As head coach Ed Orgeron stepped on the “Hanging with Hester” radio podium in front of a crowded room at Walk-On’s Bistreaux and Bar in West Monroe, the LSU backdrop fell behind him, clashing on the hard tile and borderline scaring Orgeron in the process.
Orgeron raised his hands like he just won a nail-biter against the Alabama Crimson Tide and reacted about the only way you might expect, “Geaux Tigers!”
The men and women in purple and gold were happy to reciprocate a “Geaux Tigers!” on their end.
Whether it was the sports bar atmosphere Walk-On’s provided, the arrival of Orgeron and former players like Justin Vincent, Kevin Faulk and Jacob Hester or simply LSU's Top 10 finish a few months back, a certain buzz filled the air. And it’s that buzz, or hype in many cases, that Orgeron knows will follow LSU all offseason.
“This is what you expect at LSU, but it’s all about how you handle it,” Orgeron said. “We know what’s out there. But it doesn’t change the way we practice or prepare. We’re going to go as hard as we possibly can every day, and that’s always going to be there.”
Coming off of LSU’s first 10-win season since 2013, you could say the cheers for Orgeron and his staff felt earned Tuesday night.
And the expectations only grow now that LSU returns familiarity on the offense along with another talented Dave Aranda defense, which was bolstered by the return of former Neville standout Rashard Lawrence. Fresh off of a defensive MVP performance for his pair of sacks in the Tigers’ 40-32 win against UCF in the Fiesta Bowl last January, Lawrence announced his decision to return to school as a senior. Orgeron felt like it was a shot in the arm.
“A lot of juniors stayed this year, and him and Breiden Fehoko staying gave us some stability,” Orgeron said. “We would have been in a lot of trouble had Rashard left. That would have been a big hole we would’ve had to fill. He’s a team leader for us, and he had a great game in the bowl game. I expect him to have a great year for us.”
One of the biggest reasons for optimism this season is the return of Joe Burrow at quarterback. In the last four games of the season, Burrow completed 67 percent of his passes and threw for 1,166 yards, 10 touchdowns and one interception. Burrow earned praise for being a student of the game and, for what always earns brownie points with Orgeron, toughness, which LSU’s headman called the DNA of LSU football.
“We have some audibles at the line of scrimmage and Joe is always in there studying,” Orgeron said. “What we didn’t do last year was run Joe, and that was because Myles was hurt. Hopefully this year we can run it more.”
And though LSU’s offense returns eight starters, Orgeron has been vocal about getting LSU’s pass protection issues resolved this summer. That’s why a majority of LSU fans have their microscopes hovering over the tackle positions, as LSU was tied with Texas A&M for most sacks allowed in 2018. One player who could push for playing time is former Ferriday two-way stud Dare Rosenthal. Rosenthal made the switch from defensive line to offensive tackle late in the season and played with the second-string offense in LSU’s spring game.
“I think he’s doing a tremendous job,” Orgeron said. “Dare is one of our most explosive players. He’s very powerful. He’s worked very hard on the field and in the classroom. I think he’s going to be a great left tackle at LSU.”
Orgeron’s trip to West Monroe was the second stop on the TAF Coaches Caravan, which was in Shreveport Monday night. Orgeron has made the most of the travel by hitting the recruiting trail in an effort to keep LSU’s No. 2 2020 recruiting class, according to 247 Sports, on the right path.
“Recruiting is going very well for us,” Orgeron said. “I spent half the day on the phone. Driving around all day, recruits calling me. I try to text them. I try to stay in constant contact with them.”
Orgeron is sure to make many more public appearances before the Tigers finally suit up and take the field in Tiger Stadium. And judging by the crowd in West Monroe, the hype will only intensify as football draws near.