For the first time since before Hurricane Katrina, the LSU football team is preparing for a season with someone other than Les Miles as its head coach. But his successor is no stranger to the purple and gold. He’s a life-long Cajun with LSU engrained into his blood since birth.
It was a surprise to some when Tigers’ athletic director hired Larose native Ed Orgeron to be LSU’s full-time head coach after a 6-2 audition once the program fired Les Miles last season.
But to Orgeron, the decision was fate—a fitting climax for a Louisiana boy who said he remembers watching the Tigers play as a child and dreaming of running the program.
At SEC Media Day in early July, Orgeron told a story about LSU’s win over Notre Dame in the 1970s—a game he watched as a 10-year-old boy.
“Ever since then, I wanted to be in the purple and gold,” Orgeron said. “I want to thank Joe Alleva. I want to thank [F.] King Alexander and the LSU family for hiring me as the head coach of the LSU Tigers. What an honor. I obviously am excited about the upcoming season.”
The team Orgeron has to work with is on par with almost anyone in the country—at least on paper. Offensively, the Tigers return several starters off last year’s team, including junior halfback Derrius Guice, who rushed 183 times for 1,387 yards and 15 scores last season as a sophomore.
Also back offensively are quarterback Danny Etling, receiver DJ Chark and several linemen from last year’s group, which ranked statistically as one of the best in the SEC.
But Orgeron made it clear that LSU’s success will start and finish with Guice—a guy widely considered to be among the top players in the country.
“Everything that we do is going to be based around our best player, Derrius Guice,” Orgeron said. “We feel we have one of the best running backs and one of the best offensive players in the country coming back. He’s a great player. He runs the ball like Warren Sapp played the defensive line for me at Miami. He runs with an attitude. He’s a great young man.”
But perhaps more important than Guice or any other personnel LSU returns is the team’s scheme, which will be different in 2017 because of Orgeron’s offseason decision to hire veteran offensive coordinator Matt Canada—one of the hottest assistant coaches in the country.
Canada coached offense for Pittsburgh last season and the Panthers scored 35 or more points 10 times in 13 games, including 175 points in the final three regular season games, including a 43-42 victory over national champion Clemson—a game on the Tigers’ home field.
Orgeron said getting Canada marked a great day in his coaching tenure with the Tigers.
The offensive coordinator runs a wide-open, spread-out offense, which greatly differs from the closed-up, tight formations used by Miles.
But Orgeron said that’s OK and the new looks will help modernize LSU’s offensive approach.
“Matt runs a very diverse offense—a lot of shifts, motions, use of personnel and fly sweeps,” Orgeron said. “He makes it difficult to defend. But the thing I liked best about Matt was he talked about being a team player and he talked about running a balanced offense—50 percent run and 50 percent pass. I think he is going to do an outstanding job as offensive coordinator.”
Defensively, the Tigers already employed one of the top assistant coaches in the country—second-year coordinator Dave Aranda.
The group he will work with in 2017 will have a lot of new faces after losing Tre’Davious White, Jamal Adams, Duke Riley, Kendall Beckwith and others to the NFL.
But the cupboard is hardly bare, and Orgeron said he believes the Tigers will again be stingy on that side of the ball.
Orgeron said the biggest challenges for the Tigers will come up front where LSU will seek to replace five out of seven starters in their front seven.
But LSU does have some good ones back, including defensive end Christian LaCouture (who missed all of last season with an injury) and All-Everything rush-end Arden Key.
In the secondary, the Tigers return Donte Jackson—arguably the fastest player in college football. Also back is Kevin Tolliver.
In the spring, LSU also got big-time contributions from true freshmen Grant Delpit and JaCoby Stevens – two players who are expected to see time this fall.
“We are going to be young,” Orgeron said. “We have to go through some growing pains at the beginning of the season. But I know Dave Aranda is going to have them ready.”
But even with all the expectations and returnees, Orgeron said he knows the bulls-eye is pained on LSU’s date with Alabama later in the season—a matchup which the Tigers have not been able to conquer in the past several seasons.
Orgeron said he doesn’t shy away from that game, nor any others.
He said Alabama is the top program in the country right now and he knows that to get to the top of the mountain, LSU must go through the Tide.
Orgeron said he can’t wait to try, adding that he expects the Tigers to win every, single game they play.
“I don’t know if it’s that big of a gap,” Orgeron said when asked if LSU has fallen behind the Tide. “We need to play our football. Last year, we weren’t that far off.”