Ed Orgeron won’t be the LSU head coach much longer. Anyone surprised by that development should probably consider attending seminars on how to become less gullible.
Anyone who has followed Orgeron’s career to this point should know two things: One, the man can recruit. Two, he’s about as stable as a vat of elemental sodium left outside in a rainstorm.
The 2021 LSU Tiger football team is pure Coach O. It is, all at the same time, imminently dangerous, and halfway out to lunch. Talent is everywhere, yet on-field intelligence is so lacking as to attract the suspicions of a truancy officer. This isn’t a case of a team imitating Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – it’s a team that alternately resembles a nuclear bomb and a bed of daisies.
Into that situation steps Alabama, which is just trying to get to Atlanta in one piece, thank you very much. Alabama might want to sign up for a nice game of chess, but LSU is more interested in playing Twister in the nude.
Whether LSU pulls over to the side and lets Alabama through, no one can say. Despite an injury/callout sheet the length of Santa’s naughty list, LSU still has the talent to make Alabama’s lives miserable Saturday night. But whether it has the composure, that’s a question for a head coach who is already halfway out the door of the plane with his golden parachute already deployed.
LSU’s offense tries to be a multiple, pro-style attack in the same vein as Alabama’s, but hasn’t been able to put up the numbers. The Tigers’ rushing offense is particularly anemic, ranking 113th nationally, and would have been substantially worse had it not exploded unexpectedly in the Florida game. Total offense ranks 83rd, with passing offense leading the way at 32nd, but passing efficiency is a mediocre 52nd. Alabama, meanwhile, ranks 10th overall, 11th in passing, 52nd in rushing – a number that has steadily improved over the course of the season and is far more consistent than it first appears – and 4th in passing efficiency.
LSU’s Max Johnson has enough raw talent that him having a Zach Calzada-type night is not out of the question. However, despite the Tigers ranking 32nd in passing, Johnson has been inconsistent at times and not all that effective in big moments. On the year, he has thrown for 2,009 yards on 61.4% completion, and while he has 20 touchdowns he has also thrown 5 interceptions.
Johnson isn’t a bad athlete but he’s also not a scrambler, and he doesn’t respond consistently to pass-rush pressure. The backup is freshman Garrett Nussmeier, who is completing under 50 percent of his passes and has also taken several big sacks despite not getting a lot of snaps overall.
Alabama will start Bryce Young, whose QB rating is almost 30 points higher than Johnson’s, and whose completion rate stands at 70.0% coming into this game. Young is also the far superior running quarterback when he needs to be. Backups Paul Tyson and Jalen Milroe are probably both better than Nussmeier at this point. Advantage: Alabama
This has been the mystery of the last two seasons under Orgeron, and is as much a factor in his failure as head coach as anything else. Aside from the Florida eruption, the running game has been in tatters in 2021. Tyrion Davis-Price’s Florida numbers helped elevate his season stats off the mat, and when you look at his overall production now – 120 carries for 627 yards, 5.2 avg., 6 TD – they appear to favorably compare to that of Alabama’s Brian Robinson (142 carries, 706 yards, 5.0 avg., 11 TD).
But Davis-Price ran 36 times for 287 yards (8.0 avg.) and 3 touchdowns in the Florida game alone; the rest of the year, he’s carried 84 times for 340 yards (4.1 avg.) and 3 touchdowns, which is subpar for an SEC starter in a pro-style offense. Corey Kiner is the backup; his production has been average at best. Third-teamer Armoni Goodwin has 11 carries on the year.
Beyond Robinson, Alabama has developed Roydell Williams into an effective backup with Jase McClellan still sidelined, and Trey Sanders is effective in spot work while he continues to recover from a car accident suffered a year ago. So long as the Davis-Price from the Florida game doesn’t show up, Alabama has this category by a long shot. Advantage: Alabama
LSU will be down at least two major contributors here, possibly three, due to multiple injuries and opt-outs. The biggest loss is of course Kayshon Boutte, a one-man touchdown manufacturing plant, who appears to have had enough of Orgeron’s mess.
The starting trio – Brian Thomas Jr., Jaray Jenkins and Trey Palmer – all average around 12 yards per reception and are good complementary players for an SEC contender. Whether any can be the A-receiver is yet to be seen. Of the three, Jenkins is probably the one with the most upside. Deion Smith is the “possibly three” we refer to above, as he is listed as questionable with no specific ailment. If he’s out, the second unit will be Malik Nabers, Devonta Lee and Jontre Kirklin. Nabers is the only one of those to prove impactful this far.
Tight end is somewhat of a mess. Jack Bech is listed as the starter, but the official roster brands him as a wide receiver, and he is listed at just 6’2”, 207. He is the leading receiver of those still playing, however, with 28 catches for 333 yards (11.9 avg.) and 1 touchdown. The backups are another slender receiver type, Jack Mashburn, and big Kole Taylor, who has the build (6’7”, 245) but has yet to make a serious impact.
Alabama will start John Metchie III, Jameson Williams and Slade Bolden, with Traeshon Holden and JoJo Earle the primary backups. Cameron Latu had a nice bounceback game at tight end against Tennessee; Jahleel Billingsley and Kendall Randolph will add depth. Alabama has not been without its own issues this year, specifically at tight end and in finding some reliable depth at wideout, but LSU doesn’t even have its rotation clearly set coming into this game. Advantage: Alabama
Functionally, the LSU offensive line has been the biggest disappointment of any Tiger unit. Expected to be one of the best offensive lines in the conference in the preseason, the LSU offensive line is 92nd in sacks allowed and 58th in tackles for loss allowed, and in general has played up to about half of its massive potential. Harvard transfer Liam Shanahan starts at center, with Chasen Hines and Ed Ingram at the guards and Austin Deculus and Cameron Wire at the tackles – at least that’s what we expect.
Ten different Tiger OL have recorded starts this year; Wire has just one start so far. Shanahan and Ingram are the only players to start every game. Anthony Bradford, a starter for part of the year and arguably LSU’s most versatile lineman, is out for the season, which makes depth – already a critical issue – even more uncertain. Charles Turner now likely becomes the top backup at all three interior positions, and maybe the tackles as well. Marlon Martinez is the only other backup with experience.
For Alabama, it’s all about how RT Chris Owens and C Darrian Dalcourt will play in this game. The guard slots have largely stabilized behind Javion Cohen and Emil Ekiyor Jr., and LT Evan Neal may be the top lineman in the conference, if not FBS overall. Owens has also gotten more consistent lately, but Dalcourt can be erratic and hasn’t improved as much as hoped. J.C. Latham or Damien George might be in play at tackle if Alabama decides to shift Owens to his natural position of center, but that isn’t expected to happen. Either way, Alabama is well in control of this category. Advantage: Alabama
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