Billy Gomila, one of the merry band of bloggers over at the terrific LSU-centric And The Valley Shook!, reached out to me wanting a little perspective on where things currently stand with Georgia, which travels to Baton Rouge this season for a game on October 13th. (You can read our Georgia Q&A here.)
Not wanting to pass on an obvious opportunity, I asked Billy to reciprocate with a few questions of my own and he was gracious enough to share his perspective on the Tigers. Here ’tis:
1. The last time Georgia and LSU faced off was 2013, in one of the most memorable games I’ve seen in Athens. A lot of water has passed under the proverbial bridge since then, as both programs ditched their long-standing head coaches in the face of (relatively) diminished returns. 2017 saw their paths diverge, as Georgia made a national title run while LSU finished third in the SEC West. After less than three full seasons on the job, how silly is the hot seat whispering about Orgeron?<
Honestly, I wonder if this is just how it is for coaching hires that aren’t universally well-received by fans nowadays. There’s a portion of LSU fans that never wanted Orgeron to get the job, and they likely will never come around on anything short of perfection. The goalposts will always move, the benchmarks will always changed — they probably did the same thing with Les Miles. Right now, this crowd is talking about a .500 or below record this year, but I’m pretty sure 8-4 or 9-3, even if it surpasses their nominal expectations, still won’t be good enough.
Maybe Georgia might have been in this camp with Kirby Smart if not for last year being the run that it was. It seemed like there was some split on him for that first year or so.
People don’t want to believe that there was some rebuilding to do in this program, particularly along both lines of scrimmage, where LSU had gotten perilously thin. Something we saw come in to play early last year against Mississippi State and Troy (LSU had to play walk-ons against the Trojans on the defensive front). I like the way he was able to rally the team, and the Tigers haven’t had a 6-2 conference mark in some time, so even with a down SEC that’s still a solid campaign. But then there was the ugliness with Matt Canada, an unpopular replacement, a bowl loss and then a poor close on National Signing Day. That’s something Orgeron and Co. will have to overcome on the field. I’m not expecting this team to be a contender, but if it can show progress, 2019 may be the year that kind of talk becomes justified again.
I know this much: Orgeron has the support of the powers-that-be, and the most important ones believe in his plan, and that his plan was sorely needed here. Barring some sort of extreme collapse in 2018, that’s going to continue. The people who don’t like that will just have to learn to deal. There’s no pleasing the Tiger Rant crowd anyhow.
2. The perspective from over here is that LSU is always one of the SEC’s most talented programs. Including the incoming class, how does the 2018 roster compare with those of the past few seasons? Which is the most overrated position group? The most underrated?
Honestly, it’s a joke and mostly lazy analysis that puts LSU anywhere near Alabama’s talent level after a near decade of No. 1 classes. This is a roster that hasn’t been able to put the right pieces together for some time for a number of reasons, including some key recruiting misses, and the massive outflux of underclassmen to the NFL Draft. And that’s before we even bring up quarterback.
The most overrated unit on this team, as of today, is probably the receiving corps. There are a lot of big-time talents, but for one reason of another, some of which include off-field issues, the big-name talents just haven’t produced. Drake Davis, Dee Anderson and Stephen Sullivan are all 6-4, 215-plus pound athletes, but none of them are particularly good at getting open or catching the ball consistently, hence they’ve been jumped by Texas Tech transfer Jonathan Giles, three-star sophomore Justin Jefferson, and likely will be passed up by true freshmen Terrace Marshall Jr. and Ja’Marr Chase, once they arrive and catch up to speed.
I think this defensive line might be an underrated group, at least in terms of the national conversation. There’s a lot more size than LSU’s had in the past with two very big nose tackles in Ed Alexander and Tyler Shelvin, and a pair of 3/4i-tech ends that should be terrors to deal with in Rashard Lawrence and Breiden Fehoko, another transfer from Texas Tech. Lawrence spent most of last season playing on two sprained ankles, and the line was noticeably better with him in versus the games he missed. Fehoko was a rare top-100 recruit for the Red Raiders, and yes he struggled but he’s spent his sit-out year here becoming a weight room marvel, and the talk this spring is that he’s as good as anybody LSU’s had in some time.
3. How dire is the situation at quarterback, anyway?
Well, most of us are steadily refreshing Twitter and various message boards in hopes of landing Ohio State’s backup as a graduate transfer, so that says something, right? (Note: we may have decision by press time)
Truthfully, I think there’s potential here with true sophomore Myles Brennan and redshirt frosh Lowell Narcisse, but I don’t think either is ready right now, so if there’s a way to help give them more time, I think that’s definitely a good thing. LSU’s quarterback woes involve a lot of factors, but a big one has been the constant insertion of young players in a “savior” role before they are ready, and in the process severely stunting their development. Jarrett Lee, Jordan Jefferson all the way through Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris were all forced into starting roles in years one or two. Sure, that works out for some guys, but it can also involve a lot of growing pains. And for LSU that led to scars that never really healed for any of the players involved. It would be nice to break that cycle with Brennan and/or Narcisse.
4. What’s the deelio with the revolving chairs at offensive coordinator? Is LSU in a better place now by ditching Canada after one season in the job?
I think so. Canada did an okay job with what he had last year, but it was only just okay. Steve Ensminger, for all the lack of pub, put up better numbers working out of Cam Cameron’s playbook in 2016 with personnel that was relatively similar.
In the end, fit matters, and Canada just didn’t fit here for a lot of reasons. Mostly the same reasons he’s bounced from a couple other jobs over the years before his big year at Pitt put him back on the map. As it is he had to take less than his full buyout on his way out the door (and LSU threatened to fire him for cause), and all parties involved signed NDAs. It just didn’t work out. Still, it’s never a good reflection on the head coach when his marquee hire fails so quickly.
5. Pick the three toughest games on LSU’s 2018 schedule and explain why.
Only three? Well, LSU’s going to walk into both the Georgia and Bama games at a talent disadvantage right out of the shoot, plus, you know, them being the defending conference and national champs. After that, take your pick: Miami in the season opener could be ranked in the top 10, on the road at Auburn in week three, or a Mississippi State team that returns a ton of talent, even with a new head coach.
I guess I’ll have to pick Auburn as No. 3 on this list (although they’re always No. 2 to both of us AMIRITE?!), because LSU hasn’t won in Jordan-Hare since 2012, and that was just the second time since the turn of the century. Fun fact: the last two Auburn coaches to lose to LSU at home were also fired after that season.
I have my questions on Auburn’s quality this season, but winning there is really hard to do and there’s just no getting around that.
The guys at ATVS are as into good brew and eats as any CFB bloggers can be, so for those of you, like me, who are planning to travel to LSU for the game, rest assured I plan on a follow-up asking for travel and tailgating tips from the guys, along with more football commentary as we get closer to facing off.