Alabama’s game against LSU should have come in early November. It was moved to December under suspicious circumstances; supposedly, LSU would have too many players out of the game otherwise. Covid-woe was them, at the time.
If there had been any doubt beforehand as to whether Alabama would win this game (there wasn’t), or even if LSU would keep it close (it wouldn’t), it would have been said that LSU played its cards right with the SEC office, since Nick Saban was absent from most in-person preparation leading up to the rescheduled game due to a positive (but in the end, mild) case of Covid-19.
However, in the interim month between the time Alabama was originally scheduled to kick LSU’s rear end all over Baton Rouge, and the date when Alabama finally got around to doing it, LSU imploded. More Tigers than Tiders missed this game, some due to contact tracing and others due to coming to the realization that the only thing tape from a matchup against Alabama would do, would be to hurt their draft stock.
No SEC team ever truly pulls for its brethren to win national titles in their own absence, but LSU is Alabama’s third-biggest nemesis (perhaps second-biggest if you grew up in the Mobile area, rather than any closer to the Tennessee state line), and only the most die-hard SEC!-SEC!-ers were cheering for Joe Burrow and friends to bring home the hardware in 2019. Most Alabama fans would rather have eaten a handful of roofing tacks, preheated in a furnace.
If it wasn’t hard enough watching LSU do what Alabama thought it would have a chance to do itself, it was made even less tasteful by watching LSU head coach Ed Orgeron do what Orgeron does in most facets of life, which is bull through it with all the finesse of a fully-loaded Peterbilt. Along the way, there was Orgeron-endorsed talk about LSU supplanting Alabama as the SEC’s elite, how things weren’t ever going to be the same anymore, and all the other et cetera that tends to leak from the mouths of people unaccustomed to success when they either get really lucky or happen to catch lightning in a bottle.
So what happened? The real talent (Joe Burrow, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, others) and the real braintrust (Dave Aranda, Joe Brady) left Baton Rouge, and left behind a thick-between-the-ears bully who can recruit and intimidate, but who has never shown the ability to manage people, manage situations or even manage himself.
There’s a reason people thought LSU was making a mistake when it named Orgeron the permanent head coach of the Tigers, and that reason is he’s incapable of creating his own success, nor able to maintain any that happens to fall in his lap.
Against Alabama on Saturday night, Orgeron’s team talked trash down 35 points in the fourth quarter. It hit late and out of bounds. It dropped the football on the 1-yard line to get a head start on an end zone celebration. It jumped into the neutral zone on multiple snaps, drawing flags for being offsides.
Teams do take on the personality of their head coaches, don’t they?
Alabama only had to sit back and wait for LSU to lose their composure, but Nick Saban can be impatient at times, so Alabama went ahead and rolled out to a 21-0 lead just for the heck of it, buried LSU early, and then spent the second half of the game beating the Tigers into some kind of liquid food product.
And what did Orgeron do? Call timeouts down 35 in a display of some kind of bizarre, false-flag bravado so he could save as much of his angry face as he could for later, when he finds himself under fire in interviews and on the Quarterback Club circuit this offseason, we guess.
It’s telling that Orgeron frequently peppers his comments nowadays with discussion of recruiting rankings and future seasons, because this one is over. It’s dead, Jim. Deader than Elvis. And a large part of why, is because the guy at the top of the organizational chart doesn’t know how to be a leader.
Orgeron’s job is in danger, let there be no doubt about that. LSU is in the crosshairs of a very serious NCAA investigation that started in its basketball program, but has quickly spun out of those boundaries and now has pulled the entire athletic department, including the most-holy football program, into regulatory hell. Far more serious are allegations raised by former female students at the school that they suffered abuse at the hands of male athletes, and the allegations include the inevitable cover-up of misdeeds, because in LSU’s world – and if these female athletes are telling the truth, Orgeron’s world as well – what matters are the dollars, the prestige and the bragging rights that come from beating your betters in a quest to become one.
As long as Orgeron is at the helm of LSU, that quest will likely be a futile endeavor. LSU’s stars aligned in 2019, to be sure, but the 2020 LSU program surely looks more like a typical Orgeron team than the one that out-Alabama’ed Alabama in 2019. But, as everyone knows, the one thing Orgeron has proven able to do with the best of them: bring in talent.
It just looks more and more likely that Orgeron is planting the seeds for the success of the next LSU coaching regime.
Here’s the Five-Point Breakdown for Alabama-LSU:
1. LSU’s secondary, a symphony of ineptitude in 2020, kept right on playing bad music Saturday. When you look into the personnel at LSU and realize that the Tiger secondary ranks in the bottom sextile of all NCAA FBS schools, the only question is how LSU’s defensive coaches haven’t yet been sued for malpractice. DeVonta Smith, a Louisiana native, more or less spiked the football right in Mike The Tiger’s groin on Saturday night, because LSU had no answer for him and he made the experience as painful as possible for all Tiger fans and players alike. And when Smith wasn’t running wild through the LSU secondary or making impossible catches in the back of end zones, he found himself the target of the most misplaced trash talk in the history of football trash talk, as the Tigers – unsuccessfully – tried to goad him into a confrontation. Steve Sarkisian has had easier marks than this, but not when the basic talent level was this strong. Alabama made LSU look incompetent, and it was mostly because of how Sarkisian, Mac Jones, Smith and others abused the LSU secondary.
2. Bama offensive line neutralized the Tigers’ front seven, gave Mac Jones all the time he needed and controlled the game. Center Landon Dickerson comes across as one of those guys who, unless you’re related to him directly, or his best friend, just makes people mad simply by walking in a room. And to have a guy like that on your offensive line – it’s glorious. Dickerson got in the heads of DTs Glen Logan and Neil Farrell Jr. quickly on Saturday night, and in a year in which Dickerson has frustrated countless tackles and noseguards, he saved his best work for Baton Rouge. LSU’s defensive line was clearly out of sorts by the second quarter, losing its composure, not to mention its ability to stop anyone or apply any pressure to the quarterback. It wasn’t until Bryce Young entered the game for Alabama that LSU’s Ali Gaye found the ability to beat Evan Neal for a sack. Sacks included, Alabam ran for 265 yards, 3 touchdowns and averaged 6.2 yards per run. It was a beatdown.
3. Smith was the statistical story, but the offense’s success ran through Najee Harris. Harris finished with 21 carries for 145 yards (6.9 avg.) and 3 touchdowns, but it was the number of times he made 4-5 yards after contact that really broke LSU’s back. Harris was only stopped for fewer than 5 yards a couple of times, and when a team can run the ball like that, it creates openings in the passing game. With Jones his usual, pinpoint self, LSU was put in a terrible spot of trying to decide whether to let Harris run all over them or Jones pass all over them. In the end, LSU let Alabama do both. The fact Alabama got another 120-plus yards from Brian Robinson Jr., Jace McClellan and Roydell Williams shows that the problem wasn’t just Harris, but the LSU run defense writ large. Defensive coordinator Bo Pellini’s job is in trouble, perhaps more so than even Orgeron’s.
4. Bama’s defensive strategy was to put the pressure on LSU’s freshmen quarterbacks, and it worked to perfection. Alabama got 5 sacks in the game, one of its highest totals of the season, and forced Max Johnson and especially T.J. Finley into untenable situations throughout the game. Alabama mixed up its fronts to a degree fans hadn’t seen yet this season, and dive-bombed the LSU backfield with a smaller, quicker front that leveraged mismatches in speed and quickness. While it took awhile for the inside linebacker duo of Christian Harris and Dylan Moses to really get going, Alabama’s outside linebackers were part of the success story from the start. Will Anderson Jr. had his best game so far, while Christopher Allen’s takeaway of a ball from TE Arik Gilbert was a signature moment in the game. Daniel Wright was having a good game prior to being tossed out on a borderline targeting foul, but DeMarcco Hellams probably had his best game of the year in relief, getting 8 tackles in a little over a half of football and making a couple of bone-jarring hits. Alabama wasn’t great against the run, but …
5. … What exactly was LSU’s offensive philosophy, anyway? LSU didn’t just drop back down several tiers when it lost Joe Brady to the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and replaced him with Scott Linehan and (via a bigger role) Steve Ensminger, it started coming up with gameplans that displayed all the intuition of a hunting show featuring Elmer Fudd. John Emery carried the ball 7 times for 79 yards; why not run him more? Tyrion Davis-Price fought hard inside and reliably pushed the pile, but got only 8 opportunities himself. LSU was throwing the ball much too often with Finley to begin with, not to mention giving him too many low-percentage throws to make given his struggles with accuracy. Actually, the problem started long before that, when Finley was selected over Johnson to be the starter, despite Johnson having a more accurate arm and a better feel for reading the field. Right now, LSU doesn’t know what it wants to be on offense. It appears Orgeron fell in love with Brady’s high-flying style last year and thinks he can replicate it in 2020 despite having none of the same receivers and a quarterback not named Joe Burrow. It was a mistake, one that Orgeron doubled down on in this game, and he paid dearly for the miscalculation.
Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN