A good friend of mine looked at me days ahead of the UCLA/LSU matchup and calmly said with a country twang, “I think you’re about to have your bubble burst.”
That comment repeated in my head over and over as UCLA’s passing plays of 20 yards or more multiplied before my very eyes Saturday night. Those words of warning rang loud and clear and left me wishing it stopped me in my tracks enough to ponder the question, “What if?” days prior.
What if this LSU team’s defense repeats the same miscommunication issues that produced the worst pass defense in school history? What if LSU doesn’t improve up front despite returning four starters along the offensive line? What if new linebacker coach Blake Baker oversees similar woes from a unit that made LSU’s defense a punch line in 2020?
I suppose I did think about all of these possibilities, but I also shrugged them off.
This is UCLA we’re talking about. If any team is going to expose LSU’s pass defense woes, it’ll be Florida or Ole Miss much deeper into the schedule. We all know what UCLA wants to do.
You can imagine my bruised ego as my overconfident preseason ranking for the Tigers flew out the window with UCLA’s five passing plays of 20 yards or more and 10 rushing plays of 10 yards or more unfolded. UCLA punked LSU with 475 yards of total offense, and LSU succumbed to the Bruins like the inferior team it was in the fourth quarter.
And yeah, UCLA’s aggressive defense wasn’t a surprise. Been writing about it and talking about it for what feels like a month now, but that doesn’t change the fact that LSU has better athletes on the perimeter.
LSU’s offensive line was healthy going into this matchup after enduring multiple preseason camp injuries. Surely, they’d be able to manage. Right? Wrong.
Max Johnson was consistently running around to try and buy time, and get this, LSU was a couple of rushes late in the second quarter from going into the half with one rushing yard.
Thinking about UCLA bullying LSU up front will keep Tiger fans up late at night, thinking about what Alabama is going to do in a few months.
And that’s the point. What took place Saturday night completely changes the complexion of this college football season, and Ed Orgeron’s job security. With LSU down by three scores late in the fourth quarter, my wife looked at me and said, “Is Orgeron in trouble? Who would they even get to replace him?”
And to tell you the truth, I didn’t have an answer. Because I hadn’t thought about it. All summer long we’ve heard about Orgeron being on the hot seat after the team went 5-5 last season to go along with the university being disgraced with sexual assault allegations. As you know, winning can fix most things.
The first half of the schedule lined up for Orgeron to win the favor of the fans, so I never bought the narrative. Now the worst possible scenario transpired.
No, one game won’t get Orgeron fired, nor should it. But a performance like that against a good UCLA team will force you to recalibrate your predictions for the year along with Orgeron’s job security.
Because if LSU has these struggles against UCLA, it’s likely to have similar problems against Ole Miss, Kentucky, Florida, Texas A&M, Auburn and Alabama. Now all of a sudden those 7-5 predictions don’t look so crazy.
When the final result of Saturday’s game became inevitable, I had a similar thought. “This feels like Les Miles in 2016.” All offseason we heard the talks about change. Back then, it was all about Miles changing his offense.
This summer it was all about LSU simplifying it’s defense and improving communication on the field with new coaches.
Neither change took place, and we all remember how that ended in 2016 after LSU started the year with a 2-2 record. Miles was out of the door and the Orgeron era began.
Tiger fans don’t handle empty promises too well. In fact, many are saying Saturday’s loss to UCLA was worst than the Tigers’ season opening loss to Mississippi State a year ago. That’s just inaccurate, but I can understand why fans feel that way.
It isn’t worse because UCLA is a much better team than Mississippi State was a year ago, and that will be proven over the course of 2021. But the reason it’s more frustrating for fans is because the problems that existed in 2020 carried over into 2021.
Like Miles five years ago, that puts Orgeron on the clock.