As the rumor mill spins on, LSU remains on the hunt for a premier offensive coordinator. Back in September, when Orgeron got the nod as interim HC, he remarked about making some slight offensive changes while noting it would be impossible to overhaul the unit midseason. Perhaps more interestingly, he tossed out this nugget:
"We're going to be very multiple and I'm still a pro-style guy," he said. "Throw it to the tight ends, short, easy throws from the quarterback, stuff I'm familiar with in my past, offense we had success with.
Two months later, Orgeron seemingly walked that back:
I do believe that nowadays you have to run the spread offense. You have to have dual-threat quarterbacks that can run the ball and throw it. But you have to have somebody who knows how to run it.
Now, we must first acknowledge Orgeron knew the bird in his hand when accepting the interim job. Danny Etling was the QB and there was nothing that could be done to change that to guarantee LSU the best chance to win. Taking the podium and letting your starting QB know he’s not really the type of guy you want is probably not the wisest approach.
It’s also worth noting that this preceded the LSU pro-style offense once again looking sluggish and incompetent vs. Alabama. It’s entirely feasible, if not likely, that Orgeron shifted his opinion after seeing how little success the Tigers had on November 5th.
No matter the rationale, it’s clear Orgeron is searching for dual-threat QBs. He sent damn near half the coaching staff to visit Lowell Narcisse and offered 5-star Bama commit Tua Tagovailoa. It’s probably smart business, considering Louisiana routinely churns out top tier athletes that play QB without refined throwing skills (see Prescott, Dak), but rarely produces more refined passers. Tailoring your offense to your talent base is a quality decision. Play the odds rather than trying to gamble you can lure elite QB talents that continue to evade Baton Rouge.
Orgeron is likely looking for any number of traits from his future coordinator (does he fit with the staff? is he a great recruiter? play calling acumen? game planning development?). Atop his list should be proven QB development credentials.
Just this week, a slew of LSU players were nominated for end of season awards, both nationally and in conference. Ethan Pocic and Will Clapp landed on the first team All-SEC OL. Ethan Pocic is also a finalist for the Rimington Trophy, award to the nation’s best center. Coaches and eyeball voters clearly believe in their abilities.
But it’s not just the eyeball vote. Throughout the season, Pro Football Focus routinely graded Josh Boutte as one of the nation’s best OGs. They also rated LSU’s OL the best in the nation in end season grades. Even more, Football Outsiders ranks LSU’s OL 4th in Adjusted Line Yards. LSU also ranked 11th nationally in yards per play, which wouldn’t be possible without some semblance of quality OL play.
Yet, this same strong unit was absolutely hammered by Alabama. Josh Boutte was famously hurled backward by a true sophomore. Many quickly shifted to blaming the OL for LSU’s offensive struggles, and yet, I believe the explanation is more nuanced. Yes, they clearly did not play well, but that goes part and parcel with the one-dimensional approach presented.
The reality is, LSU has only fielded one “top” level QB in the current 6-game losing streak, and even he was a late round pick that’s barely hanging on in the NFL. There’s been plenty of discussions on how to beat Alabama, but it’s absolutely apparent that you must have a QB that presents a threat. Frankly, in six consecutive victories vs. LSU, Alabama has sold out to stop the run and dared LSU to beat them with their QBs and LSU has proven completely incapable.
LSU vs. Alabama games are often a war of attrition. Alabama routinely fields the most talented roster in the nation, according to recruiting rankings. Yet, more LSU players populate NFL rosters than Alabama ones. This suggests LSU is at least in the same stratosphere as Alabama when it comes to talent levels. Even this season, in which LSU fired its coach, the teams played to a draw for 3 quarters, that was eventually undone by a TD heavily aided by missed holding calls.
Yet again, a lot of blame was doled out to the offensive line for inability to make room for Leonard Fournette. Yet, when Danny Etling is missing wide open receivers, he routinely reinforces Alabama’s rationale to not respect him as a threat. Why should they?
No matter the scheme deployed, no matter the tactics utilized, no team in the past half decade has beaten Alabama without a yeoman’s effort from the QB. Take a look at these QB stat lines from Alabama losses:
Chad Kelly, 2015:
18/33, 341 yards passing, 3 TD, 0 INT, 21 yards rushing
Cardale Jones, 2014:
18/35, 243 yards passing, 1 TD, 1 INT, 43 yards rushing
Bo Wallace, 2014:
18/31, 251 yards passing, 3 TD, 0 INT, 32 yards rushing
Nick Marshall, 2013:
11/16, 97 yards passing, 2 TD, 0 INT, 99 yards rushing, 1 Rushing TD
Trevor Knight, 2013:
32/44, 348 yards passing, 4 TD, 1 INT, 7 yards rushing
Johnny Manziel, 2012:
24/31, 253 yards passing, 2 TD, 1 INT, 92 yards rushing
Average line (numbers rounded):
20/32, 203 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, 49 rushing yards
Here’s the LSU line in that same timeframe:
13/25, 167 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, -1.2 rushing yards
I’d be remiss to note that even that is sometimes not enough. Last season, Deshaun Watson posted this beaut:
30/47, 405 yards, 4 TD, 1 INT, 73 rushing yards
And Clemson still lost.
What I can unequivocally state is that you have no chance against Alabama without strong QB play. If there’s one major discrepancy in LSU and Alabama over the past half decade, it’s the ability to get the most out of their quarterbacks. This was a trend of failure under Les Miles.
Can Orgeron fix the trend? He must hire an experienced and proven QB developer, if so.