Season openers typically come in all shapes and sizes. The challenges can vary from the preparations of first-year players moving into extended roles to bracing for the onslaught of an opponent that brings with it plenty of intrigue and mystery.
The first game of the 2020 season for defending national champion LSU shifted in significance when the Southeastern Conference decided to eschew all non-conference play for a 10-game format comprised of conference-only opponents.
Even the order of LSU’s original schedule was altered, moving around previously scheduled opponents, some who were expected to be later in the year, to earlier in the schedule where the No. 5 Tigers open the season against Mississippi State at 2:30 p.m. Saturday on CBS Sports.
Such an adjustment in the schedule hastened the groundwork of LSU’s coaching staff in its preparations for the Bulldogs and first-year head coach Mike Leach, whose offensive reputation has long been attached to the pass-happy ‘Air Raid’ system which he relied on in previous head coaching stops at Texas Tech and most recently Washington State.
During his appearance on Wednesday’s inaugural Southeastern Conference media teleconference, LSU head coach Ed Orgeron discussed the lengths his staff – most notably first-year defensive coordinator Bo Pelini – have gone through in putting together a scheme to combat Leach’s offensive scheme.
“You’ve got to study his stuff,” Orgeron said. “Every coach has some patterns, different formations and what he likes to do, what he likes to call. Sort of his DNA. We’ve been watching a lot of Washington State film and then you’ve got to watch Mississippi State film for personnel. It kind of gets confusing for the kids watching Washington State and Mississippi State play. That’s part of the first game.”
Orgeron said his offensive staff has done plenty of homework on Leach’s defensive coordinator, Zach Arnett, who put together one of the nation’s top defenses last season at San Diego State.
“You’ve got to watch San Diego State defense that will play with Mississippi State’s personnel,” he said. “Just like with any first game there will be adjustments. I trust our coaches that we’re going to make adjustments. There will be new plays, news defenses and new formations. We’re just going to have make adjustments.”
Here’s Orgeron on a variety of subjects:
On opener with Mississippi State
“It’s going to be a hard-nosed football game. The Air Raid’s coming to town, a new quarterback in K.J. Costello, a great running back in (Kylin) Hill, outstanding defensive players. I’m very impressed with their defensive coordinator coming in, only giving up 12.7 points a game at San Diego State. It’s going to be a challenge. Our team is ready. We have a lot of new faces, a lot of new guys that are hungry to show what they’ve got. We have a very talented team. I can’t wait to watch them play.”
On his appearance on 60 Minutes
“I thought they did a great job. One of my favorite parts was for them to go down there and interview my mom. Everyone got to see where I get my enthusiasm from and they ate a great bowl of gumbo. It was an honor. I always watch 60 Minutes. I never thought I’d be on it. It’s just the power of LSU. Being in the right place at the right time with the right people.”
On something he may have learned from teams that have already played
“You can see the level of play’s not normally where it would be at this time of the year. I thought the competition was fierce. I worry about the emotions of the football team with not a lot of people in the stadium at home. When we’re away we’ve got to use it to our advantage. I think we’ve got to create our own energy and the focus. The regular stuff for the first game, you worry about ball security, tackling, substitutions and getting everything right. Those concerns are still there whether there’s a crowd there or not.”
On what he thinks the level of play in the SEC will be like
“I think the outstretched preparations has prevented a lot of injuries. We have less injuries, less concussions. We’re healthier than we’ve been coming out of camp. That got our guys ready. I believe you’re going to see most teams get better throughout the year. You make your most improvement between the first and second games, so I think you’re going to see teams get better throughout the year. I think the level of play in the SEC’s always going to be good but getting better with us playing 10 games. It should get better throughout the year.”
On the number of different defenses Bo Pelini has and how much will he show on Saturday
“He has a lot. Bo’s very creative, but he’s also a fundamental guy and he’s also an effort guy. There’s a lot of stuff that he can do and there’s a lot of stuff obviously when you get into camp you want to put in most of your defenses. Then he’s got a rolodex where he’s going to call his stuff according to the offense that we see. With the Air Raid he may use something he doesn’t use against another offense. You’re not going to see everything. I think he’s going to bring the stuff that he needs. He does a great job of calling and making adjustments during the game. I believe in what he’s doing.”
On how anxious he is to see wide receiver Racey McMath step to the forefront
“We love Racey. He’s a hard worker. It’s his time. He’s had an excellent camp. He’s a great special team’s players. I think he’s one of the best special team’s players in the SEC, but I want him to be one of the best receivers. He’s a tremendous young man, a tremendous leader. I’m looking forward to him having a great season. I believe in him.”
On what wide receiver Jontre Kirklin means in terms of team chemistry and camaraderie
“He’s like one of my sons. Great young man with a great family. He can do a lot of things for us and has had a good camp. He’s a great team guy. He’s unselfish. He’s done whatever it takes for the football team. He’s a winner.”
On the development of the second team offensive line and whether anyone had started to emerge
Charles Turner has come around. He’s done a good job for us. I believe in him. Marlon Martinez and (Marcus) Dumervil are coming along. They’re not ready yet, but I think they’re going to have be put in the fire at some time or another. Cam Wire’s another guy that’s done very good and can play either tackle. You’re looking at Charles Turner or Cam Wire that would be the first guys that would go in. Charles can play tackle or center and Cam can play guard or tackle.”
On the qualities you look for in graduate transfers and whether you were looking to add them right away when you took over
“No. 1 character. We do an extensive background and it be a position of need. I trust our coaches. They do a great job of evaluating, do a great job of researching. Our personnel department always has guys that are available to us. We go over it as a staff; position of need, can they play with us.
“We wanted to bring in the best players to LSU as possible. Whether it be a graduate transfer or not. As you take over the program and look at the roster, you want to build a roster the way you think it ought to be. There will be some adjustments. You look at Joe Burrow, Jabril Cox, Liam Shanahan, Cole Tracy. We’ve done phenomenal with graduate transfers.”