SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Whether it was the monotony of making consecutive trips to Orlando or the circus-like nature of Matt Canada’s imminent departure, Ed Orgeron wasn’t happy with the way LSU prepared ahead of losing to Notre Dame in last year’s Citrus Bowl.
There was a lack of focus on the game at hand that contributed to a 21-17 loss, as Orgeron saw it. The coach made sure to make some changes this time around as LSU prepares to face UCF in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Day.
“It has been different,” Orgeron said. “It started with me. Attention to details from the first practice, demanding, doing things right on a daily basis at practice, having great practice, having team dinners, making them game like, having curfew, demanding everybody is in for curfew. We’ve had 100 percent attendance at every curfew. Everybody’s been early to meetings.”
There’s been a palpably relaxed vibe emanating from coaches and players alike as LSU navigated its way through Fiesta Bowl week.
This has been the first ever trip to the Fiesta Bowl for LSU, and for many of the players, their first time visiting Arizona. Orgeron remarked that many guys had never so much as seen mountains like the ones that surround Phoenix.
However, when it comes to the practice field, Orgeron applauded his team for bringing a business-like focus to the task at hand. Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. local time (noon CT), so the challenge now becomes being ready to roll first thing Tuesday morning.
“We wanted them to be relaxed,” Orgeron said. “We wanted them to focus in on the task at hand when we needed to. But this is also a bowl. This is a reward for them. This is the first time our guys have come out to Arizona. So whether they went hiking or whether they did something that they haven’t done before, I’m glad that they did it. They’ve been in a good mood. I like them to be relaxed.
“But, tomorrow, they understand it’s going to be an intense game for 60 minutes. It’s going to be an early game. We’re going to have an early-morning meeting tomorrow morning to get them up, get them going. It’s going to be a challenge, but I think they’re ready for it.”
Orgeron is renowned for his knowledge of all things defensive line, recruiting and Cajun cuisine, but some things aren’t his area of expertise.
Count whether or not the College Football Playoff should be expanded — and how such a move would impact bowls like the Fiesta — among that list.
“That’s out of my wheelhouse, man,” Orgeron responded to a question about playoff expansion. “I don’t know. If they have a playoff expansion and ask us to be in it, we’re going to go. I’ll tell you that. We’ll go with a smile.”
UCF coach Josh Heupel borrow Orgeron’s phrase toward the end of the joint press conference, the final media availability for either side before kickoff on Tuesday.
A reporter asked Heupel if UCF had any plans to claim another national championship should it defeat LSU on Tuesday, which would cap another undefeated season and extend the Knights winning streak to 26.
“That’s way out of my wheelhouse and way out of what we’re thinking about,” Heupel said. “That’s the reality of it. We’re playing a great opponent. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Coach O and what he’s been able to do there at LSU, the season that they’ve had. I understand, watching the tape, the type of opponent we’re playing. We’re going to go out and compete for 60 minutes and have fun doing it.”
The press conference was informative, but Monday’s true main event will take place later on at the Phoenix Zoo.
What’s going on there? An orangutan will predict the winner of the Fiesta Bowl. The orangutan will be presented with two t-shirts, and which ever one it grabs first is the predicted winner.
Orgeron seemed to get quite a kick out of this little bit of zoo-based prognostication. When asked about his shorthanded secondary, he suggested the animal could get some reps on the back end.
“I was thinking about that orangutan because maybe give him a couple of snaps tomorrow morning,” the coach jokes. “Maybe we could use him in a couple of positions there.”
Scientific studies indicate that orangutans are the only non-human primates we know of that communicate with each other about the past.
But can they predict the future? Tune in Tuesday to find out.