For the third year in a row, big thanks to Zach Junda for taking a good bit of time to answer my broad questions about LSU. There’s a lot happening over there, and while it’s funny to point and laugh from our vantage point, Zach spent a lot of time giving us what it looks like from their side of things.
Also check out the other half of our Q&A over there where I talk about Alabama to a crowd that decidedly does not want to hear it. They’ll also have a not-so-nice post later with some smack talk.
1) So let’s start high level... Where does your opinion fall on the Ed Orgeron stuff? Did LSU make the right move to fire him? Is it the right move to keep him around until the end of the season? And most importantly, will he make a good intern for the Nick Saban rehab program?
I...have many thoughts about Ed Orgeron. I’m, obviously, forever grateful for the fall of 2019. It was the greatest season in school history and arguably the greatest season in college football history and Ed was responsible for that. The quote-unquote shrimp boat captain even went into Bryant Denny Stadium and beat the greatest college football coach there ever was in his building and never trailed. That all happened and can’t be taken away.
However, Orgeron has rather impressively burned through all his cache that 2019 gave him. He used it all up so fast that it feels like that magical Joe Burrow season was 20 years ago, not 20 months ago. Ed had to go because the results on the field dictated it. Make no mistake, if Ed were doing all his stupid shit off the field and he were winning LSU fans would shrug their shoulders and say “that’s just Coach!” But letting Mississippi State throw for 623 yards on you, letting Kentucky run all over you, failing to gain a yard against Missouri, getting handed the worst defeats in both the LSU-Auburn and LSU-Alabama series, letting the 20+ year bowl streak end...I mean the program’s hit Gerry DiNardo lows and it’s all on him.
Was it the right move to keep him? I don’t think so but apparently it was the only move because no one else on the staff is up to the challenge of being an interim. I mean...huh???? I wish LSU would have ripped off the bandaid but that apparently won’t be the case so LSU fans will be subjected to seeing their team “led” by a dead man walking for four more weeks. Awesome.
As for being the latest lackey on Saban’s staff, I don’t think it’ll be a good fit because I imagine Nick wants men who can form their own opinions. Orgeron can only form thoughts when Pete Carroll or Joe Brady or Dave Aranda tell him.
2) How has shiny new OC Jake Peetz looked so far? He learned as an Alabama analyst as well as from Joe Brady at Carolina last year, so his offense clearly brings a lot of the concepts that the juggernaut Alabama and LSU offenses of 2018-2019 made so lethal, but knowing the scheme and calling the plays for the first time in your career are totally different things.
He looks like a complete bust! Who could have foreseen that hiring a first-year play caller in your make or break year would lead to struggles. LSU can’t get play calls in so they constantly have to burn timeouts; I am not exaggerating when I say LSU had to call a timeout against Auburn coming off a kickoff and, fun fact, the clock actually stops when you change possessions. And look I don’t think Peetz is necessarily a bad offensive coordinator, it’s just being the play caller at a place like LSU can’t be a learn as you go job and it’s insane Orgeron entrusted his future in a rookie’s hands...and he did it for both his offensive and defensive coordinator.
3) With Kayshonn Boutte out, what receivers do the Alabama defensive backs need to focus on? Freshman Brian Thomas? Alabama recruited him hard last year, so Tide fans know that name well. Is he the guy now?
LSU’s gone with a youth movement out wide including Thomas. In addition to Thomas there’s flex tight end/wide receiver Jack Bech, Deion Smith, and Malik Nabers who has come on strong as of late. All of those guys are freshmen and they’re only going to get better. LSU’s never ever had problems getting wide receivers and they’ve hit four home runs this past recruiting cycle.
4) Alabama’s defense has had various issues this year (mostly safety coverage busts and an entire defensive scheme built to ignore tight ends), but stuffing runs (9th in the country) has not been one of them. Meanwhile, LSU is 109th in getting stuffed. If Ty Davis-Price is going to be a big part of the offense like he was against Florida and Kentucky, how is he going to do it?
It’ll come down to how well LSU executes this counter scheme they’ve been running since the Florida game where guard Ed Ingram pulls from the left side to the right and walk-on tight end Jack Mashburn follows after him. Mashburn’s been a real revelation as of late, and he has surely earned himself a scholarship.
5) On defense, the Tigers are missing 7 starters or something stupid like that. The defensive backfield is looking particularly barren with Derek Stingley, Eli Ricks, and Sage Ryan all out. Nickel CB Cordale Flott and S Major Burns might make it back, though. If they don’t, though, are there any reserves in the defensive backfield that you’re maybe looking forward to having a shot to show they might have future potential?
There’s one, sophomore corner Dwight McGlothern who would be the leader in the clubhouse to take over Stingley’s starting spot come next season. He’s as tall as Ricks and Stingley though he’s about 10 pounds lighter than the two of them. But he’s shown flashes of being a quality SEC corner and future pro through two seasons, including a pick-six against Florida. There’s also Raydarious Jones who did the Allen Iverson stepover against a Florida receiver but got called for a taunting. Was it stupid sure, but it made me chuckle.
6) Right tackle Chris Owens has been good for ruining a couple of drives per game for Alabama. Does LSU have a pass rusher who can take advantage of that 1v1 on the edge? And if not, is there any chance DC Daronte Jones is going to go blitz-happy on Bryce Young (a strategy that worked for A&M, but hasn’t for anyone since)?
I’ll give you two: sophomore end BJ Ojulari, the younger brother of former Georgia/current New York Giant Aziz Ojulari. Ojulari’s the best pass rusher LSU’s had since Arden Key and should be a top-50 pick at the very worst in the 2023 Draft. There’s also superstar freshman Maason Smith, who is listed as a defensive tackle but has played all across the line through LSU’s first eight games. I have to give Ed Orgeron this: he made a name for himself as a defensive line coach and he’s done quite a good job building up the defensive line depth.
7) Are there any other bright young players you haven’t talked about yet who are flashing potential to be great players in the rebuilding years ahead?
I think it depends on who stays and by extension who the new head coach is. If LSU absolutely nails it and gets, say a Lincoln Riley or a Mel Tucker, you can sell to the current roster that *Ed Orgeron voice* we comin’ or whatever.
Anyway, assuming Scott Woodward gets his man, and he usually does, there’s pieces on this roster beyond who I’ve mentioned that any coach would kill to have. Freshman offensive lineman Garrett Dellinger has played quite a bit this year; freshman running backs Corey Kiner and Armoni Goodwin have differing but complementary skill sets. Heck even freshman quarterback Garrett Nussmeier has shown he’s got a much stronger arm than Max Johnson’s noodle arm. Whoever the next coach is, he’ll need to bolster the secondary and especially the offensive line if they want to get LSU back to CFP/NY6 caliber as early as 2022.
8) I like your kicker. If I offered to trade Alabama’s middle linebacker Henry To’o To’o for K Cade York and TE Jack Bech... Would you take it?
You got greedy asking for Bech so no. Bech is the guy LSU thought they’d get in Arik Gilbert, and it’s something they’ve never really had before. If it was just York for To’o To’o straight up, then sure, let’s call the SEC and send in the trade. But Bech is younger and has greater potential at his job than To’o To’o and frankly Damone Clark’s doing just fine at linebacker seeing as he’s a semifinalist for the Butkus award.
9) I know things aren’t generally in a great place for LSU fans right now, but .500 isn’t HORRIBLE for the amount of dysfunction it seems like we’ve seen from the outside. What would it take in the final 1/3 of the season for you to come out of it with a positive view for the future?
Get to a bowl game. LSU’s nearly there, they’ve got four wins with four games left to play. One is against ULM so that should be five wins. If LSU makes a bowl that means they’ll have gone at worst 1-2 against some combination of Alabama/Arkansas/Texas A&M.
I think the Texas A&M game is the most important of the three. There’s tiers in the SEC and if LSU loses to A&M this year, that means the Tigers will have dropped three of the past four. If that happens LSU drops from that second tier of “should constantly be a New Year Six contender” to like a Mississippi State/Arkansas/Kentucky plane of existence where your best case scenario is an Outback Bowl or some shit.
10) Start the coaching search now... Who are some candidates you’d like to see? Maybe give me one longshot, one personal favorite, and one darkhorse (or use your own criteria.... whatever you think).
Longshot: Luke Fickell. By all accounts he’s a Midwestern man through and through and if he makes a move it’ll be for a job like Michigan/Notre Dame/Ohio State. It’s sort of the same reason why Marcus Freeman didn’t take the LSU defensive coordinator job, he was just more comfortable moving from Cincinnati to South Bend.
Personal favorite: as much as I hate to say it, Lane Kiffin. I think there’s a ceiling at Ole Miss that doesn’t exist at LSU. Put it this way, you can win Sugar Bowls at Ole Miss; you can win national championships at LSU. And the worst kept secret in college football is Lane Kiffin wants the LSU job. It’s just a matter of if he gets it.
Darkhorse: Mike Tomlin. Now look I don’t think this happens, but Mike Whaley-the former NFL general manager who got this whole hypothetical started- didn’t just come up with this on his own. Somebody in the know, either on Tomlin’s side or LSU’s side, wanted to get that conversation going and if Tomlin has any hint of interest I say go for it.