LSU, Orgeron, take fortress mentality into uncertain 2018
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — If LSU coach Ed Orgeron wanted to highlight perceived slights of the Tigers as a way of motivating players to prove their critics wrong, he’d have plenty of material.
Expectations are relatively low in 2018, Orgeron’s second full season at the helm. A number of unproven players are competing for key positions on offense and the Tigers have a daunting schedule that begins with resurgent Miami and includes games against each of last season’s national title game participants, Alabama and Georgia.
If Joe Burrow, a graduate transfer from Ohio State, isn’t the answer at quarterback, or if sophomore QB Myles Brennan isn’t ready, it could be a rough season. Those are LSU’s only two QBs on scholarship following recent decisions by projected reserves Lowell Narcisse and Justin McMillan to transfer. The Tigers’ top running backs are senior Nick Brossette, who was a third-stringer last season, and sophomore Clyde Edwards-Helaire, whose next carry will be the 10th of his career.
Not a single wide receiver had more than 219 yards in 2017 and the offensive line took a hit when starting guard Ed Ingram was suspended indefinitely for an undisclosed violation of team rules.
But when LSU’s burley, Cajun coach addresses his players with his distinctive raspy voice, he makes it clear he doesn’t want them dwelling on doubters, telling them instead to “block out the noise.”
“I try to get them to focus on the task at hand and put all that stuff aside,” Orgeron explained earlier this month.
It sounds like the Tigers have taken that to heart.
“I’m off of social media right now,” defensive lineman Breiden Fehoko said. “To me, it hasn’t really set in to try to prove people wrong. It’s more so to prove us right. To prove what we can do.”
Fehoko, a junior, transferred to LSU from Texas Tech and will play his first snaps for the Tigers when they travel to Dallas to meet the Hurricanes on Sept. 2.
Some other things to know about LSU this season:
The 6-foot-4 Burrow has maturity and experience on his side as he competes against 6-5 Brennan. Burrow was a highly regarded recruit in Ohio. But after a redshirt year with the Buckeyes in 2015, he could not beat out J.T. Barrett for the starting job the past two seasons. He appeared 10 games for Ohio State, completing 29 of 39 passes for 287 yards and two touchdowns. Brennan attempted 24 passes last season, throwing two interceptions and one touchdown pass. But Brennan was one of Orgeron’s prized 2017 recruits.
“We’re going to let the process happen throughout camp,” Orgeron said of the competition between his QBs. “I’m not going to tip my hand.”
And what if both get hurt? Next up are walk-ons Andre Sale and Jordan Loving.
“Those guys will have to start to get ready for backup in case an emergency would happen, but we feel good about the two quarterbacks that we have,” Orgeron said.
The most accomplished receiver on the squad is junior transfer Jonathan Giles, who still has to prove his success at Texas Tech in 2016 — 1,158 yards and 13 TDs receiving — translates in the SEC. The Tigers also have high hopes for a pair of true freshmen, Ja’Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall. Sophomore Justin Jefferson has impressed coaches enough to take first-team snaps in the Tigers’ initial intrasquad scrimmage of fall camp. The Tigers also expect junior Derrick Dillon to contribute in the slot.
Despite the receiver corps’ relative lack of experience, Giles calls that position a strength and predicts LSU will throw more than in the recent past.
LSU appears to have few concerns on defense.
Accomplished coordinator Dave Aranda has many experienced players returning in his pressure-heavy 3-4 scheme.
Outside linebackers K’Lavon Chaisson and Michael Divinity are expected to provide a strong pass rush from the edges. Junior linebacker Devin White anchors the middle. Ball hawk Andraez “Greedy” Williams, who had six interceptions last season, leads an accomplished secondary that includes Terrence Alexander, a graduate transfer from Stanford who is a strong candidate to play nickel back.
The Tigers hope to have addressed inconsistency in the kicking game by adding Cole Tracy, a transfer from Division II Assumption College. Orgeron has been pleased so far by Tracy, who last season led all Division II kickers in field goals with 27 and field goal percentage at .931.
In addition to the neutral site opener with Miami and home dates against Georgia on Oct. 13 and Alabama on Nov. 3, the Tigers have road games against Auburn (Sept. 15), Florida (Oct. 6) and coach Jimbo Fisher’s new team, Texas A&M (Nov. 24).