By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
It’s amazing to think how much things can change in just four short weeks.
Four weeks ago LSU was one of the impressive teams on opening weekend after the Tigers bullied BYU 27-0 in the Superdome.
Four weeks ago Matt Canada’s offense looked like a creative force to be reckoned with, running over and around BYU without tipping too much of the play sheet.
Four weeks ago Dave Aranda’s defense had seemingly replaced five starters lost to the NFL and two more to suspension, not allowing the opponent to so much as cross midfield.
Four weeks ago Ed Orgeron looked like the CEO of a well-oiled machine. His team had some areas it needed to clean up, sure, but LSU appeared to be a viable contender in the SEC West.
Four weeks later the calendar turns to October with LSU in a state of in free fall. Its season has unraveled in three short weeks with the meat of the schedule still to go.
It began with a historic rout at the hands of Mississippi State and bottomed out Saturday night as LSU lost 24-21 to a 20-point underdog Troy team. The loss snapped a non-conference home winning streak that stretched back to when this writer was in third grade. To add insult to injury, LSU paid Troy a reported $985,000 for the pleasure.
The way a young team has regressed in the weeks since is troubling to say the least. Injuries have played a factor, exposing a roster that’s entirely too thin along both lines, and the team has gotten virtually nothing from stars Derrius Guice and Arden Key, but that doesn’t absolve the coaching staff of their chief sin: failure to plan.
There’s still time for LSU to salvage its season, but doing so would require keeping the team together through the present turbulence and getting things going back in the right direction.
“We’ve got to fight hard,” Orgeron said. “I’ve got to be a leader. I’ve got to do my best job ever right now. And it’s not about pointing fingers. It’s about looking at the man in the mirror and getting better. Starting with me, but everybody needs to get better.”
That’s all fine and well, but at this point, there doesn’t seem to be a clear plan in place to accomplish that.
Starting with the offense, LSU has seemingly yo-yoed its quarterbacks the past two games. Danny Etling started both and took a beating. Myles Brennan came in to provide a spark, made some plays and then got pulled for making the kinds of mistakes that a freshman quarterback is going to make.
The game plan for Troy made even less sense. Orgeron talked all week about “simplifying” the offense after a close call against Syracuse. Apparently that meant doubling down on the power running game despite starting two true freshmen on the offensive line and not having Derrius Guice.
“As you probably noticed, we didn’t motion or shift much in the first quarter,” said tight end Foster Moreau, who had three catches for 41 yards and two touchdowns. “We just kind of wanted to go T for T and see what we could do, try to resort back to some old playing styles, just play some smash mouth LSU football. Which I know all of our other teammates, we love to do that. That wasn’t working. So we resorted back to the motions and shifts, got things going, got some momentum. We just lost that momentum once we crossed the 40.”
That’s the kind of decision the old regime would’ve come to. It’s also the kind of decision that earned Les Miles and Cam Cameron their walking papers.
The LSU offense is always going to be the focal point of frustrations when things go wrong. That’s just the way it is, but the defense isn’t blameless in Saturday’s debacle by any stretch of the imagination.
To be frank, LSU’s formerly-vaunted defense got pushed around by Troy. Running back Jordan Chunm, who rushed for 191 yards and a touchdown, told reporters after the game that he “saw too many holes” and “had a lot of options” of where to run.
Troy went 10-for-18 converting third downs and converted a pair of fourth downs. The game could’ve been another blowout had Troy not fumbled twice in the red zone to allow LSU to stage a last-ditch comeback in the fourth quarter.
“Well 206 yards rushing, that’s not good,” Orgeron said. “Obviously I haven’t watched the film, but it involves everybody. It’s the line, the linebackers, safety fitting; that big run was a misfit by a young player who was out of position. We got beat on fundamentals tonight; blocking and tackling.”
Now 3-2 with seven SEC games remaining on the schedule, LSU isn’t even a lock to go to a bowl game. Doing so would take three more wins (two if LSU secured a waiver), which at this point is far from a lock.
How many of the remaining games on the schedule would LSU realistically be favored against as currently constituted?
- @ Florida: Nope
- Auburn: Nope
- @ Ole Miss: Maybe
- @ Alabama: Not a snowball’s chance in hell
- Arkansas: Maybe
- @ Tennessee: Maybe
- Texas A&M: Probably not
The way LSU has played the past three weeks, each and every one of those games can be lost. That could be upgraded to “would be lost” if Ole Miss, Tennessee and Arkansas weren’t just as dysfunctional at the moment.
LSU may have hit rock bottom on Saturday night, but a lot still has to change if the Tigers are going to start trending upward again any time soon.