Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Colleges

Things are geaux-ing down on the Bayou for LSU and Ed Orgeron

TAMPA — Aside from an administrator's public vote of confidence, perhaps nothing signifies a foundering program more than a players-only meeting.

LSU has had two of them since Saturday night's embarrassing 24-21 home loss to Troy. That doesn't count the meeting Tigers coach Ed Orgeron had Monday with athletic director Joe Alleva and both his coordinators.

"We all got on the same page," Orgeron said. "It was a very positive meeting."

At least something positive is emanating from Baton Rouge these days. In his distinctly deep Cajun timbre, Orgeron — the SEC's most beleaguered coach this side of Butch Jones — suggested Wednesday that the meetings helped fumigate any dissension and re-established a common wavelength in the wake of a dreadful 3-2 start.

They can only hope positive vibes travel well. LSU faces No. 21 Florida on Saturday in the Swamp.

"We're ready to show the type of team we really are," Orgeron said.

But convention insists you are what your record says you are. And until they prove otherwise, the Tigers are a gumbo of shoddy tackling, lethargy, injuries, penalties and softness up front.

"There's been times you've turned on the LSU tapes this year where they look like they've given up," said former Gators receiver Chris Doering, now an analyst for ESPN and the SEC Network. "That's not a trait that we'd typically associate with Tiger football."

Clearly, this isn't what Alleva — nationally maligned in recent days — had in mind when he removed the interim tag from Orgeron in late November and infused his contract with a staggering $12 million buyout.

If that monetary exorbitance didn't baffle Tigers fans, LSU's performance through five games has.

"It does look like we're playing flat sometimes," Orgeron admitted.

This was the same Orgeron — folksy Louisiana native — who galvanized the Tigers after Les Miles' dismissal and led them to a 6-2 record the rest of the 2016 season, capped by a 29-9 romp of Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson and Louisville in the Citrus Bowl.

So why all the discombobulation nine months later?

For one, Orgeron lost seven defensive players to the NFL draft. One of the returners, standout junior edge rusher Arden Key, took a leave of absence this year, had shoulder surgery, and reportedly gained about 30 pounds before returning late in preseason camp.

Offensively, the transition to new coordinator Matt Canada has been bumpy. Hired from Pitt to install a more complex passing game and multiple shifts into LSU's previous power-based attack, Canada's unit ranks 77th nationally in passing (216.2 yards per game).

Hampering progress has been a leg injury to onetime Heisman hopeful Derrius Guice — a 1,300-yard rusher last season — and two freshman starters on the offensive line. That greenness up front prompted Orgeron to have Canada ease up on some of the shifts and motions in the first half of the Troy game.

"I stepped in (Saturday) for the first time," said Orgeron, whose team ranks 95th nationally in penalty yards per game (65.2). "And I wanted to simplify things in order for us to have less penalties, better execution."

Doering suggested Orgeron should keep his hands off the wheel offensively and let Canada do a job for which he's being paid a reported $1.5 million annually.

"I was really impressed with the game plan last year against Clemson," said Doering, referring to Pitt's 43-42 upset, when Canada's offense totaled 464 yards.

"You saw some creativity, multiple position groupings on the field, lots of shifts, lots of motions, things to confuse the defense. And Coach O talked about simplifying things, well that goes directly against what Matt Canada's philosophy is. At some point in time, you have to live with what a guy's decision is."

But Orgeron said he also intervened so the Tigers would be "more physical at the point of attack," a point that concerns former Tigers All-American (and ESPN analyst) Booger McFarland.

"My biggest fear when they hired Matt Canada was LSU getting soft, and it's happening before our eyes," McFarland recently told Yahoo Sports.

"They're not physical on the line of scrimmage. It's a byproduct of the offense, which goes side-to-side. They've lost the ability to go north-south and be physical."

Hence Monday's meeting with Orgeron, Alleva, Canada and widely respected defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, whose unit surrendered 223 rushing yards to Troy and allowed the Trojans to convert 10 of 18 third downs.

"Joe and I meet all the time and we said, 'You know, let's bring in the coordinators … and let's talk to 'em and see what's going on,' " Orgeron said.

"We feel that we have two very good coordinators, and (Alleva) wanted to know what was going on, what could we do better. We all got on the same page."

Orgeron only can hope it leads to an uptick in performance. Otherwise, the dreaded vote of confidence may loom.

Contact Joey Knight at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

 
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