LSU looks to Guice, Key as the Orgeron Era begins
A Louisiana football pedigree, a geaux-getter spirit, and a bark and bearing straight out of Central Casting all endeared Ed Orgeron to Tiger Nation last year.
So did winning.
Orgeron’s 6-2 interim record after taking over the program illustrates why he won permanent appointment as head coach of the LSU Tigers. It’s a career journey that the Tigers themselves might want to emulate this year — following a 2016 season that stumbled to a 2-2 start, saw a coach fired, then regained focus and success. Orgeron’s football resume has less miles than that of his predecessor, but he has run up plenty of them in his native state. His high school and college playing days were all in Louisiana, and he has assisted on the sidelines for McNeese, Northwestern, Nicholls and, for one season, the New Orleans Saints. Now it’s time to win in Death Valley.
If Orgeron is the voice of the franchise, running back Darrius Guice is the face of it. Guice is the prohibitive favorite to lead the Southeastern Conference in rushing. He may be the top offensive weapon in the SEC. Guice stepped up as in an injured Leonard Fournette had to step away — and averaged 7.6 yards per carry, rushing for almost 1,400 yards and 15 touchdowns. He racked up six 100-yard games along the way — including 285 against Texas A&M and 252 against Arkansas. That was in less than a full season of work, too, so imagine what he’ll rack up with, say, 300 handoffs.
The Tigers scored 28.3 points per game last season, ranking 68th among the 128 FBS teams. Their rushing offense ranked 21st at 233 yards per game — thanks largely to Guice and Fournette.
LSU’s passing offense, however, rated just 101st as the quarterback situation remained unsettled. While Danny Etling has largely settled in as QB, Orgeron had an open competition for the spot during the spring — and he reminded everyone of that during his pre-season SEC media-day appearance.
The defense, meanwhile, still looks tough, even with the new faces. (The Tigers lost a half-dozen of their top tacklers over the winter.) Under new defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, the Tigers’ defense ranked 10th-best in the nation last year. That’s likely to continue with leadership from Arden Key, the pass-rushing linebacker, and Donte Jackson at cornerback. Kevin Toliver and the safety tag-team of John Battle and Ed Paris are also expected to make big contributions on defense.
In short, the Tigers have NFL-quality talent on both sides of the ball. Last year, LSU went 8-4 and earned a decent bowl bid. If the defense holds, and the passing game makes any strides, the Tigers will outperform that this year. Ten wins is an achievable goal — and perhaps, for Orgeron, a demand.
by Brett Downer