On the fifth week of SEC play, COVID-19 took away for us,
Four awful defenses,
Three passing QBs,
Two scheduled games
One le-gen-dary coach (well, almost)
LSU coach Ed Orgeron told the truth and nothing but the truth on his “Tell the Truth” Monday. He admitted last Saturday’s postponement of the Tigers’ game at Florida was a huge break.
“Our players were tired, our players were beat up,” Orgeron said. “They needed the time off.”
Twenty-one Gators and two assistant coaches and eventually head coach Dan Mullen tested positive for COVID -19. The game was canceled last Wednesday about an hour after Orgeron revealed starting quarterback Myles Brennan was doubtful to play because of an unspecified injury.
Orgeron would have had to start a true freshman quarterback – either Max Johnson or TJ Finley – against the Gators.
Also, the 1-2 Tigers needed another week for Bo Pelini, LSU’s $2.3 million per year defensive coordinator, to simplify LSU’s defense which was last seen being used by Missouri in a 45-41 loss.
Pelini’s defense appeared so confused it looked like it was wandering around a bus station trying to find the correct bus home.
“I don’t care if we have to play one defense and one coverage; play it, play it right, do whatever we need to do, put our athletes in a good position and let them make plays,” Orgeron said.
Maybe the defense will improve — it must at this point. LSU has better athletes and defensive talent than just about every team the Tigers play. It needs to react and play with a free mind rather than being mentally paralyzed by the circus that unfolded at Missouri.
“We had one miscommunication last week against Missouri that one personnel grouping was in the game,” Orgeron said. “We called one defense. They changed the personnel grouping. We changed the defense. Not everybody got the call. They should have. The call was sent in.”
While the defense hopefully will get better Saturday against feisty South Carolina, Brennan still hasn’t healed from something Orgeron described Monday as “significant lower body injury.”
Brennan’s dad confirmed his son had an abdominal tear, something that doesn’t heal easily. Don’t be shocked if Brennan doesn’t return until the Alabama game after the Tigers play South Carolina this weekend, at Auburn on Oct. 31 and then have an open date.
That leaves Orgeron to start Johnson or Finley, the freshmen signees who have yet to take a snap in the game. He hasn’t named a starter and said both will play against South Carolina.
Johnson is lefty adept at run-pass option offense, Finley is a JaMarcus Russell-type with a big body (6-6, 245) and huge right arm. No matter who starts, they will need help from a running game that must substantially improve and an offensive line that doesn’t need to let the newbies absorb the same physical pounding that Brennan took.
It’s hard to project anything at this point, whether the Tigers will substantially improve if and when Brennan returns and rally for any sort of bowl bid or suffer their first losing season since 1999.
Know this though.
When you look around the SEC and see what’s happening on a weekly basis in the most abnormal season in the league’s history, you realize all seven of LSU’s opponents are clearly capable of beating the Tigers. They went 4-2 last Saturday (Florida, of course, didn’t play).
Games when the season began that seemed like probable wins for LSU, such as South Carolina and Arkansas, are in doubt.
Just take a glimpse at what happened last weekend. While the Tigers and the Gators were enjoying the unforeseen open date, the SEC again proved you’re crazy if you’re betting on college football this season.
Kentucky, which hadn’t beaten Tennessee in Knoxville since 1984, scored its first two TDs on back-to-back Pick 6s thrown by Tennessee’s (still) beleaguered fifth-year senior starting QB Jarrett Guarantano. The Wildcats hammered the 18th ranked Vols 34-7.
Arkansas, which had lost 20 straight SEC games, has won two of its last three games. The Razorbacks blasted Ole Miss, 33-21, intercepting Rebels’ QB Matt Corral six times.
South Carolina, which hadn’t beaten Auburn since 1933, erased an early 9-0 deficit and scored a 30-22 win over the No. 15 Tigers. The Gamecocks will bring a two-game win streak to Tiger Stadium.
And every week, Mississippi State plays and loses, LSU’s season-44-34 opening loss to the Bulldogs looks worse. MSU QB K.J. Costello, who threw for an SEC-record 623 yards and five touchdowns and two interceptions vs. LSU has passed for 644 yards, one TD and eight interceptions combined in losses to Arkansas, Kentucky and Texas A&M.
Ten of 14 teams in the SEC already have two or more losses.
And for whatever reason – three months of inactivity including no spring practice because of COVID-19 or the weekly uncertainty of games possibly being canceled because of outbreaks or having no non-conference games to work out kinks, there will be more losses throughout the league from almost the top (except for unbeaten Alabama) to bottom.
It’s going to be a week-to-week proposition, especially for LSU.
Any sort of consistency in any area of the team – not just game-to-game but more like series to series – would be welcomed.
The only consistently positive area for the Tigers so far?
Aside from Cade York’s only missed field goal of the season against South Carolina, the kicking game has been LSU’s most consistent positive point with 30-year old punter Zach Von Rosenberg punting like a 30-year old NFL punter.
“As coaches we gotta clean stuff up, man, it starts with me,” Orgeron said. “We gotta be accountable. We gotta be detailed. So, I want to put it on the coaches first.
“Then the players gotta go out and they gotta understand. They gotta come in and work extra. They gotta look at their iPads at night. They gotta study and be committed, which I think they are. And we gotta make sure that they understand the game plan that we want them to execute and for them to go out and execute. That’s all that is.”
No, there’s more than that.
Admittedly, this might be the most difficult season for a college football player to be totally committed. Because of the social distancing calls reduced stadium capacity, most season ticket holders everywhere have opted out until 2021.
You have to believe teams have felt abandoned by their fan bases and think they are basically playing for themselves.
Also, if you’re a team on the wrong side of .500 after three games and have looked inadequately prepared like LSU, more of your fan base has written you off and may not be back.
For LSU, it’s even worse because despite losing 30-plus players off including a record 14 NFL draft choices off last year’s 15-0 national championship team, a 1-2 start against three of the worst opponents on the schedule makes you wonder how a program with such great recruiting classes could go south so quickly.
The Tigers have to win four of their last seven games to get a bowl invite at 5-5.
Right now, winning Saturday would be a step forward.