The comment from LSU coach Ed Orgeron understandably drew a fair amount of attention.
A little more than a week before the start of the Southeastern Conference season, Orgeron was talking about his new defensive coordinator, former Nebraska coach Bo Pelini.
“We are so much better on defense right now than any part of the season last year,” Orgeron said then.
Three weeks into this season, results show otherwise. It has become abundantly clear LSU won’t be defending its national championship and Orgeron’s star-turn might be short-lived.
The 17th-ranked Tigers fell to 1-2, upset for the second time this season by an SEC underling. First it was Mississippi State. On Saturday, it was Missouri, playing with a freshman quarterback and missing both its starting receivers, that tore up the Bayou Bengals.
“We couldn’t stop anybody. Really poor showing on defense,” Orgeron said.
A goal-line stand by Mizzou sealed the thrilling upset and first victory for new coach Eli Drinkwitz. But the story was LSU’s collapse.
The defense that opened the season by allowing an SEC-record 623 passing to Mississippi State in coach Mike Leach’s debut, permitted 586 total yards to Missouri. Those Tigers came in averaging 333 per game.
And it wasn’t just the passing of Connor Bazelak (29 for 34 for 406 yards and four TDs) that flummoxed LSU. Missouri also ran for 180 and 5.5 yards per carry.
“We have to coach better, No. 1. It starts with me,” said Orgeron, who defended Pelini. “Players have to make plays. We couldn’t stop the run, receivers wide open down the field. It was embarrassing. We have to get it fixed.”
The irascible Pelini had been the head coach at Youngstown State in his hometown for five years after getting fired by Nebraska. He was hired by Orgeron to replace Dave Aranda, who left to become head coach at Baylor.
Aranda was both highly paid (more than $2 million per year) and well-respected, but Orgeron had inherited him and LSU’s defense had ups and downs last year.
Pelini previously did a stint as DC at LSU under Les Miles, helping the Tigers win a national title in 2007. His defenses have also been on the receiving end of both the SEC single-game passing record and the Big Ten single-game rushing record of 408 yards by Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon in 2014.
Notable: Mississippi State has scored two offensive touchdowns in its two games since torching LSU.
But this is about Orgeron, who clearly wasn’t broken up about the departure of Aranda.
The barrel-chested, growling Cajun has overcome personal demons and professional failures to land his dream job. He became the architect and leader of a team that had one of the greatest seasons in college football history.
It’s story book stuff. In fact, there is a book about Orgeron’s magical 2019 due out this month.
Orgeron deserves praise for his work at LSU and turning his life around. He also caught a lot of lightning in 2020, most notably Joe Burrow’s rocket-ship rise from fringe NFL prospect to Heisman Trophy winner and first overall draft pick.
LSU had a once-in-a-lifetime season and then the band basically broke up, leaving Orgeron behind to prove if he could be more than a one-hit wonder.
His first big move was to bring in Pelini. His defense has given up more points through three games than any in LSU history.
A year after beating Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney on the way to a national championship, Orgeron is conjuring up memories of a far less successful season at LSU.
Heading to Florida next week to face the potent Gators offense, the Tigers are 1-2 for the first time since 1994, Curley Hallman’s last season as coach.
READY FOR ’BAMA
No. 3 Georgia messed around with No. 14 Tennessee long enough to trail at the half. The Volunteers did not score in the second half and the Bulldogs will go into their showdown at No. 2 Alabama next week with a perfect record.
“We know we’re a second-half team,” Bulldogs linebacker Azeez Ojulari said.
College football is no longer about defense winning championships. The best teams have spectacular offenses and dynamic quarterbacks.
Check out these scores:
No. 8 North Carolina 56, No. 19 Virginia Tech 45
Oklahoma 53, No. 22 Texas 45, 4OT
Missouri 45, No. 17 LSU 41
No. 21 Texas A&M 41, No. 4 Florida 38
No. 2 Alabama 63, Ole Miss 48.
That is not Georgia.
The Bulldogs have plenty of talent on the offensive side of the ball, but through three games they are still dealing with the same shortcomings they had last year. They are a methodical bunch, led by former walk-on quarterback Stetson Bennett. They don’t create a lot of big plays. Georgia has 11 plays of at least 20 yards in three games. Alabama had 13 in its first two games.
Efficient offense and suffocating defense is a winning combination for Georgia almost every weekend. The question is can it work against an Alabama team that won multiple championships with that formula, but now overwhelms its opposition with maybe the most explosive offense in college football?
Against Ole Miss, Alabama rolled to 723 yards behind Najee Harris and Mac Jones.
The Tide offense vs. the Bulldogs’ defense could be the event of the college football season.
AROUND THE COUNTRY: No. 21 Texas A&M beat a top-five team for the first time under coach Jimbo Fisher, an impressive comeback against No. 4 Florida. The Aggies are clearly not ready to challenge Alabama, but a quick glance at the rest of the SEC West screams opportunity for A&M to be the second-best team in the toughest division in college football. … No. 1 Clemson put No. 7 Miami in its place, smothering the Hurricanes’ fancy new spread offense in another Brent Venables masterpiece. … Texas coach Tom Herman should have gone for 2 and the win in the second overtime against Oklahoma in a wild Red River Shootout. Herman might not be coaching for his job, but not being able to take advantage of a down year by Oklahoma will go down as a massive missed opportunity for the Longhorns this year. … No disrespect to No. 10 Oklahoma State, but circle Kansas State at No. 24 Iowa State on Nov. 21 as a potentially huge game in the Big 12. … No. 15 BYU finally got a game after three huge blowout victories. UTSA tested the Cougars into the fourth quarter. Might be a good thing for BYU, which should face a serious test Friday against Houston. … A most painfully l oss for Pitt: The kicker nails a 58-yard field goal late to send the game against Boston College into overtime, then misses a point after to to tie and send the Panthers to a second straight heartbreaking loss. … The SEC gave an explanation to Arkansas for what looked like a blown call at the end of its game against Auburn. Despite the loss, Sam Pittman has done a remarkable job making the Razorbacks competitive after being one of the very worst teams in Power the last two seasons.
AP Sports Writers Paul Newberry in Athens, Georgia, and Dave Skretta in Columbia, Missouri, contributed to this report.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at http://www.westwoodonepodcasts.com/pods/ap-top-25-college-football-podcast/