Benefit Of The Doubt 37, Ed Orgeron 7: Three Quick Observations

The Ed Orgeron Era at LSU is now factually underway, as we’ve had a chance to see the new Tiger head coach in action against an SEC opponent with his program in place.

Unfortunately, the results were worse than anyone could have imagined. Orgeron’s Tigers, a 7.5-point favorite on the road at Mississippi State, were run straight out of Davis-Wade Stadium in what was pretty close to the worst margin of defeat by an LSU team in the 21st century.

The LSU offense was a horrendous joke, the defense was woefully unprepared, the special teams were ineffective, and worst of all the line play was a total and complete failure on both sides of the ball. This wasn’t some freak performance. LSU was dominated from start to finish by a team whose roster mostly consists of players neither Orgeron nor his predecessor Les Miles wanted.

I suspect our readers don’t really want to rehash the game, so the observations below are of a bit wider scope.

NO. 1: THIS LOSS HAD THE FEEL OF REALITY, NOT A HICCUP

The result in Starkville, if you hadn’t seen the game, would likely appear as a one-off in a game where nothing went right against an inspired opponent better than people thought. And it might well be that’s what it was.

Except LSU let Chattanooga’s backup running back rush for 85 yards the previous week, so the warning signs for what Mississippi State did to them were there. And LSU’s passing attack was largely inefficient against Chattanooga – they hit some big plays, but nine of 18 passing against an FCS team isn’t impressive. The fact that for some reason LSU won’t use four wide receivers, and Orgeron continues to praise receivers coach Mickey Joseph while alleging that he doesn’t have enough depth to use four when all but two of the wideouts on the roster are former four-star recruits, gives you an indication LSU still can’t pass.

And the complete lack of discipline – nine penalties for 114 yards, including two disgraceful targeting penalties – was foretold in the previous two games where LSU had committed 10 and 11 penalties, respectively. Orgeron spent the week after Chattanooga emphasizing better discipline, and failed. That is a very, very bad sign.

This team has been plagued with suspensions since the season started, and multiple players were suspended again. If the whole team is too busy smoking joints to play football and there are several players suspended for the first half of the season for repeated failed drug tests, that’s an indication the coach doesn’t have control of the team – something that tends to show up on the field against a quality opponent.

All of those things came home to roost in Starkville. If the team bounces back and learns a lesson about discipline and the poor play is cleaned up, it’ll be an amazing turnaround.

NO. 2: ORGERON LOST THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT WITH THAT PERFORMANCE

That’s definitely where it sits with me, and I’m most certainly not alone.

When Orgeron was hired, I wasn’t sparing in my criticism of LSU athletic director Joe Alleva – not so much because he hired Orgeron but because the process which produced the hire was hopelessly bush-league.

Specifically, Alleva made runs at Jimbo Fisher and Tom Herman to replace Les Miles, and when he couldn’t get either one he immediately hired Orgeron without looking at other coaches. There were a number of them whose resumes were clearly superior to Orgeron’s; after all, the last time Orgeron was in charge of a program (we’re not counting interim stints at USC and at LSU), he was 10-25 at Ole Miss and had a reputation as, while he was respected as a recruiter, the worst head coach in the SEC.

But once Orgeron was hired, LSU fans had a choice to make. We could believe that Orgeron had learned from his mistakes at Ole Miss and that he wasn’t that coach any longer, and that his failure in Oxford had no bearing on his potential at LSU, or we could believe the hire would turn out precisely as past performance suggested.

Since our belief as fans doesn’t come with much in the way of consequence – Orgeron is going to succeed or fail based on things he does and not on whether we predict him to succeed, or not – it’s more fun to be optimistic in the offseason. So we put aside the obvious concerns and bought in to the “native son returns” narrative, because why not?

Starkville is why not, as it turns out. When the season begins and the track record starts to show up, you’re no longer able to believe what you want to without evidence playing a part in informing that belief.

So the “native son returns” narrative is no longer sellable. Nor is the narrative that you can hire the best coordinators around and just let them do their thing and it doesn’t matter who the head man is. Mississippi State has less-heralded players and coordinators making less than half the salaries of Matt Canada and Dave Aranda, and LSU wasn’t even competitive with them.

Lots of people are going to be asking this week why Alleva didn’t talk to Dan Mullen, Mississippi State’s head coach, whom everybody knows is going to leave for the first bigger job he can get, before he threw up his hands and hired Orgeron. Right now that looks like it would have been a good move.

This is not to say the fans will all turn on Orgeron after the loss to MSU. It is to say the honeymoon is over and he’d better produce, because the doubts about him are going to mushroom now. Another uncompetitive performance like this and his seat is going to heat up considerably.

NO. 3: ALLEVA WAS A BIGGER LOSER THAN ORGERON TONIGHT

You almost have to feel sorry for LSU’s athletic director, because before tonight the most recent developments with respect to his job performance involved the amazing job Will Wade has been doing as the new men’s basketball coach. Wade has shown all the hallmarks to date of a program-builder; he’s turned over the roster and brought in a host of talented players, he’s built an outstanding coaching staff and he’s generated a ton of excitement about the program’s future.

Alleva had to feel like landing Wade amid what was a very professional and well-done search process – LSU did a lot of research before making a move on Wade, and when they went after him they did what it took to get him – was a magic bullet to the heads of his own critics, who were exceptionally loud after the Orgeron hire.

But at this point, hiring Wade actually might work against him. If Orgeron were to struggle to get bowl-eligible this year, let’s say, while Wade coaches a totally rebuilt team into the NIT or maybe even the NCAA in March, the results of the two search processes will be pretty stark; one coach hired through a national search and winning a competition with several other programs trying to land him succeeds above expectations, while the other hired through a process perceived to be less open and more political turns into a fizzle. You could survive that if the fizzle was in basketball rather than football – when it’s the other way around, everyone will ask why Alleva didn’t do his homework and get a Will Wade for football.

The Powers That Be at LSU will not allow Joe Alleva to hire Ed Orgeron’s replacement if he gets fired. And if the Mississippi State loss is truly the harbinger of a swift decline in LSU’s program, it’s going to cost Alleva his job.

Let’s hope that what happened in Starkville was somehow an anomaly and not the truth coming out about the state of the program. If the latter turns out to be reality, things are going to get ugly – and fast.

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