BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Ed Orgeron is encouraging everyone associated with LSU to forget the recent past and let go of the frustration that led to the firing of arguably the most successful football coach in school history.
“We’re excited to start Week 1 of our new season,” Orgeron, who is now LSU’s interim coach , said this week as he prepared the Bayou Bengals to host Missouri on Saturday night.
The game is the first for LSU since last weekend’s firing of popular but polarizing coach Les Miles , who won 114 games in 11-plus seasons in Baton Rouge, not to mention the 2007 national title. A pair of early season setbacks this fall — both characterized by stagnation on offense and unproductive quarterback play — hastened the end of the Miles era.
LSU (2-2, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) had entered the season ranked fifth nationally , largely because the squad featured a slew of returning starters headlined by a Heisman Trophy candidate in running back Leonard Fournette. But after last Saturday’s 18-13 loss at Auburn, LSU fell out of the AP Top 25 .
LSU athletic director Joe Alleva wasn’t ready to give up on this season. He figured the best coach to save it might be Orgeron, who went 6-2 in his last interim gig with USC.
Orgeron also offers continuity, having been a defensive line coach at LSU since last season, and the recruiting coordinator for most of the past year.
“I would expect our team to come out and play very emotional and play with a lot of energy,” Orgeron said. “If you’ve been to our practice the last couple days, guys are having fun.”
LSU quarterback Danny Etling said his team knows that with only one SEC loss, its season is far from ruined.
“We still have a lot of goals. We can’t let the season go to waste,” Etling said. “To win out will require hard work, perseverance and guys coming together despite all the distractions.”
If Orgeron’s promotion doesn’t work out, then at least every top coach in college football knows now would be the time to take a serious look at whether LSU might provide an enticing opportunity in 2017.
In any event, recent upheaval on the bayou makes this an interesting time for Missouri (2-2, 0-1) to make its first appearance ever in LSU’s Death Valley.
“I’ve been through a coaching change during the season and I understand how that goes,” said Missouri coach Barry Odom. “I’m guessing and suggesting that both sides will be ready to play.”
Some things to know about Mizzou’s visit to LSU:
HIGH-FLYING TIGERS: Mizzou leads the SEC with 569.5 yards per game. Sophomore QB Drew Lock tied a school record by passing for five TDs in a game twice already this season. Lock is passing for 377 yards per game, which also leads the SEC.
“They have a passing game that will test you if you try to play the run too much,” Orgeron said.
But Lock still has to prove he can sustain such prolific play against SEC defenses. Much of his production has come against overmatched non-conference opponents Eastern Michigan and Delaware State.
SHIFTING ON THE FLY: While LSU has run the ball on nearly 60 percent of offensive plays this season, Orgeron has promised a change in offensive style under newly promoted coordinator Steve Ensminger.
“We’re putting in new plays, a new offense,” Orgeron said. “You can’t put a lot in in one week but we’re trying as best we can.”
WHAT A CROCKETT: Freshman running back Damarea Crockett is showing signs of emerging as a featured player in Mizzou’s offense. He isn’t a speedster, but his all-around ability and 220-pound frame give him potential.
“He’s a talented kid, and for us, his running style is fitting what we’re doing schematically,” Odom said. “He understands that this team is leaning and relying on him. He’s going to play meaningful snaps as we move forward.”
STOPPING POWER: One area in which LSU has been solid is defense. Under first-year coordinator Dave Aranda, LSU’s defense ranks third in the SEC and did not allow a touchdown at Auburn last week, forcing six field goals. Orgeron, a long-time defensive coach, was impressed. He elevated Aranda to associate head coach.
FOURNETTE’S STATUS: Fournette appeared to injure his lower leg late in the loss at Auburn , leaving his availability this Saturday in doubt.
“We don’t know,” Orgeron said. “All likelihood is that he’ll try to play.”
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