Opinion: LSU backed up Ed Orgeron’s confidence by proving the Tigers are better than Alabama

George Schroeder


Published 2: 42 AM EST Nov 10, 2019

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Last Monday, with Alabama week finally here, hype about to skyrocket, hope abounding in and around his program, LSU coach Ed Orgeron’s message before practice was simple, yet emphatic.

“We’re the better football team,” he told the Tigers.

There was evidence to back the claim: A newly powerful offense steamrolling opponents, several impressive wins against good teams. But given recent history — when Alabama’s dominance of the SEC was punctuated, each and every year, by another win against the Tigers — it also sounded, well, hopeful.

But Orgeron insisted: “We’re better” — and it turns out they are. While the magnitude of LSU’s 46-41 victory in a shootout won’t be clear for a while yet, it’s clear Coach O was correct. The victory, snapping an eight-game losing streak to the Crimson Tide, was not a fluke.

Finally, the Tigers are better than ‘Bama.

“I think we all knew it,” said LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, the unquestioned catalyst, whose masterful performance sealed status as the prohibitive favorite to win the Heisman Trophy.

And now, we all know it. The Tigers will likely move into the No. 1 spot in all the polls.

“This is the year. We all knew, this is the year,” said middle linebacker Patrick Queen, whose interception of Tua Tagovailoa late in the second quarter set up a lightning-quick touchdown that sent the Tigers into halftime with a 20-point lead.

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Burrow, who threw for 393 yards and three touchdowns and engineered two fourth-quarter touchdown drives to hold off Alabama’s comeback, tried to tamp things down, at least a bit.

“This was such a great night for us,” he said. “One thing I want to make sure that we know is this wasn’t our goal this year. We didn’t go into this season saying, ‘We’re gonna go beat ‘Bama.’ We’ve got more things ahead of us.”

True enough. But it takes beating ‘Bama. And as the Tide has dominated the SEC (and at least until Clemson’s arrival, all of college football), there may not have been a program that actually wanted to beat ‘Bama more than LSU — or a coach more than Orgeron.

Two years earlier, sitting in the same cramped room beneath the south end zone at Bryant-Denny Stadium, Orgeron was defiant after a 24-10 loss. “We coming!” he insisted to reporters after LSU’s seventh consecutive loss to the Tide. But it was hard to see coming. Last year, there was plenty of hype before LSU hosted Alabama in Baton Rouge — and then ‘Bama won 29-0.

The rest of the story is well known by now. During the offseason, Orgeron hired Joe Brady from the New Orleans Saints; Brady and veteran offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger revamped the offense. And finally, with Burrow and a fleet of talented receivers, the Tigers’ long stagnant offense began to roll over opponents — including, as it turned out, Alabama.

After scoring two touchdowns in the final 26 seconds of the first half, LSU led 33-13 at halftime. Alabama came back, Najee Harris running (19 carries, 146 yards) and Tua Tagovailoa passing (418 yards, four touchdowns, one interception) the Tide right back into it. But Burrow came up with two 75-yard touchdown drives in the fourth quarter to clinch it.

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The Tigers finished with 559 yards; Alabama had 541. The combined production — trading touchdown after touchdown after touchdown – looked like nothing so much as a Big 12 shootout, the kind that regularly draws mockery from, well, SEC fans. But it’s the new reality for the SEC’s best programs. Both defenses are decent; neither is dominant – but their offenses are.

“We knew they were gonna come back,” Burrow said. “That’s Alabama on the other side. A dynasty. We knew we were gonna get their best shot in the second half, and they came out firing. I loved how we responded, though.”

No one is going to proclaim the dynasty dead. We’ve all seen what happens when anyone suggests that. But Alabama coach Nick Saban said afterward, “We don’t fully have control of our own destiny,” and he is correct.

The SEC West is almost certainly out of reach for the Crimson Tide; LSU would have to lose twice against a remaining schedule of Ole Miss, Arkansas and Texas A&M. And of course, the bigger goal is the playoff. Bama has been in all five years of the system. But first it has to win out, which although probable is no sure thing.

And then, it almost certainly needs help. At 11-1, the Tide’s resume would not stack up against a 12-1 conference champion.

“If we finish the season the right way,” Nick Saban said, “we can see where it takes us. We’ve been in this situation before.”

LSU has not been in this situation. But let’s see where it takes them.

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The difference between now and, say, 2015 when Ole Miss beat Alabama — which was Alabama’s last home loss, and also the last time anyone seriously contemplated the end of Alabama’s dominance of the SEC — is that it’s LSU, the SEC West program that most closely resembles Alabama in resources and recruiting. For years, even as Saban evolved to play fastball football, we watched LSU’s offense stuck in the swamp and wondered: What if?

It eventually cost Les Miles his job. Although Orgeron promised to open things up, it took until this season. But as he settled into his seat on the airplane Friday, he told Ensminger:

“We’ve finally got the tools we need,” Orgeron said.

To beat Alabama, yes. And maybe to do so much more.

“This won’t be the last,” Orgeron said. “We’re coming. We’re coming. This won’t be the last time. We’re there. We’re gonna continue to rise. We’re gonna continue to make progress in this program to bring a championship back to Louisiana. … This isn’t the first time we’re gonna beat ‘em, I promise you that.”

Actually, it was the first time. But the coach’s meaning was clear. It did not feel like the last time they’re gonna beat ‘em.

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