THANK YOU NEW SUBSCRIBERS NURSEKORT, LANCE, STEEL BRUCE, BROCK KLEIN!
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
College football wasn't ready for our 2019 Tigers...
Sometimes I feel as if Tiger fans dreamed that impossible season into existence...pulling some kind of "LSU Truman Show" joke on the college football world while that group achieved something many thought would never emanate from a team wearing the purple & gold; but what really drove the country (and parts of the world) wild??
The fact that LSU's historic team not only outperformed every Tigers squad who had come before, they became the definitive greatest college football team of all time with ruthlessness, defiance and swagger on a scale we'd never seen...all with the nonchalance and charismatic cool of a seasoned assassin.
Coach Orgeron's 2019 crew achieved ultimate perfection (in the literal sense of course), yet they won that title as undefeated, 15-0 ambassadors of infinite conquest, toppling 7 top 10 teams and collegiate blue bloods (many led by former Tigers coaches), committing atrocities upon five #1 ranked defenses to the tune of 568 yards per game...
This is how deep Ensminger/Brady's offense really were: 1st rounder and real NFL Rookie Of The Year Justin Jefferson put up record-breaking numbers in receptions and still wasn't LSU's leading receiver in touchdowns or yards; elsewhere in the same receiving room, #3 WR Terrace Marshall broke his toe, missed 3 games and still caught 13 touchdowns,
Helen Mirren could've tripped on a banana peel and caught a touchdown from Joe Burrow had she suited up in purple & gold.....accordingly, Joe's squad were already a well-tuned machine by the 2nd quarter of the Georgia Southern game...accepting no substitutes.
Heisman, Biletnikoff, Thorpe, Joe Moore, Broyles, Coach of the Year....then there were the 18 other major honors which came Joe Burrow's way....
The buzz around LSU continued to grow exponentially until our three bold letters & brash colors became the epicenter of the American sporting universe: celebrities such as Vince Vaughn and Matthew McConaughey were left stunned in awe, football legends Marcus Allen and Reggie Bush came to pay their respects, even ESPN's Marty Smith ditched his beloved NASCAR to drool over LSU for a month straight.
We'd never seen Alabama or Saban make such an indelible cultural impact, no matter how many titles they'd won....Clemson definitely hasn't, neither has Ohio State, Georgia, Florida, USC or A&M....
...in fact, Alabama may have dominated over the course of a decade, but what 2019 LSU pulled off in only 12 months, as well as what they meant to so many (even non-LSU fans) will reverberate longer than 6 of Nick Saban's championship teams.
Individual awards mean little at the cost of on-field glory: and if we're talking results, there is no team who won as effortlessly while possessed with such collective swagger, competitive drive, extraterrestrial talent and NFL-ready athletic grace, all as Coach Orgeron's group were delivered from evil in stars-aligning human poetry.
Now a year on and we come to understand LSU's 2019 season didn't just set the bar for the LSU Tigers' Standard of Performance: our unbridled, unfathomable scale of retribution forced Nick Saban to respond in a manner we'd never seen during the former Kent State graduate's era at Alabama.
The former LSU head coach demanded former OC Steve Sarkisian immediately adopt much of the Tigers' offensive style, swagger and ultimate history-chasing ethos. In turn, Saban afforded Sarkisian complete authority and control over the tempo of proceedings...and for the first time in his career, the defensive-minded control freak allowed his offense to run the show....a year after Coach Ed Orgeron made the same aggressive move.
Throughout 2020, Nick Saban sounded and coached more like Orgeron than we could've imagined or may ever want to admit, especially with his "change the way they think" line prior to the 2020 matchup...clear symmetry with Coach Ed Orgeron's classic and brilliant "Roll Tide What? F**k You!" moment from 2019...
They say only the NFL is a copycat league...
Sure, Alabama won titles for much of the past decade, yet in the wake of LSU's G.O.A.T victory, their own blowout loss in 2018 to Clemson and a variety of Tigers capturing the SEC and college football record books, Saban demanded that his team raise their levels.
Influenced by Orgeron's 2019 Tigers and smelling blood in the water during a pandemic year based around weakened rivals, Saban wanted his team to focus on how they won games....not just the victories themselves.
Well Nick, I know this: Coach Orgeron "changed the way you think..."
Following Saban's cannibalistic practices last year, the ball is now in LSU's hands to respond after a year where so much went wrong for the Tigers...all while watching Alabama chasing (and even eclipsing) our own history from the year prior.
We cannot let that happen again...
Last year, the Tigers struggled mightily following the start of the pandemic: first it began with a lack of leadership from many coaches, specifically (but far from limited to) Bo Pelini and Bill Busch.
Their ousting, as well as LSU's on-field humiliation at the safety / linebacker positions, was rooted within Busch & Pelini's complete failure to understand, trust or believe in their players;
Because of this lack of leadership & harmony, the Tigers lost 5 key players during last year's intense summer, including Ja'Marr Chase, Tyler Shelvin and Kary Vincent Jr to opt-outs or transfers, backed by more mid-season opt-outs by Travez Moore & Terrace Marshall.
Additionally, only a year after winning the Joe Moore Award, a noticeable lack of cohesion or chemistry hurt James Cregg's disjointed offensive line; but when Ed Ingram got hurt at the end of the Vanderbilt game in week 2, things went from bad to worse rapidly. Our left guard position was exposed early vs Missouri and a devastating injury befell Myles Brennan. Soon after, when Myles was announced as injured and out "indefinitely", things began to truly spiral;
There was in-fighting, drama, a complete lack of communication, uncertainty and confusion due to the constant bad news cycle led by Title IX failures, Derrius Guice, Drake Davis, then talk of Brennan's injury being supposedly "beyond repair".
The sky wasn't just falling, these were truly days full of night for LSU as a program and fanbase.
Suddenly, as LSU were at their most rudderless, a loose collection of leaders got behind Orgeron in the lead-up to face #6 Florida, just days after suffering an absolute embarrassment at the hands of Saban. Among them was a group of 2020 freshmen who rose up and changed the course of the Tigers' ill-fated 2020 campaign as well as the future of the program.
Freshmen Max Johnson, Kayshon Boutte, Eli Ricks, Jaquelin Roy, B.J Ojulari, Dwight McGlothern & Koy Moore all stood up against #6 Florida and Ole Miss, grabbing unbelievable back to back wins to end the season, with Boutte setting the SEC record for receiving yards in a game, Max Johnson eclipsing LSU's freshman passing record, Jaquelin Roy racking up 2 sacks in a single game and Eli Ricks snatching his 4th INT and 2nd pick six of the year.
Joining (and in many cases leading) the freshmen through the fire of those unbelievably important final two outings?
A core group of upperclassmen Tigers who were still fighting for every blade of grass on the field, some digging deep in order to overcome poor earlier performances: Damone Clark, Jay Ward, Todd Harris, Ali Gaye and Jaray Jenkins all laying it on the line.
As the season ended, uncertainty ruled the airwaves and rumors swirled, Coach Orgeron remained consistent, preaching two things continuously: "We finished the season strong and I hope that mentality carries over" and "we know what it takes to get back to a National Championship..."
Now as 2021 dawns, with a bevy of energetic new coaches on staff, 20 returning starters and a slew of talented in-coming freshmen to join the remarkable last few classes, the Tigers aren't just a roster stacked with individual specimen: this is a team.
These Tigers already possess an unbreakable unity: a steely bond forged through the championship-winning embers of 2019, yet it was sealed in blood, sweat and exhausted tears during the fiery ashes of 2020, when "sky is falling" criticism banged on every door, bad news lurked around every turn and popped out like a Skip Bayless vampire without warning.
This team's metallic alliance has already been tested by 2020's intense trials and tribulations:
When teammates fell ill during team activities, they often quarantined together;
If some family members fell ill or a player tragically lost loved ones, our Tigers leaned on one another to get through the hardest days;
When Pelini and Busch turned their backs on LSU's safeties and linebackers, those young men had to coach themselves on the field;
When online criticism grew so vile it became hard to take, our Tigers vented to each other... and when a new leadership movement swept through the team before Florida, they truly began playing for one another.
Being friends alone won't win the Tigers a National Championship, although when reviewing the roster's plentiful options, the dream additions to LSU's staff, Alabama's key departures on the field / sideline (mirroring LSU's mass post-2019 exodus) and of course Coach Orgeron's strong personal & professional drive for vengeance, I see a high octane unit poised to not only contend for a National Championship in 2021, Coach O's bunch have all the ingredients to win the damn thing.
Cue the laughs from opposition analysts and fanbases:
"Why would LSU even have a chance after last year's 124th ranked defense, starting a potentially injury-prone quarterback behind a porous & disjointed offensive line under a 'one year wonder' head coach?" Is the kind of rhetoric I hear.
But I remember hearing a lot of the same stuff in a different context and fashion prior to LSU's 2019 season.....
Yes, there were comments calling Joe Brady "Younger Matt Canada" or "Matt Canada II"....so many keyboard warriors and analysts felt Joe Burrow was little more than a jilted OSU mercenary, just "a step up above Etling" (said by a fan who's name I won't reveal).
Because guys such as Ty Davis-Price, Jay Ward, Myles Brennan, Derek Stingley Jr, Damone Clark, Andre Anthony and Ed Ingram witnessed firsthand how to win a championship with ultimate glory, individual ecstasy and collective transcendence, they now understand how to get back there...
Young men like Glen Logan, Neil Farrell, Myles Brennan, Jontre Kirklin and Austin Deculus walked the long path to get LSU from losing against Notre Dame in the Citrus Bowl, to a New Year's Six win after 2018, before finally taking that final step to 2019's historic championship.
What will it take for LSU to get back to that ultimate stage?
Is it possible to geaux from 5-5 to a National Championship amidst the Alabama-Clemson stranglehold on the CFP era?
I'll tell you what it takes...every LSU Tiger and coach working their asses off, picking the right starters from such an outrageous array of options and maximizing their playmaking abilities with full dedication.
As every LSU fan knows, Spring football isn't about getting your starters some early reps...it's about figuring out who those starters will actually be.
Every year, there's a few big surprises in the depth chart, however 2021 will be extra intriguing. There are so many different opinions, plenty of spots available for competition and more hungry Tigers than coaches will know what to do with.
Regardless, this year's success directly hinges on LSU's "iron sharpens iron" ethos strengthening our starting lineups as well as our entire roster, followed by smart decisions from our coaching staff in their choice of starters, play-calling, rotation, situational awareness etc upon etc...
Just go through the names...players, coaches, analysts, support staff...Coach Orgeron has assembled yet another blockbuster staff stuffed full of experience, enthusiasm and energy, responding to his critics throughout the coaching searches with bold hires that are already paying maximum dividends.
While these coaches may be younger, they boast loads of experience; though unlike Pelini from last year, we've already seen Daronte Jones be more than willing to explain his experiences coaching under Minnesota Head Coach Mike Zimmer or even laughing about how close he grew to former Tiger Justin Jefferson.
In stark contrast, 2021's Tigers displayed more togetherness, ultimate work ethic and swaggering one-liners within a week of Spring football than we witnessed throughout the entirety of LSU's 2020 season.........that says something about the concerted effort our 2021 coaching staff has made in righting the ship, their actions backing up their words.
Possessing this caliber of roster, if the staff can produce the same results they've achieved in earning the trust of the players & fanbase, LSU should be a wire-to-wire top 10 team with every chance of beating Alabama and climbing the mountain for a second time in three years.
Boasting such a strong wealth of veteran championship leadership, an onslaught of renegade youth and a myriad of Tigers needing ultimate success to alter their career trajectory, LSU's 2021 band of brothers could very well be planting the seeds for a championship harvest this fall.
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
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