PASADENA, Calif. – LSU disproved here Saturday in iconic Rose Bowl Stadium the theory that no two season openers are alike.
Aside from not having an injured Myles Brennan throwing bullets as the Tigers’ starting quarterback, LSU’s 38-27 loss to UCLA had the same familiar stench as last year’s season-opening 44-34 debacle defeat by Mississippi State in Tiger Stadium.
A.W.O.L. running game. Pass protection shakier than a drug addict going cold turkey. Opposing receivers running free catching TDs. Few, if any, in-game or halftime adjustments.
And the same postgame rhetoric from LSU coach Ed Orgeron, who is now 5-6 since 2019 Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow and wonderboy passing game coordinator Joe Brady moved on to the NFL after the Tigers’ 15-0 national championship season.
Orgeron after the Mississippi State loss a year ago: “When we don’t win, I told the team put it on me.”
Orgeron after the UCLA loss: “It’s my responsibility, I told that to the team.”
Orgeron after Mississippi State loss: “We did not protect the quarterback. When did protect the quarterback, we were late on some throws, we weren’t right on a couple of reads. . .we dropped too many balls, way too many mistakes.”
Orgeron after the UCLA loss: “At times, he (starting QB Max Johnson) was off. He threw some plays in the dirt. He was hot and cold.”
Orgeron after Mississippi State loss: “Their crossing routes really hurt us tonight.
Orgeron after the UCLA loss: “Missed several crossing routes, several missed assignments. . .those things continue to haunt us and hurt us and we’ve got to continue to get it fixed. Eliminate those crossing routes and why we busted them.”
At SEC Football Media Days in July, Orgeron said that “if it’s not done the way I want, I’m going to fix it. If I see something broke, I’m fixing it.”
After the UCLA loss, Oregron said, “We’ve got to be more diverse (in the run game). We have to have multiple runs from multiple sets, which we didn’t do tonight.”
So why didn’t Orgeron step in as he promised in the preseason? He just didn’t, leaving the impression he has blind faith in his new coordinator hires Jake Peetz (offense) and Daronte Jones (defense) to make in-game adjustments which apparently didn’t happen much.
Can anyone remember Jones dialing up a blitz vs. the Bruins?
There were too many assignment busts on both sides of the ball. When was the last time you saw a 250-pound tight end score on a 75-yard TD pass as did UCLA’s Greg Dulcich?
Just from the talent standpoint – if you believe in recruiting rankings – LSU should have beaten the Bruins by double figures.
UCLA coach Chip Kelly, who’s starting his fourth season, has produced four recruiting classes since 2018 in which he has signed no five-star recruits (according to 247Sports) and 17 four-star recruits (9 in his first signing class).
In the same time period, Orgeron signed 9 five-star recruits and 52 four-star.
But it didn’t translate on the field in Pasadena, not a good sign for Orgeron. It’s one of the many reasons previous LSU head coach Les Miles was fired in 2016 – great recruiting classes, vastly underachieving records.
The Tigers’ outbreak of training camp injuries also was an underlying reason for LSU’s offense being out of sync.
Juniors Ty Davis-Price and John Emery Jr., the top two returning running backs, were hurt just about the entire preseason as were starting cornerbacks Derek Stingley Jr. and Eli Ricks.
Then, there was LSU’s starting offensive line, which never practiced much as a unit because of injuries. The lack of offensive continuity entering the opener was a huge concern, especially for an O-line that didn’t provide airtight pass protection for its two young quarterbacks in preseason scrimmage.
It became even more troublesome when Orgeron and his offensive staff, including Peetz, and new passing game coordinator DJ Mangas, watched UCLA hammer Hawaii 44-10 in its opener Aug. 28.
The Bruins’ defense blitzed Hawaii quarterback Chevan Corderio into 24 of 46 passing for 216 yards with one TD, two interceptions and one sack. UCLA had seven tackles for loss.
It seemed a weighty challenge right of the gate for the Tigers, certainly more than anticipated for the 20,000 extremely confident LSU fans who flocked to Pasadena for the school’s first-game ever game vs. UCLA.
Tiger Nation was counting on an immediate bounceback from last season’s 5-5 disaster. They heard Orgeron consistently praise his six new assistants, raved about them being younger than the old staff and able to relate easier with the players.
The players gushed throughout spring practice and preseason camp about their improved communications with the coaches and each other.
It all sounded promising. But as former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson liked to say, “Everybody has a plan until they get hit in the mouth.”
Every SEC team among its 13 members (who have played so far with Ole Miss-Louisville set Sunday) but two won on the first weekend of college football. The exceptions were LSU and Vanderbilt, a 23-3 loser to East Tennessee State.
Orgeron offered up the standard “one game does not define a season’ cliché after being battered by the Bruins, but it certainly did last year. The season-opening loss to 16-point underdog Mississippi State set the tone for one of the worst encore seasons for a defending national champ in the history of college football.
Even before Saturday’s loss, the 2021 Tigers had too many question marks to be considered as a challenger for the SEC West or SEC titles. What happened against the Bruins merely re-affirms the reality of what exactly is LSU’s top shelf this season.
Unless some of LSU’s allegedly talented freshmen offer some surprise contributions, the Tigers could be staring at a 7-5 regular season and a Gator or Texas Bowl bid.
And even if the Tigers totally tank this season with a 5-7 or 4-8 record, it doesn’t mean Orgeron would be necessarily fired. The school, even with their anonymous financial sugar daddies, doesn’t have enough money to buy out the contracts of Orgeron and his staff.