Coach O's first campaign in Baton Rouge is looking a lot like one of his predecessors
A man in his first full season as LSU’s head coach has been enduring blistering criticism. His Tigers lost to a team from the state of Alabama that plays in a minor conference. They turned over the ball multiple times. LSU’s kicker missed a field goal from a makeable distance. That squandered opportunity to score proved to be the difference in the final score. LSU did not even score until the third quarter. It was an ugly performance in all facets.
Despite the wretched performance overall, the Tigers still only lost by three points. A last-minute interception sabotaged any chance of pulling out a victory or, at worse, going to overtime. Nevertheless, what was supposed to serve as a breather between SEC contests versus alleged punching bag turned into an embarrassing defeat in Tiger Stadium.
Some LSU fans had already questioned this coach’s hiring from the day it was announced. This new coach had never won more than seven games during any of his full seasons at a major conference program. He had never won a bowl game at any previous job. The incredulity over this man’s hiring rose sky high after that presumed rent-a-win turned into a loss.
The coach silenced some of the criticism by defeating some SEC foes during the next few weeks following that infamous loss. He managed to lead LSU to two wins over ranked SEC opponents during the next few weeks. However, the glaring loss lingered in some fans’ minds with no later wins capable of expunging it.
Someone reading this in 2017 would rightfully assume that this description applies to Ed Orgeron (above, right). Actually, it does. However, the same situation happened to LSU’s head coach in 2000. That man was Nick Saban (right).
Saban experienced a loss at home to UAB in his first season at LSU. His team committed 13 penalties for 113 yards. They turned the ball over six times (two fumbles, four interceptions). Yet had his kicker connected on a 45-yard field goal in the third quarter, his team could have had enough points to escape with a win.
This season, Orgeron endured a defeat at the hands of Troy in Tiger Stadium. His offense fumbled the ball twice and threw two interceptions. Two of those turnovers occurred when the Tigers had driven inside Troy’s 30-yard line. One possession ended with a field goal missed from 35 yards. To add to the miscues, they also committed four penalties for 29 yards.
Following the humiliating loss in Tiger Stadium to UAB in 2000, the Tigers rebounded to upset two ranked teams, Tennessee and Mississippi State, over the next few weeks. Saban led them on the road to face the program that was dominating the SEC at that time: Florida. That trip brought LSU crashing back to Earth with a 41-9 pasting. Nonetheless, Saban’s crew finished with seven regular season victories plus a victory in the Peach Bowl.
Since the loss to Troy, LSU has reeled off three straight wins in the SEC, two of them on the road. Two of those victories occurred versus opponents ranked in the top 25 at the time of the game. However, Orgeron must try to guide the Tigers to success against the program currently dominating the SEC: Alabama. Ironically, in order to do so, he must defeat the other coach in this comparison.
Can Coach O exceed what the man widely acclaimed as the greatest coach currently in college football failed to do during his first season in Baton Rouge? That would be going on the road and upsetting the bully of the SEC en route to a conference championship? If not, can he bring an SEC title to Baton Rouge in his second year as Saban did? Does he have what it takes to guide LSU to a national championship as Saban did in his fourth year in Baton Rouge? Only time will reveal those answers.
However, anyone assuming that LSU’s program is declining into oblivion due to a inexcusable loss to a team paid to be an easy win should take note of recent history.
— Written by John La Fleur, a contributor to AthlonSports.com, who focuses on the New Orleans Saints and Michigan State Spartans. He also frequently comments on other teams in the NFL and in NCAA football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur and read his viewpoints at gridironconnoisseur.wordpress.com and at gridiron-connoisseur.blogspot.com.