Fallen Tigers

Rick Sarro Thursday, October 19, 2017 Comments Off on Fallen Tigers
Fallen Tigers

We can thank LSU’s homecoming gaffe for shifting the war of words away from Trump versus the NFL — at least in Louisiana, anyway. The never-ending debate about who is patriotic and who is disrespecting the flag wasn’t getting us anywhere. In addition, it was creating another great divide in this country.

It took a mighty fall from grace by the Tigers to do it, but they succeeded in putting the president and his vitriol toward the NFL players’ pregame protests on the back burner. For nearly two weeks that’s all anybody wanted to talk about.

Donald Trump, thinking he was still hosting a TV reality show, called players “sons of bitches” for disrespecting the flag (his opinion) and demanded they should be “fired.”

I thought we were in for another solid week of Trump-antics and those egomaniacal Tweets coming out of the White House. But Ed Orgeron placed himself squarely under the bus, and now in the crosshairs, of agitated LSU fans.

Unlike the president, Coach O hasn’t said anything really ridiculously stupid. It’s just that after the embarrassing loss at Mississippi State, and now the even more pitiful defeat at the hands of Troy, he hasn’t uttered anything especially insightful or trend-altering about the Tigers.

Now battered and bruised with a 3-2 record, I’m not sure “needing to play a complete game” and “taking it one week at a time” will satisfy a fan base that is worried this team may not get above .500 for the year.

I’m not saying Orgeron needs to rip into a profanity-laced tirade like Mr. Trump or Mr. Saban, but he better find some harsh and descriptive words to wake this team up to the fact they are about to embark on a treacherous string of seven straight SEC games, with only three of them at Tiger Stadium.

If I can suggest anything to the beleaguered Orgeron, it would be the simple fact that his next seven opponents are all light years better than the five teams he’s faced already.

I know that’s not real insightful or eye-opening information on my part. But I felt a need to cover the bases for Coach BeBe because I’m just not sure where his mind is right now or about his logic with the most important decision he must make every week — which quarterback do I play and who offers LSU the best path to victory?

Orgeron and his staff correctly tabbed Danny Etling the starting No. 1 quarterback back in August camp. But in back-to-back weeks, with the kitchen heating up and the game’s outcome in the balance, he pulled Etling and inserted true freshman Myles Brennan.

Against Syracuse, when the offensive line had an aversion to anything orange, in came Brennan at a very curious time in the third quarter. He guided the Tigers to a touchdown, but followed it with a critical interception. Orgeron’s face tightened (more than usual), and out came Brennan and in went Etling to win the game, which he did.

One week later, with Troy in control 17-0, Brennan again got the call to try to breathe life into a dormant offense. Once again, the Mississippi Kid notched a short-field touchdown. But he followed it, again, with an untimely interception.

Once again, Orgeron, feeling the walls of Death Valley closing in on him, swallowed hard and was forced to go back to his starter Etling. The more experienced senior quarterback engineered a 90-plus-yard drive that included several heady long runs and clock-saving steps out of bounds. Etling pulled LSU to within 3 with two fourth-quarter touchdown passes.

He did throw an interception himself with seconds on the clock and with no timeouts as he tried to put the Tigers in position for a possible game-tying field goal.

For the record, I hung up my Monday morning armchair quarterback ball cap before this column began so I could pinpoint the problem freely without the guilt and luxury of hindsight.

Orgeron’s decision to pull Etling in favor of Brennan, with the Tigers trailing 17-0, and showing little energy or motivation to mount a comeback, was simply dead wrong and probably cost the Tigers the game.

Faced with the weight of an impending homecoming upset at the hands of little Troy, Orgeron’s broad shoulders buckled and he lost faith in his quarterback. With star running back Derrius Guice sidelined with an injury, who else did Orgeron think could win this game from the offensive side?

Not Brennan, who has zero collegiate experience other than his brief and ill-timed stint against Syracuse, and fewer snaps with this new and struggling offense of Matt Canada.

I saw the same game as you, and Etling was not putting a scare in the Trojans in the first half. But neither was any other offensive or defensive player wearing purple, gold and white.

Etling was LSU’s best chance at a rally. But the team lost most of the third quarter because the head coach panicked.

Orgeron may lean on the fact that Etling took a vicious shot to the chest late in the second half and wasn’t 100 percent. But, apparently, he healed up quickly enough for his fourth quarter return.

On the FBS Power 5 level of football, with these high profile and highly paid coordinators, and an army of position coaches, the head coach is faced with maybe three or four critical decisions in every game. He is paid to make these decisions. One of them is when to pull or stick with the quarterback.

I can’t be the only one who feels the quarterback position is the least of LSU’s problems right now.

I’m hoping the choir in Orgeron’s church feels like I do and they sing it strong and loud with hopes it sinks in.

The offensive line is still inconsistent and not physical enough. The receivers are young and aren’t making enough plays to support any quarterback who’s under duress most of the time. Without Guice in the running game, opposing defenses have no one to really fear. And because of all of that, Canada’s fancy new motion offense has not clicked.

I’ve preached for three years running about how on earth LSU is going to successfully fill all those holes left by its four and five annual departures to the NFL draft by defensive stars — many of whom are now starters on Sundays.

I don’t care how many four- and five-star recruits are sitting on the bench just waiting for their turns at stardom. Pay little regard to Rivals.com and 247sports recruiting ratings and mumbo jumbo if you think LSU can easily replace defensive talent like Jamal Adams, Tre’Davious White, Kendall Beckwith and Duke Riley in a single off-season.

It’s true freshmen play because you have no one better to fill that roster spot. And rookies at this level will get you beat.

The Tigers’ defense is young and undermanned because of that inexperience and injuries. Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda’s schemes and game plans are only as good as his players’ execution and how well they communicate and play together. They aren’t doing those things very well through five games.

Coach O wasn’t with LSU back in 2008, but he knew all too well that Troy had LSU buried 31-3 in 2008 before the Tigers mounted one of their biggest comebacks to notch a miraculous win. He warned and reminded his team about that shocking near-upset and how these Trojans from south Alabama were back, seeking a program-changing victory they thought was locked up nearly a decade ago.

For some reason, Orgeron’s warnings and pleadings didn’t resonant with his Tigers, and their disinterested play, heavy legs and lackadaisical execution were as easy to see as a Trump off-script rant once the teleprompter goes down.

Over the first four games, LSU had only one turnover. The floodgates opened against Troy, as the Tigers handed it back to Troy four times; two of the turnovers led to touchdowns.

Last season’s defensive star Arden Key looks nothing like the sack master of 2016. At times, he appears to be sleepwalking through plays or playing not to get hurt. (Several NFL draft experts have Key rated as a Top 5 pick.) In his defense, Key is returning from off-season shoulder surgery with little to no real preseason conditioning, and is packing an extra 20 pounds.

The weight and impact of this defeat is just now being felt, and will weigh on this team all season.

It was LSU’s first ever loss to a Sun Belt team, and promptly ended a streak of 49 straight nonconference home victories going back to the 2000 season.

On the national stage, this loss won’t be mentioned alongside Liberty’s defeat of Baylor earlier this season; or Appalachian State’s shocking 34-32 upset of Michigan in Ann Arbor in 2007 — considered one of college football’s biggest upsets; because Troy is an FBS mid-major that did crack the Top 25 rankings last season.

That’s little solace to disheartened LSU fans across the country, who may be ducking for cover, fearing even more embarrassing Saturdays coming in the near future.

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