgia, Mississippi State and Alabama come to town.
It’ll be a different kind of noise that must be blocked out as LSU shifts from constant underdog to one of the 2018 season’s media darlings amid this undefeated start. Press clippings will constitute rat poison to borrow a phrase from Nick Saban, instead of Popeye’s spinach in verbal form.
But for now Orgeron and Co. are going to savor the way they’ve exceeded all expectations through what on paper looked like an impossible start to the schedule. And if you’ve got a problem with his explicit postgame bluster, he’s got an answer for that too.
“I have a right to do that,” Orgeron said defiantly. “And I’ll do it again.”
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