LSU looks for strong finish, 1st 10-win season since 2013
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — LSU is entering an important three-game stretch for first-year coach Ed Orgeron and the man who hired him, athletic director Joe Alleva.
While a loss at No. 1 Alabama last weekend dropped the Tigers out of the AP Top 25 and virtually ended hopes of a Southeastern Conference championship, a strong run to close out the season could engender considerable confidence in the direction of the program.
A 10-win season and one of the more attractive non-College Football Playoff bowls remain in reach for LSU (6-3, 3-2) in Orgeron’s first full season at the helm.
“We have to prepare well. That’s what led us to playing so well vs. Alabama,” LSU inside linebacker Devin White said. “We have to keep doing that to go to a good bowl game and end the season on a good note.”
While LSU lost 24-10 to the Crimson Tide , the game was competitive deep into the fourth quarter and the Tigers exceeded the expectations of oddsmakers, who’d listed them as three-touchdown underdogs. LSU also finished with statistical advantages in total yards, time of possession and first downs while forcing eight Alabama punts.
“I am excited about this football team. I enjoyed the way they held their heads up after the game,” Orgeron said. “We were just a couple of plays from beating Alabama. Are we where we want to be? No. Are we making progress? Yes.”
If the Tigers finish 6-2 in the SEC, it would represent their best league mark since 2012. A bowl victory after that would give LSU 10 victories in a campaign for the first time since 2013.
History does not favor the Tigers winning out, but the remaining strength of schedule might. LSU hosts Arkansas on Saturday, travels to Tennessee the following week and closes the regular season at home against Texas A&M on Thanksgiving weekend. Arkansas and Tennessee are 1-9 combined vs. SEC opponents, while the Aggies are 3-3 in the league.
Only twice in the past five seasons did the Tigers not lose another regular-season game after being beaten by Alabama.
In 2014 and 2015, Arkansas whipped LSU the week after a loss to Alabama. In 2014, the Razorbacks ended a long SEC losing streak with a 17-0 victory. In 2015, the Hogs pounded the Tigers 31-14 in Baton Rouge.
Orgeron made a huge statement in his quest for gaining the permanent head coaching job last November when LSU crushed Arkansas 38-10. For the first time in three years, there was no Tigers’ letdown following a loss to Alabama.
“Our challenge this week is the 24-hour rule,” Orgeron said. “It is similar to last year where we were coming off a tough loss to Alabama. The strength staff brought extra energy last year this week. We didn’t make the last game all-or-nothing. I think we’ll bounce back well and with confidence.”
While Orgeron replaced starting quarterback Danny Etling with freshman Myles Brennan for the last series of the Alabama game, the coach did not forecast a change at starting QB.
Etling was 12 of 26 passing. He made some clutch passes on third down but also struggled to connect with open receivers deep down field.
“Some of the balls could have been caught,” Orgeron said. “On some of the throws, the timing could have been better. Danny was a little bit off. It would not be fair to Danny to make a change now. Danny is our quarterback.”
It also might not be fair to anyone within LSU’s program who wants the best chance to win remaining games this season.
Orgeron said Brennan would have to beat out Etling “on a play-by-play basis in practice” to take over as full-time starter.
“That has not happened,” Orgeron said. “We are not going to give Myles the starting job just to get him ready for next year. If Danny is not playing well, we’ll play Myles. If Danny is hot and playing well, he will be in there.”