When Ed Orgeron became LSU’s full-time head coach, he boasted that Tigers’ defensive coordinator Dave Aranda was “the best coordinator in the country.”
That title will get tested stiffly on Saturday morning in the Tigers’ final chapter in the 2016 season.
LSU will battle Louisville on Saturday in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl – a sexy matchup among powerful programs that will entertain fans before the College Football Playoff later that day.
For LSU, the challenge is simple: contain Louisville’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson – one of the most explosive players in recent college football history.
But that task is easier said than done, according to Aranda, who quipped that Jackson will force him to earn every penny of the lengthy contract extension Aranda signed just weeks ago.
“You know, it’s Merry Christmas to everybody,” Aranda said with a laugh when asked about defending Louisville. “What they do best is when you think it’s a pass, they run it. When you think it’s a run, they throw it. They keep everything off balance. … It’s going to be a great challenge to our team.”
Jackson is worth the hype.
The Louisville quarterback wowed college football this season, dominating opponents with both his arm and legs throughout the year.
Jackson completed 220-of-382 passes for 3,390 yards, 30 touchdowns and nine interceptions this seasons – all numbers that ranked near the top of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
But as a rusher is where Jackson is most lethal.
He accumulated 1,538 yards and 21 touchdowns with his feet, posting eight, 100-yard rushing games on the season.
Orgeron said containing Jackson will be one of the most difficult things the Tigers have done defensively all season.
In bowl game preparation, freshman quarterback Lindsay Scott played scout team and imitated Jackson’s tendencies for the LSU defense.
Those defenders are fierce and have locked down just about every offense the Tigers have faced this season – a unit led by Arden Key and Davon Godchaux up front and anchored by Tre’Davious White and Jamal Adams in the secondary.
“That’s been a strong suit of our team all season,” Orgeron said. “We look forward to having another challenge against one of the best offenses in the country.”
But for all of the talk about Jackson and how he matches up against the dominant LSU defense, the story of the game just might be on the other side of the ball.
LSU’s offense comes into the game red-hot after scorching Texas A&M’s defense in the final game of the season.
Against Louisville, the Tigers will face a great challenge, though, because the Cardinals are one of the best teams in the country at stopping the run – allowing fewer than three yards per carry on the season.
LSU will also be without All-Everything halfback Leonard Fournette, who will miss the game to rest for the NFL.
That means that sophomore Derrius Guice will handle the load throughout.
Guice is also one of the country’s best, posting more than 1,200 yards on the year.
His power between the tackles has caught the attention of Louisville coaches and players, who agreed they will have their hands full against the Tigers offense.
“They’re talented,” Louisville defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “We understand that they’re very good at running the ball and any time you’re good at running the ball, you’re going to have the ability to throw the ball down the field.”
Saturday’s game will be the first for Orgeron as the full-time LSU coach.
He coached LSU for most of the season after the team parted ways with Les Miles following the Auburn game.
Orgeron did so well in an interim position that he earned the job for the future – inking a five-year deal shortly after the regular season finale.
He said he thinks the bowl will be a chance for LSU to take momentum into the offseason before emerging in 2017 as a team hungry for a championship.
“This sets our standard,” Orgeron said. “Which is to win championships at LSU.”
DIG SCOUTING REPORT
LSU offense vs. Louisville defense
The Cardinals are good at stopping the rush, but a lot of that is because they got ahead of opponents, who then abandoned the running game altogether. The Tigers ought to move the ball well.
LSU defense vs. Louisville offense
It’s hard to give anyone an advantage over LSU’s defense, but Louisville earned it. They’re the No. 1 offense in the country – a unit that has success on just about everyone.
The Tigers have a new special teams coordinator and a lot of transition usually doesn’t mean good things for that unit, so we favor the Cardinals.
LSU 35, Louisville 21
Photo by Sean Gasser.