“Coach Orgeron asked me to get the best we could get as always and he went out and got Coach Pelini. I think it’s working out tremendously. There’s no better defensive coordinator in college football.”
– LSU athletic director Scott Woodward speaking at the LSU Board of Supervisors meeting in April when new Tigers defensive coordinator Bo Pelini had his contract with $2.3 million annual salary approved
If you thought LSU’s defense couldn’t look any more clueless and ill-prepared than it did allowing 632 yards in the Tigers’ 45-35 season opening loss to Mississippi State on Sept. 26, well, Saturday happened.
It’s hard to tell what was the most stunning part of No. 17 LSU’s 45-41 loss at Missouri that gave LSU its first 1-2 start since 1994 and the Curly Hallman dazed and confused days.
Was it the 586 yards LSU’s defense allowed? Or was it Missouri receivers running so open and free on some of their routes that they could have made catches reclining in a chaise lounge chair?
Or was it LSU coach Ed Orgeron, answering a postgame question on what was his confidence level so far on his hire of Pelini by saying “I love Bo.”
Orgeron might be the only person in Louisiana, besides Pelini’s immediate family, who still “loves” Bo.
You can make all the excuses you want about LSU losing 32 players and two key coaches off last year’s team, or how COVID-19 canceled spring practices that would have built chemistry or the entire off-kilter vibe of playing a schedule of conference games only in mostly-empty stadiums because of social distancing.
None of it can explain what happened on LSU’s first-ever trip to Missouri’s Faurot Field, a game moved from Baton Rouge because of Hurricane Delta hitting the Louisiana coast Friday night.
A Missouri offense without two starting WRs against LSU and three of its top five WRs because coronavirus quarantine made an LSU defense full of 4 and 5-star signees look like a bunch of chumps recruited 10 minutes before the game off a playground.
A Mizzou freshman redshirt quarterback, making just his third college start after he ended last season tearing an ACL knee ligament, threw 406 yards and for the first four touchdowns of his college career.
“It’s cool to beat LSU, a big team,” said Missouri QB Connor Bazelak after he had taken four quarters of target practice against an LSU defense that wasn’t only on the same page but it wasn’t even reading the same book.
Ten days before LSU’s season opener, Orgeron said. “We are so much better on defense right now than any part of the season last year. I feel Bo Pelini has come in and brought a new energy, a new excitement.”
Now, after LSU has allowed 97 points, the most ever in its first three games, Orgeron basically repeated after Saturday’s debacle what many disgusted Tigers’ fans were screaming at their TVs Saturday.
“We couldn’t stop anybody, we have to get it fixed,” Orgeron said. “It was a really poor showing on defense. . .we couldn’t stop the run. Receivers wide open downfield. It was embarrassing. . .it’s just not LSU defense, we’ve got to play better. . .too many missed assignments, too many missed calls, missed tackles.”
But remember, he still loves Bo.
LSU’s one-dimensional offense – career passing and receiving yardage performances by quarterback Myles Brennan and receiver Terrace Marshall Jr. – kept the Tigers in the tit-for-tat scoring match that started with a bang.
On Missouri’s fourth offensive snap of the game, Bazelak lofted a 58-yard flea-flicker TD pass to Tauskie Dove who caught the ball behind two desperately retreating LSU defenders.
“It gave us confidence we could move the ball whenever we wanted on these guys,” Bazelak said of Mizzou’s quick scoring strike.
You could say it was lousy LSU coverage, but the DBs were in the right zip code compared to Bazelak’s third-quarter 41-yard TD to Micah Wilson or his 69-yard fourth-quarter completion to Chance Luper that set Mizzou’s game-winning score.
They were so open they were lonely.
LSU’s alleged pass rush rarely touched Bazelak, but Brennan wasn’t afforded the same protection.
He completed 29 of 48 passes for 430 yards and four touchdowns with 11 completions for 235 yards and three TDs going to Marshall. Brennan took some frightful hits from pass rushers, often on third down when the Tigers were 0-of-10 on conversions.
But to his credit, he and Marshall took LSU 75 yards to the Missouri 1-yard line where it had four downs in the last 90 seconds to win the game.
Last season for the Tigers when passing game coordinator Joe Brady (now offensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers) was calling the red zone offensive plays, it was often unpredictable and especially fun to watch inside the 5-yard line.
What we’ve seen so far this season from Scott Linehan, Brady’s replacement, is stubbornness if he indeed is calling the red zone plays as the media was told in the preseason.
In the opener vs. Mississippi State, LSU took its opening possession of the second half 73 yards to MSU 2 where it had a first-and-goal.
First down handoff to running back Tyrion Davis-Price for no gain. Second down hand off to Tyrion Davis-Price for no gain. Brennan sacked on an obvious third-down passing situation. LSU kicked the field goal.
With the game on the line Saturday and Missouri playing nine defenders in the box, there was a first-down handoff to Davis-Price for no gain and a second-down handoff to Davis-Price for no gain. Predictable third-and-fourth Brennan passes for Marshall were knocked down.
“They (Missouri) were just sitting on the route (on the last play rollout throw) for Marshall,” Brennan said.
If a defense is sitting on a route, it pretty much knows what’s coming.
And running into nine defenders crowding the line? It’s the very reason Orgeron said why his team had just 20 rushing plays for 49 yards vs. Mizzou.
No one expected LSU this season to come close to last year’s 15-0 national championship perfection, that this team would be a work in progress.
But few people also believed there would not be such a huge immediate drop-off, especially on defense. Brennan and the offense are averaging 38.6 points, enough for the Tigers to be unbeaten against three teams that were 14½, 21 and 14-point underdogs respectively.
Instead, LSU is slinking into Gainesville next Saturday to play Florida, whose defense gave up 543 yards in the No. 4 Gators’ 41-38 loss at Texas A&M.
It’s getting to the point Orgeron’s “Tell The Truth” Mondays in which there’s a candid film review between coaches and players of the previous games, may start stretching into Tuesday.