LSU’s dismal performance a challenge, opportunity for Orgeron and his staff

For the first time in his brief tenure as LSU head coach, Ed Orgeron looked like he might be in over his head.

Mississippi State outclassed the 12th-ranked Tigers 37-7 Saturday night in Starkville and no statistics explain the outcome as well as the fact that Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen and his staff thoroughly outperformed Orgeron and his.

Plain and simple.

After Orgeron was named interim head coach to replace Les Miles in the wake of a 2-2 start last season, the Tigers stabilized, improved and competed week in and week out while finishing 6-2 the rest of the way.

The only blemishes on Orgeron’s resume were a 10-0 loss to No. 1 Alabama and a 16-10 loss to No. 23 Florida. The loss to the Crimson Tide was a one-score game until late in the fourth quarter and the loss to Florida ended with LSU peering into the Gators’ end zone.

But Saturday night was a beatdown. Mullen and his staff had the Bulldogs ready to show that they’re contenders in the SEC West after opening the season with lopsided wins against Charleston Southern (47-0) and Louisiana Tech (57-21).

Consider them contenders, at least more so than the Tigers.

LSU entered the game after lopsided wins against BYU (27-0) and Chattanooga (45-10) and thanks to the schedule-maker they get two more non-conference games at home against Syracuse and Troy to try and figure what in the world happened in Starkville before venturing back into SEC play at Florida on Oct. 7.

Now before someone goes and launches a website called — if someone hasn’t already — this one game shouldn’t negate the 10 previous games that the Tigers played with Orgeron as head coach.

Not by a long shot.

This was one truly terrible performance in all three phases, but at some point LSU was going to have to find out how Orgeron does when faced with a crisis, and as far as September crises go, this one’s fairly substantial.

Orgeron had been pledging to reduce the penalties for the past two weeks. The Tigers committed 10 in the opener and 11 last week, but Orgeron touted the fact that the coaches challenged the players at halftime last week and only one infraction occurred in the second half.

Cutting down on the penalties was a priority this week, but LSU had self-inflicted wounds right from the start. On the first possession, the Tigers had a false start and then a pass interference penalty that wiped out a touchdown.

Another first-half touchdown was negated by a holding penalty, but the Tigers found the end zone moments later anyway.

They finished the first half with six penalties for 71 yards and trailed 17-7.

Meanwhile, Matt Canada’s offense and Dave Aranda’s defense were consistently a step behind their Bulldogs counterparts.

Canada leaned heavily on the pass in the early going and had little success as State consistently pressured Danny Etling, who couldn’t find a rhythm and was further plagued by a couple of drops.

When Canada ditched the pass and attacked the Bulldogs exclusively with the run, the result was an eight-play, 65-yard touchdown drive. But that was it for the offense.

State’s offense kept the LSU defense off balance with efficient running and passing, marching 65, 63 and 54 yards to its three first-half scores.

It didn’t take the Tigers long to show that they did not solve the penalty issue at halftime this week. They appeared to force a three-and-out on the first possession of the third quarter, but Donnie Alexander was called for roughing the passer and ejected for targeting. That revived a possession that ended with a field goal.

On the next possession another Tiger, Neil Farrell, was also ejected for targeting before a 45-yard touchdown pass from Nick Fitzgerald to Keith Mixon on which no Tigers covered Mixon.

After that it just got worse and worse for LSU. Ultimately the Tigers had nine penalties for 111 yards, but as the deficit grew, concern about the penalties shrunk alongside repeated offensive, defensive and special teams breakdowns.

When it was mercifully over, Orgeron said, “Nobody played well tonight. No one coached well tonight. It starts with me.”

He’s right on all three counts.

The Tigers played 20 freshmen in the first two games, something Orgeron wore as a badge of honor. Now it might be used as not as an excuse, but at least as justification for tempering expectations, which would be legitimate.

This is a relatively young team that got younger with the absence of injured defensive lineman Rashard Lawrence, who didn’t dress, and the aforementioned ejections to go along with an offensive line that’s a work in progress and an experienced game manager but limited playmaker at quarterback.

Orgeron’s biggest improvement from his first stint as a full-time head coach at Ole Miss to his current gig was to learn to manage the overall operation and delegate and trust his lieutenants. And he has two really good ones at his side in Canada and Aranda.

How the trio gets LSU to respond to this dismal performance is an opportunity to show that the team and program are in good hands.

Source: Saturday Down South

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