A half-hour before Alabama’s pregame meal Saturday at the Crimson Tide’s team hotel, the electricity inexplicably went off on a perfectly sunny Baton Rouge afternoon.
“Stuff happens,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “And everybody just kind of keeps on keeping on because a lot of things happen.”
No. 1 Alabama ate its pregame meal in the dark, and then gulped down LSU for dinner under the Tiger Stadium lights in a 55-17 all-you-can-score buffet against a Tigers’ defense that stayed open like a 24-hour diner.
The only thing LSU won on a chilly night was the pregame coin toss, and the Tigers inexplicably declined its option to receive until the second half.
Didn’t any of the Tigers’ coaching braintrust realize they needed all the offensive possessions they could get on the front end? Why wait until the start of the second half when you’re likely already having the bejeezus knocked out of you?
Alabama scored six TDs and a field goal in its first seven first half possessions before taking a knee on the eighth possession to trot to the locker room with a 45-14 halftime lead.
Nothing really lost this game in particular for LSU other than Alabama had a Joe Burrow at quarterback, a Ja’Marr Chase at receiver and a Clyde Edwards-Helaire at running back.
Last season when the eventual national champs beat ‘Bama in Tuscaloosa, LSU gained 559 yards as Burrow threw for 393 yards and three TDs, Chase caught 6 passes for 140 yards and 1 TD and Edwards-Helaire ran for 103 yards and 3 TDs and also had a TD catch.
Saturday when Alabama steamrolled for 650 yards, quarterback Mac Jones threw for 385 yards and four TDs, receiver DeVonta Smith had 8 catches for 231 yards and three TDs and running back Najee Harris ran for 143 yards and three TDs.
“We had an excellent offensive scheme and we had the Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback, that’s the reason we beat them (last year),” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. “We’ve still got to get better on defense, and we have to get better on offense and special teams.”
It won’t happen this season. There are just two games left, two more weeks of this totally outmanned and outcoached 3-5 fadin’ fast team that gained more notoriety when it suffered the largest defeat margin ever by a defending national champion.
Nothing wouldn’t have helped LSU, except maybe a few coaching decisions would have kept the underdog Tigers within the 29½-point spread.
One of the curious things about Orgeron this season is he seems genuinely surprised by some of the offensive play calls and/or defensive game plans.
For instance, on LSU’s first possession, it drove 60 yards to the Alabama 15 where the Tigers had fourth down and a yard or less. LSU gambled and lost when running back Ty Davis-Price was stoned for no gain by Alabama freshman defensive lineman Tim Smith.
“To be honest with you, we should have snuck it,” said Orgeron, believing that 6-6, 242-pound freshman quarterback TJ Finley was capable of getting the job done. “I didn’t want to take the ball off the line of scrimmage. It was fourth and inches, and I thought we were going to sneak the ball.”
Then there was defensive coordinator Bo Pelini’s game plan centered on stopping the explosive Smith by double-teaming the former Amite High star.
It might not have been a bad plan had the double-teams frequently involved LSU sophomore defensive back Derek Stingley Jr., a first-team All-American last season as a freshman and one of college football’s best cover corners.
After hardly being assigned to Smith much in the first half – except for his tight coverage on Smith’s ridiculous 20-yard TD one-handed grab – “One-handed catches just kind of happen,” Smith said – Stingley had to go to Orgeron at halftime and ask if he could be assigned more to guard Smith.
“That’s what we talked about at the half,” Orgeron said. “Derek is our best cover guy, let’s put him on DeVonta Smith and we did in the second half.”
By that time, it was too late. At that point ahead by 31 points at the half, Alabama didn’t need to throw the ball much in the final two quarters.
But here’s the problem.
Orgeron, as head coach, should know what offensive play call is being made. He wanted a QB sneak on 4th-and-1 and didn’t get one. Doesn’t he have veto power over a play call?
And doesn’t Orgeron know well-enough to stick his best defender on Smith from the time Smith got off the team bus?
Ever since he was fired as Ole Miss’ coach in 2007, Orgeron said one of the mistakes he made was micro-managing his assistant coaches, including his coordinators.
The only time he has remotely done it at LSU was in 2017 was when he asked then O-coordinator Matt Canada to cut out all the offensive shifts and motions against Troy in the first half. LSU opened the season with a barrage of motion and encroachment penalties, and Orgeron wanted to simplify the offense to reduce mistakes.
Canada tried it for the first half, Orgeron had him switch back to the original offensive scheme in the second half and LSU lost.
Since then, Orgeron has let his coordinators coordinate, but it might be time for him to become actively involved in on-the-field decision-making.
Last season with the Steve Ensminger-Joe Brady pairing as offensive play callers synced with Burrow’s knowledge, Orgeron stayed the hell out of the way. Same thing with then-fourth year defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, who had earned Orgeron’s trust.
This season, Orgeron has tried to cling to that conviction despite Scott Linehan replacing Brady as passing game coordinator and short-yardage play caller and Bo Pelini taking over as defensive coordinator.
These last two games, at Florida the upcoming Saturday and Ole Miss in Tiger Stadium in the Dec. 19 regular season finally, Orgeron needs to be less the CEO and more the SOB.
When Orgeron coached Ole Miss, then-Rebels’ assistant Hugh Freeze used to say an agitated Orgeron fired Freeze and other coaches several times during every game and then would forget about it afterwards.
The mean Coach O needs to return in these last two games of the 2020 COVID-19 season with no reason to straighten things out. And he needs to fire a few coaches and mean it.