When LSU named Ed Orgeron head coach of the Tigers after four games into the 2016 season, the LaRose, Louisiana native, was a long shot to keep the job. But Orgeron quickly changed the culture of the program.
His one team, one heartbeat motto had a huge effect on the players and it resulted in a 5-2 record for the rest of the regular season.
LSU’s once predictable offense showed signs of life by setting a few records, including most yards in a game in a 42-7 win over Missouri. The defense also remained one of the nation’s best.
Orgeron became full-time head coach in December and the Tigers easily defeated Louisville 29-7 in the Camping World Bowl on New Year’s eve.
Orgeron kept the momentum going by hiring highly respected Matt Canada as his offensive coordinator. Canada has been successful at several schools with different types of quarterbacks.
Coach “O” showed he can give a program an adrenaline rush, but can he have long-term success?
“There are a lot of question marks,” Orgeron said. “We have the ability to answer it, and we have the coaching staff that is ready to work.”
Arguably the easiest thing for the coaching staff to do is give the ball to junior running back Derrius Guice. The Heisman candidate rushed for 1,387 yards, averaged 7.6 yards a carry and 15 touchdowns last season.
But the offensive line has a lot of question marks. Two-year starter Maea Teuhema is transferring. Will Clapp has started 23 games, but this is the first year he’s starting at center, plus he had shoulder surgery in the offseason.
Furthermore, the Tigers have two new starters at left and right guard, and zero experience behind starting tackles K.J. Malone and Toby Weathersby.
And speaking of inexperience, there’s plenty of it behind number one receiver D.J. Chark.
One guy to watch is six-foot-three sophomore Drake Davis.
“Just a fantastic player, but he’s got to be a little more mature and more consistent,” Orgeron said. “Derick Dillon has got to come in and play for us. Stephen Sullivan has a great spring. Dee Anderson needs to mature. He has a lot of athletic ability he needs the maturity. I am so excited about Racey McMath. He’s big, strong, physical and has a great work ethic.”
Senior Danny Etling is returning starter at quarterback. Etling had back surgery after the spring game and he’ll lead an offense that will look much different than what LSU fans complained about during the Les Miles era.
Canada’s offense features pre-snap shifts, motion and deception. Expect to see the receivers moving around a lot, before the snap. Orgeron has said they’ll need at least eight receivers ready to play.
Dave Aranda enters his second season as the Tigers defensive coordinator. Last year, the Tigers allowed the fewest touchdowns in college football. Several star players are gone from that team and there’s concerns edge rusher Arden Key, will not be ready for the season opener, because of shoulder surgery.
But Coach “O” is very high on true freshman K’Lavon Chaisson from Houston.
“K’Lavon Chaisson has been dominant,” Orgeron said. “Just a dominant player. He runs around. He’s a great kid, very humble…Extremely quick. He’s exactly the type of player we thought he was in recruiting, but more physical.”
Orgeron is also very high on defensive end Rashard Lawrence. There’s also veteran defensive ends Frank Herron and Christian LaCouture, who is back for a fifth season, after missing last year with a knee injury.
“I’m back now – 100 percent – being with Coach O and the staff he has is very exciting – that’s one of the reasons I wanted to come back,” LaCouture said. “Having Coach O as a defensive line coach and knowing what he brought to the table, I wanted to do that again. I didn’t want to leave with how I had it.”
At linebacker, LSU must replace Duke Riley and Kendell Beckwith, who are in the NFL. Donnie Alexander has beefed up to take over for Beckwith at middle linebacker. Devin White and is 4.5 speed replaces Riley.
LSU had a couple of first round picks in their defensive secondary last year, but this is D-B-U, so there’s still a lot talent with this position group. Speedy Donte Jackson and 6-foot-3 Kevin Toliver will man the corners. The starting safeties could be John Battle and senior Ed Paris, who made the move from corner to safety in the spring.
True freshman Kary Vincent might be the primary nickel back. Redshirt freshman Andraez “Greedy” Williams should see playing time too.
The media has picked LSU to finish third in the rugged SEC West. The Tigers will have to play five road games in the SEC. While, the Tigers are a long shot to play for an SEC Championship, it will be interesting to see a new offense, Derrius Guice run, Aranda’s defense and young players emerge.
And they’ll do it as “one team, one heartbeat.”