The change at the top from Les Miles to interim head coach Ed Orgeron has delivered two resounding victories and a big breath of fresh air to the LSU football program.
The Tigers actually had a quarterback pass for nearly 300 yards in Saturday's 45-10 runaway against Southern Miss. And, perhaps even more invigorating, was instead of trying to get the latter stages of the game over with like a dental appointment, the Tigers actually worked on some things that might help them against tougher opponents down the road, starting with No. 23 Ole Miss this weekend in Death Valley.
(gasp) - Danny Etling even threw a touchdown pass to Malachi Dupre late in the fourth quarter up 38-10! Things off Nicholson Drive sure have changed a lot in just a few weeks.
Certain players have been liberated a bit. To be fair, junior wide receiver DJ Chark and senior tight end DeSean Smith both found the end zone this season before Miles was fired. But their collective impact continues to strengthen, as the current coaching regime moves forward. In two games under Orgeron and new offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger, Chark has six receptions for 149 yards and a touchdown. Before this season, he had never caught a pass in college. Not only did Chark display amazing speed and acceleration on a breathtaking 80-yard catch and run score vs the Golden Eagles on Saturday, but those abilities also shined on a 19-yard TD run. This guy touched the ball once in a game during his first two years? Once?
An equal or perhaps bigger travesty is 6'5”, 249-pound senior tight end DeSean Smith. In his three previous seasons at LSU, Smith had a grand total of (wait for it) - 9 receptions for 162 yards and zero touchdowns. All four of his catches during the 2014 season occurred during the final game of the season, a Music City Bowl loss to Notre Dame. The coaching staff did a great job of finally realizing Smith's abilities in that game and built on it moving forward, as he had four more catches during the entire 2015 campaign.
Apologies for the over-the-top sarcasm, but I mean … Really? Have you seen this guy catch the football in traffic and motor down the field? Saturday night against Southern Miss, Smith only caught two passes, but they were both biggies, going for a total of 56 yards. LSU is now giving opposing defensive coordinators more to work on than they first anticipated, as Tiger foes begrudgingly realize the new coaching staff finally knows No. 89 is on the roster and will throw him the football.
And, Coach Ensminger himself is being given a chance to prove how underutilized he's been since joining the staff in 2010. Someone close to the LSU football program joked with me Saturday night that the 58-year-old Central native and former LSU quarterback had become a king of crossword puzzles and computer games. Because, that was basically all he was allowed to contribute during the Tigers' offensive meetings before now.
The media has likewise been given a new playbook and - dare I say encouraged a good bit - allowed to watch and video large segments of the Tigers' practice during the week. Orgeron realizes that providing us such an opportunity gives absolutely zero strategic advantage to the LSU foe in return, as we see no scrimmage work or any plays actually being called. But we still get great visuals for our sportscasts of the Tigers competing, with the need to survey the landscape for injured players diminishing greatly. If you're wondering if a player is hurt or not, simply ask the coach. He'll be happy to tell you.
That's also a pretty incredible departure from the past.
And Orgeron, certainly unlike Miles (not taking a shot, just telling the truth) has been extremely punctual arriving to press conferences and his weekly radio show. It was not uncommon for Miles to show up 15 to 45 minutes late, sometimes even later than that, for media gatherings. Orgeron, on the other hand, has been more respectful of everyone's time. And the media is appreciative of the gesture.
Inviting former LSU players to walk down Victory Hill with the current group of Tigers is another very smart move. It certainly can't hurt LSU for a potential recruit to see that Kevin Faulk, who won three Super Bowls with the New England Patriots and was recently inducted into their Hall of Fame, is proud of where he played college football and wants to stay involved.
On the public relations front, Coach O has made all the right moves. With that being said, let's all take a deep collective breath and a look at the big picture. Les Miles won 114 games at LSU. Ed Orgeron has won two. And while Miles bashing is perhaps easier and more prevalent than ever, we should all be a bit measured. Missouri and Southern Miss, the two teams Ed O's Tigers bashed, are not elite squads. Missouri (2-3 overall, 0-2 SEC) went to now No. 15 Florida and lost 40-14 Saturday, while Southern Miss (4-3 overall, 2-1 Conference USA) was beep-beeped by the Roadrunners of Texas-San Antonio 55-32 a week before its visit to Baton Rouge.
The cupcakes have all been eaten and now an absolute gauntlet lies ahead for the Tigers and their very likable and energetic interim Cajun coach, as he tries to prove this gig belongs to him full-time. And, if Orgeron goes 5-0 against those No. 23 Rebels, No. 1 Alabama, No. 17 Arkansas in Fayetteville, No. 15 Florida (you definitely won't have to worry about LSU being lethargic after Bama this year) and No. 6 Texas A&M on Thanksgiving night in College Station, it will be very hard for athletic director Joe Alleva to tell him no.
As ESPN College GameDay host Rece Davis recently said - "Ed Orgeron looks like LSU. And he talks like LSU." No disagreement here. Orgeron has countless Louisiana natives rooting for him to beat the odds and remain the head coach. One of those people seems to be my Cajun-to-the-core father, who upon hearing the infamous "Colonel Reb Is Crying" song that mocked Orgeron during his time at Ole Miss, didn't laugh a bit and deadpanned - "They're trying to make a Cajun look stupid."
Louisianians stick together and root for their own on big stages - from Odell Beckham to Hunter Hayes. We certainly don't talk funny. They do. And now, a larger than life personality from the swamp has his shot. The true tests will now begin.
Allons, Coach O.
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