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by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
One year ago today, LSU won the biggest game of the Orgeron era in startling, triumphant majesty...geauxing into Tuscaloosa's packed house....purple and gold vs a sea of red....even the former / current president was there.
Joe Burrow took LSU to the promised land, the Tigers were saved time and time again by the hands and legs of Clyde Edwards-Helaire (his greatest performance as a Tiger and the game which made the mainstream finally know his name), K'Lavon Chaisson showed up in a huge way with 3.5 TFL, Breiden Fehoko, Rashard Lawrence and Neil Farrell all registered hits on a hobbled, but gutsy Tua Tagovaiola and LSU prevailed in swaggering triumph.
Some truly eye-popping plays went down within those action-packed, Saban-smacked 60 minutes..perhaps the Greatest Game I've ever witnessed:
The Grey Ghost himself forced the Tua fumble on Bama's 1st drive, Patrick Queen rose to prominence through an outstanding pre-halftime interception and a myriad of side to side stops on Najee Harris, Ja'Marr Chase flew high above Trayvon Diggs for the GIF of the college football century, Thaddeus Moss made the greatest display of athleticism we've ever seen from a tight end, Clyde Edwards-Helaire ran the show, geauxing around, under, through and over Alabama...
Clyde even caught a smooth as silk touchdown to hammer home a resounding 33-13 halftime lead, shocking Alabama's fans into dismay and sending every doubting college football fan to their knees.
Though the 2nd half was a topsy turvy, ulcer-inducing paranoia / stress-fest, LSU survived handidly and won the National Championship, throwing the curse of 8 straight losses away....there would never be a 9th...
The question before 2020's campaign was undoubtedly "Will LSU challenge Alabama for a second straight season and continue their trajectory towards the ultimate?"
Instead, we're not even talking about whether LSU's porous defense can contain Alabama or not....we're not discussing Myles Brennan vs Mac Jones....we're actually wondering if either team will have enough players to actually play on Saturday night in Death Valley.
Wow...2020 could you be anymore frustrating?
I had prepared an awesome, fly on the wall look at LSU's preparations vs Alabama...but now that must be shelved in another spat of huge headlines, all of which, for better or for worse, take the Tigers' focus from the field.
First of all, LSU's freshman WR Koy Moore was wrongfully and illegally detained by Baton Rouge Police officers inside a parking garage on Saturday night, causing the dismissal of 3 officers on paid administrative leave...aka suspensions.
Thankfully, many seemed to recognize the disgrace here by those 3 Baton Rouge PD officers and Coach Orgeron came out strong in support of Koy. He also unified the area by praising the police Chief Murphy's swift discipline towards the three suspended officers; We applaud the Chief of the Baton Rouge Police Department for his actions today.
Now there's a reminder of Covid's continuing growth in the United States:
LSU's entire tight end group are out (until further notice) due to Covid or contact tracing quarantines....that means no Arik Gilbert, Nick Storz or Kole Taylor vs Alabama. Freshman QB Max Johnson has also reportedly caught Covid-19...
This isn't your typical injury report...these are potentially dangerous afflictions.....and depending on which LSU players caught Covid over the summer compared to who's contracting the virus now, Shelley Mullinex and Jack Marucci's data could prove those who've caught Covid-19 once may be able to catch it again.
Covid has decimated Orgeron's Tigers worse than any other school....forcing the Florida postponement (some argue was a good thing for LSU), the opt-outs of Ja'Marr Chase, Tyler Shelvin, Kary Vincent, Neil Farrell who later returned, the transfers of Marcel Brooks back to his family home in Flower Mound, Texas, Justin Thomas back to Birmingham, T.K McLendon home to Georgia...
The virus greatly impacted James Cregg's offensive line too, knocking his entire offensive line out for a few weeks at a time before the season, nearly 3/4 of the O-Line going down at the same time due to exposure and infection (swallowing up a large chunk of their practice time together).
Currently, the pandemic has left LSU with one fully healthy or available quarterback, T.J Finley; meanwhile, traditional starting QB Myles Brennan's injuries and health concerns have become so severe there are serious potential dangers to his long-term health if he were to play any further this season.
Coach Orgeron said blankly "Myles is out..." pulling no punches, and when asked if there'd been any talks of "shutting him down for the season" (Fox's Garland Gillen), Orgeron replied "yes there's been discussions. We're gonna talk to the doctors and do what's best for Myles."
This is tragic news for Brennan, but the results weren't surprising...LSU's coaching staff played it smart, never giving a straight answer to questions about their starter's health, but anyone who knew about his surgery (LSUODYSSEY.COM broke that news) understood he was going to be out for a considerable amount of time. As evidence to support our fears, when delivering this news, Coach O's demeanor was more somber than I'd seen from him in a while.
Now with the local police department drawing guns on a local Tiger and native son of Louisiana, Koy Moore, only still a teenager, plus a multitude of young men now infected with Covid 19, Orgeron's up against it on and off the field...battling against the craziest season any coach could ever imagine....
There's a melting pot of situations geauxing on at LSU (reflecting the state of the country itself) and it's unlike anything I've ever seen...covering it all has been exhausting at times, invigorating at others, saddening too... but I can say the last year and a half (from before the championship season straight into the pandemic) has been the journalistic adventure of a lifetime...a gauntlet I've traversed just to write it all:
NCAA violations stemming from the Joe Alleva / Les Miles era; sexual assault allegations against former LSU hero Derrius Guice and a "juicy", potentially libelous quote supposedly from Orgeron made the rounds; There were two massive hurricanes, Laura and Zeta, which smashed into Louisiana during the season, decimating Lake Charles, Cameron Parish, Vermilion Parish, St. Mary, Lafourche (where Coach Ed Orgeron's family is from and where his mother Coco still resides)... 83 lives were lost between Laura and Zeta all across Southern Louisiana, leaving untold amounts in damages to homes across Cajun Country...symbolized by $12,000,000 in damages at beloved McNeese State University and a reported $77,000,000 total.
Alongside caring for and protecting their families spread out across the state, LSU's players and coaches also saw their schedule ripped to shreds due to the hurricane, losing a home game vs Missouri. On short notice, LSU's players traveled to Missouri for the early kickoff and took a scalping from Eli Drinkwitz's team; the sad reality is many die hard Louisiana locals couldn't watch their Tigers back home.... due to the power outages all over the state.
So LSU lost their original schedule just like everyone else, sure...though this group also had a home game taken from them due to the hurricane (LSU ended up losing by 4 points on the final play) as well as a postponement of the Florida game until December, an occurence which actually supplied these Tigers with two bye weeks already.
And the time away from the field has done nothing but hurt the Tigers.
You plan for the #1 secondary in college football: first Vincent opts out, then Flott plays out of position, poorly too, and because of the loss of Vincent's leadership and a gross inability to time a tackle, LSU's safeties acted a fool...in fact, Jacoby Stevens should be playing linebacker and LSU ODYSSEY were the only publication to say that prior to the season.
We hired Bo Pelini to coach em up at linebacker and all he's done is put three guys out of position...Damone Clark is a run-stuffer...he's no MIC linebacker in a 4-3...Jabril Cox has been underwhelming in spite of the gaudy statistics (led by the awesome pick six vs Miss State); There's a whole new world of linebackers on that bench...guys who could track down and stuff Najee Harris if given the opportunity...and I'm talking about Devonta Lee, Josh White or Phillip Webb.
The fact we haven't seen a single one of those three guys whatsoever (even when leading Vandy 41-7) is inexcusable.
You think the offense wouldn't be able to pick up right where 2019 left off.... and yet somehow Offensive Coordinator Steve Ensminger actually enhanced the aggression & potency of our passing game while losing Ja'Marr Chase in August, the starting quarterback himself after three games with no real running game or an SEC-level offensive line, however here was LSU with Myles Brennan chucking 300, even 400 yard games, tossing 11 touchdowns and leading the one dimensional offense to 109 points in 3 games...
But we lost two of those 3, Brennan throwing for more than 300 yards and 3 TDs. This wasn't like 2019 at all...we had lost last year's balance and rushing swagger, thus, Brennan became easy to stop on "had to have it" plays. LSU's offense went 9/40 on 3rd down opportunities across those first three games....
Some of the most beleaguering, mind-stretching statistics and performances came about from the offense....on one hand Terrace Marshall has 9 touchdowns, looks like he can do anything and score from anywhere....only to inexplicably drop two consecutive passes to start the Auburn game (6 total on the season) finished under 40 yards receiving and failed to score a touchdown for the first time in 8 games (since Texas A&M on November 30th 2019, a game where Marshall Jr was benched early due to the blowout win)....what a streak from the young man, it's just sad he never received enough service from either quarterback vs Auburn.
On the ground, you may want to cover your eyes:
32 Rushing Yards from 27 carries against Auburn on Halloween may be the most pitiful number I've ever seen.... 1.2 yards per rush (LSU averaged 1.9 at halftime); Ty Davis-Price ran for 135 yards and 1 TD vs South Carolina, however TDP only received 3 touches of the ball against Auburn....how does that make any sense whatosever?
After John Emery took over the Vanderbilt game for his first ever career 100 yard game (sealing the standout performance with his 5th collegiate touchdown and 1st of 2020), he didn't start vs Missouri and barely received the ball the following week, just like Ty....WHY???
In three straight weeks, the best running back from the week prior didn't start nor was there ever any adjustments made to feed Ty or John the ball...LSU's running game was all but forsaken vs Missouri as much as it was anonymous on Halloween vs Auburn.
After everything...(in chronology) the championship last year, the win in Tuscaloosa, the NFL Draft, the transfers, the Covid-caused opt-outs, the ludicrous NCAA violations, the serious Guice allegations involving Joe Alleva and Las Miles, the Hurricanes, the Stingley health emergency the night before the opener, the shocking defeats, another opt out and transfer mid-season (both from the defensive line), the big injury to the starting quarterback, the controversy between two freshmen, the "T.J Finley Is the Man" parade and freshmen dominance vs South Carolina (Finley, Ricks and Ojulari), followed by the Auburn evisceration on Halloween...now Orgeron's Tigers have another set of distractions, just like every week / day this season taking further time away from the field.....but none of it matters at the end of the day if LSU can do one thing in 2020:
LSU can survive an embarrassing string of defeats to lowly Auburn, Missouri and Miss State...games the Tigers should've won, if they just....
Orgeron's boys and his staff can absorb the blows without highly promising starting QB Myles Brennan (#1 ranked QB against the blitz in the SEC through his 3 game sample) if they can....
Bo Pelini could even make the mob go home....if LSU can just beat Alabama.
So....does LSU have a chance vs Alabama???
LSU return after taking a few days off from team-related activities this last week: there can't be any issues with freshness.
I believe they needed the extra practice in the film room and out on the field, but Coach Ed Orgeron knows his team more than we do and he opted to rest his guys, both mentally and physically for most of the week.
We feel LSU needed all the time in the world to prepare for Alabama, but instead Orgeron is opting for giving guys a mental break, which could also benefit the team....but I'm a little worried about this week heading into Alabama.
What is the team's mentality?
The coaching staff's mindset?
Is the disconnect still looming?
How can the Tigers fight through the criticism and bombardment of distraction?
If I'm Coach Ed Orgeron, I would've worked em hard this past week, really hit the whoop ass button on the group after Auburn....
Obviously, Orgeron's decision leads me to believe the team needed an extended mental sabbatical...what does that say about the state of our Tigers as they're now on a collision course vs #1 Alabama....
Do our Tigers have a chance vs Najee Harris, DeVonta Smith, Patrick Surtain and former Louisiana talent Dylan Moses??
Yes they do, but it's small and completely predicated on five things...which may not even be possible at this juncture:
1. THE RETURN OF A FULLY HEALTHY MYLES BRENNAN
Alright....well...we're screwed even before we begin. Scratch that.
2. THE BEST O-LINE PERFORMANCE SINCE THE 2019/2020 TITLE GAME
Could we see LSU's rushing attack finally get going and return to the 200+ yard day Ingram, Wire, Shanahan, Hines and Deculus supplied vs South Carolina?
Alabama's 38th ranked rushing defense allows 128.8 on the ground per game and 3.8 per rush, ranked 3rd overall in the SEC trailing only Texas A&M and Georgia.
Seems like a good game for Ty Davis-Price....IF LSU can remain patient while T.J Finley breaks a few runs and completes at least five 3rd down passes, LSU should rush for more than 140 vs Alabama thanks to this created space.
3. MAKE IT UGLY
We can't win a shootout against Alabama...I mean who knows, we've seen crazier things and Finley can definitely air it out...but I feel LSU's struggling defense, rushing attack and D-line must make the game an extremely possession-heavy affair, grinding the clock away and keeping Mac Jones out of rhythm and on the sidelines in the process, the young T.J Finley gaining confidence with each consectuive snap.
Picture a game full of the 1st few drives from the South Carolina game and I think we have a recipe for victory against an Alabama defense with more holes in it than an O.J Simpson alibi.
4. TURNING 3 TURNOVERS INTO AT LEAST 2 TDs
We need a big game once again from our outside corners and especially our linebackers in coverage.
We know Stingley and Ricks will ball out, Stingley is still angry about last year and he wants to send a message to Alabama.
Derek has been ripped on for last year's 2 allowed TDs', one from Stingley being distracted by the sideline and another from #24 losing his balance.
You don't want to make Derek Jr angry....
Derek is ready to take this game over.
Mac Jones will throw Derek's way all game without even taking one moment to think about it....we should see a pick six from Stingley here.
Eli Ricks also wants to show Alabama's Bryce Young (a former So Cal friend and Mater Dei teammate) what he's all about in purple and gold...a preview of the brilliant coverage Bryce will have to pass through next year.
5. HOLDING BAMA TO 130 RUSHING YARDS, 27 POINTS AND SACK MAC JONES 5+ TIMES
Most will be laughing, saying "dream on" and I get it, but what's the point in even watching, writing or rooting for any team if the result was always predestined?
Regardless of Alabama's ascension to a #1 ranking so far in 2020, they've shown some significant weaknesses too, sloppy issues we expect this LSU team may still be able to exploit.
If the fans are rolling over for the Tide, fine....Coach O won't be...
"This is LSU vs Alabama. We don't blink!" Coach Orgeron said today, tossing away everything that had transpired before...he knows perception, as well as the season can all change from one huge win over the new #1 ranked team in the country.
Are the Tigers ready for it????
NEXT ON LSUODYSSEY.COM:
WHY IT MATTERS: LSU VS ALABAMA'S EFFECT ON RECRUITING
BLACK LIVES MATTER
By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Copyright 2020 Uinterrupted Writings Inc LLC
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