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LSU vs. Missouri: What to Watch For

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Tigers finally welcome the Other, Other Tigers in for a visit.

LSU v Auburn Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Does it feel weird to anybody else that there’s still a game to be played this week? A little, right? The coaching change has kind of sucked up all the oxygen, which is a shame in in a lot of ways. Certainly for the players, although early reports indicate that Ed Orgeron is doing everything he can to put the emphasis back on them.

Plus…you know…we only get so many of these home games, and they certainly ought to be enjoyed. A lot of LSU fans have lost that I think. And there’s going to be a lot of excitement this week in all of the newness of Orgeron’s interim coaching run, but I hope that it lasts beyond that.

What to Watch For on Saturday

It Ain’t About Them!

Usually for this feature, I try to watch as much footage as I can of an opponent to get a feel for tendencies, scheme and matchups. But between the coaching search and well…life…there hasn’t really been time. But in a way, that feels appropriate.

That’s not meant to be disrespectful to Mizzou – truth to be known, I’m a little surprised at the -13 line on this game. The Other Other Tigers look night and day from 2015, with quarterback Drew Lock lighting up defenses to the tune of 33 points per game. On the other side of the ball, they’re top 20 in S&P+ and top 30 in points per game. The front seven has studs like Charles Harris, Terry Beckner, Michael Scherer and Donavin Newsom. If the home team can cover that spread, that’s a pretty nice win.

So I hope it’s not taken as a sign of disrespect when I say that the entirety of my focus for this game is on what we see from LSU in game one of the Orgeron Regime.

If you’ve followed the beat coverage of the Tigers this week, you’ve watched one of the best public relations campaigns I’ve ever seen from a coach. O has done almost everything with a perfect pitch. Said all the right things in regards to what people say they want of the team, opened practice to the media, access for former players, even encouraging them to walk with the team down Victory Hill on Saturday.

He’s also dialed the Cajun up to 11 (eauxleven?) in his press conferences and radio show. Not to say that it’s disingenuous, but I have no doubt that he’s very aware of what he’s doing. And it’s exactly what he should be doing if he wants to keep this job beyond the remainder of this season.

But how’s that translate to the field?

In the above link, Orgeron discussed returning a focus to his players, the team and competition when he took over for Lane Kiffin at USC. Shorter, but more up-beat, intense practices that focus on creating competition, with teaching is reserved for the classroom. At USC that led to a 6-2 closing record with marquee wins over Utah and Stanford. Whether a repeat of that record will be enough for him to take this interim tag off remains unclear. But a replication of that team’s improvement over that run would be a good start.

Does that new schedule lead to a relaxed, focused and energetic Tiger team on Saturday? The answer to that question will be our first sign of change we can believe in. LSU had clearly been lethargic and unfocused in both of the previous losses this season. I don’t think anybody would deny that.

Do NOT Expect

Reinvention

Steve Ensminger steps into the offensive coordinator seat or LSU this week, amid talk from his new boss on changes to LSU’s offense:

“We're going to spread the ball out a little bit, do some different things, change the style of play,” he said later Monday. – via The Advocate

Orgeron later clarified that there would not be a “new” offense, which makes sense for a number of reasons. For one, you can’t really change out a playbook during a season. Maybe add some plays or packages, but nothing that won’t have at least some basis in what’s already taught and installed.

For another, Ensminger, while a coach with a ton of experience, has about as pro-style of a background as you can get. He called plays at Texas A&M and Clemson, and gained a lot of his reputation as Eric Zeier’s quarterback coach at Georgia in the early 1990s.

But, all narratives aside, that doesn’t mean LSU can’t change things up a bit. This offense has always made use of spread formations and concepts. Adjusting play calling to feature them is no dramatic change, which is why it could be so frustrating at times to watch. Taking a fresh look at an established playbook is a simpler animal than creating an offense from scratch. Hell, that’s how Gary Crowton fooled a number of people in this sport for years. Ensminger probably isn’t a long-term answer for LSU and Orgeron beyond these eight games, but he might be up to the job that’s in front of him right now.

He won’t be doing it alone, anyway. Orgeron has also mentioned that the rest of the offensive staff will have more input, something that was a definite source of tension under Cam Cameron.

Guessing how it all translates seems kind of silly at this point, but speaking for what I’d like to see, it all goes back to things I’ve talked about for years. High-percentage passes early to create rhythm. Shots down the field in plus situations, when the defense will be more likely to be in man-to-man coverage. It’s not about throwing the ball more. It’s about throwing it smarter. And once you’ve passed your way out to a lead, lean more on the run as the game goes on and pass judiciously off of that as a constraint.

When a gameplan like this is executed well, it looks a lot more wide-open than it actually is.

Another thing to watch this week could be some change ups to personnel rotations, particularly at wide receiver and running back. Les Miles could sometimes be a bit rigid in how he wanted starters and backups to work, but with a new emphasis on competition, that could lead to more opportunities for the younger wide receivers. And with Leonard Fournette a gametime decision, that could mean a lot more reps for Derrius Guice, Darrel Williams and Nick Brossette. The easiest way to keep a prolific passing team in check is to keep them off the field with a dominant running game.

Saturday is going to begin a new era of LSU football, one way or another. It’s certainly exciting right now. We’ll see how long that lasts.