NCAA Baseball Championships:
DandyDon is proud to recognize David Toms as a great ambassador of the Tiger Nation.
Part I: Q&A with Mike Detillier on Coach O's Tigers & LSU-Alabama Battle
Scott: First, let's talk about this 3-0 start by your buddy, Coach O. Many records were set as Coach O became the first coach in LSU history to win his first three games by double-digit margins. I know you had a lot of confidence in Orgeron from the get-go, but are you surprised at all by the level of success he's had?
Mike: No question about it. I am not surprised by how well he has handled the team, but how they have won has been surprising. The big play element in the second half of games offensively jumps out. When you outscore your opponents 73-7, that's impressive. No one could have predicted that.
Scott: If you could point to the three biggest things Coach O and the staff are doing differently to bring about this success, what would they be?
Mike: First, he shortened the practice sessions during the week. I know Coach Miles had great success in how he did things, but you dead-leg your football team running 60 to 70 plays in practice during the middle of the week. Now, Coach O did that at Ole Miss too. He learned from that experience and cut it down to 25 plays, getting 25 good reps in. If you don't have it down by midseason, running those plays over and over won't get it. He just wore down his team and they left some of their energy and talent on the practice field. It's a reason why LSU looked, from an energy standpoint, like Dracula had visited them the night before. No energy or enthusiasm.
Second would be that he spread things out offensively and put the "deep speed" element back into play. Now, I would like to see the Tigers use the short game better and be more efficient at it, but it is getting better. LSU has really put that deep speed back into the game plan. It opens up everything. Teams can't play eight men in the box when you attack the deep area early. Even if it doesn't work, it gets you thinking. Orgeron picked that up from his one season with the New Orleans Saints and Sean Payton. Payton likes to test the deep part of the field early and prevent that strong safety from sitting in the box. Ensminger and Coach O have put that element in and had great success with it and it has opened up the running game. Also, you see elements that Coach O and Ensminger have worked on using the backs and tight ends more and that element is something Coach O picked up working with Lane Kiffin at Tennessee and USC.
Third, and this is mostly on Dave Aranda, they have put special emphasis over the past few weeks on working on converging to the ball quicker, taking better angles of pursuit, and tackling strong at the point of attack; not letting the opponent get much after the catch. The game has changed so much, and it's about squeezing the opponent's offense and making them work for touchdowns. The remarkable stat is that the Tigers have given up just eight touchdowns in seven games.
Scott: Out of fairness to Les Miles, a man whom I respect and believe is deserving of a positive legacy as one of LSU's most successful coaches, I think it's worth pointing out that LSU's two losses this year – to Wisconsin and to Auburn – are not looking so bad now. Both are top-15 teams and both were close losses on the road. What does Auburn's 56-3 thrashing of Arkansas tell you about LSU's loss in Jordan-Hare and about LSU's upcoming game against the Hogs?
Mike: I agree, but both were winnable games. Turnovers, poor offensive play, time management issues, they weren't winning the battle consistently in the trenches, and erratic quarterback play led to those losses. It was like watching a movie or a TV show you had seen dozens of times already. On Auburn, they caught Arkansas at the right time. Sometimes it is not who you play, but when you play them and Auburn was red hot and Arkansas was coming off a really tough game in which they won over Ole Miss. Everything worked for Auburn that night and they have found a running game again. That Auburn defense is legit and really stout, but they couldn't score or run the ball well early in the year and their passing attack was highly erratic. They have some footing on offense now and, to be honest, they beat Arkansas at their own game. Auburn just demolished them in the trenches.
Scott: Interestingly, if you are to go by the rankings, Arkansas is the weakest team remaining on LSU's schedule. That says a lot about the treacherous four-game stretch that lies ahead, starting next week against Alabama. How many of the remaining games do you think Coach O would have to win to retain the head coaching job?
Mike: He would have to win three and keep the Alabama game close, if LSU doesn't win it. That is a hard call because this has a lot of moving parts to it. LSU has just looked impressive and won, and Coach O knows he has to continue to have his team play up to their potential. LSU has great talent and now they are getting help from the quarterback spot.
Orgeron knows the key to longterm status at LSU is determined by wins, but how they look is important too when it comes down to losing a game or games. He was 6-2 at USC and they looked impressive, but he wasn't the Rhodes Scholar's boy. Pat Haden, from the moment he fired Lane Kiffin at USC, wanted Steve Sarkisian.
Scott: You have referred to the Alabama-LSU game as the showcase bowl for NFL talent. The numbers you have talked about are staggering to back this up.
Mike: No yearly rivalry game in college football has produced more NFL players over the past seven years. This rivalry has produced 95 players over the past seven years to the NFL. 23 of those picks were first round picks. 19 were second round picks and 55 were top-100 picks. Amazing. It is why also you see how Louisiana and Alabama have produced per capita – along with Mississippi, 1,2,3, – the most NFL players four out of the last seven years.
Scott: Back to Coach O, if he does get the job, do you think he would keep most of the staff? And if he doesn't, would that likely mean saying goodbye to Pete Jenkins, Dave Aranda and others?
Mike: I certainly believe that there would be changes made if Coach O stays. One thing to watch is someone looking for a head coach casting their eyes on Dave Aranda, too. But changes with Coach O would happen on both offense and defense.
If Coach O is not here, Pete Jenkins won't stay on. He told me at the Nicholls State Offensive/Defensive Linemen Camp that he would come out of retirement if Coach O gets another head coaching chance. Bingo. But he won't stay if Coach O doesn't land the head coaching spot.
Dave Aranda will have options. If not Coach O, the first assistant I get to stay on board would be Dave Aranda. If Coach O lands the head coaching spot, then he will do everything he can to keep him. Now, if a head coaching spot opens up for Aranda, he has to look at that opportunity and he would most probably move on, just like Frank Wilson did.
Scott: Let's switch gears here and talk about the big challenge right around the corner when LSU welcomes Alabama to Tiger Stadium. We've said it time and time again – big games like this one are usually won in the trenches. Heading into the year, LSU's offensive line was probably its biggest question mark. After seeing this unit through seven games, how do you feel about it and do you think it can stand up to Alabama's defensive front?
Mike: Offensive line play has been the biggest improvement for LSU since Game 1. Ethan Pocic is a terrific player, but the guy who has really stepped it up has been Josh Boutte. He was always the potential guy, but he is mashing people at the point of attack and finishing off his blocks in a much stronger manner. K.J. Malone has played really well too at left tackle. Blocking Tim Williams and Jonathan Allen won't be easy and Reuben Foster is a force at linebacker. It is the second most crucial part of the game in handling Allen and Williams. The first, of course, would be the play at quarterback for LSU and confusing Jalen Hurts - the freshman QB for Alabama. He hasn't played like a freshman, but eventually he will drive the car up against a wall. It happens to every freshman or redshirt freshman QB, and you have to take full advantage of it when it occurs. When it happens is key. Hurts is a terrific young football player with a strong arm and the quick feet to evade pressure and also run with the ball so successfully. He's a star in the making for Alabama and he has, so far, handled the pressure and talent of big-time college football very well.
Both these teams have talent in the trenches, but that matchup with LSU's offensive line versus Bama's defensive front is going to determine who wins this game.
Scott: In recent years, Alabama has had great success against LSU by selling out to stop the run. Do you think LSU's revitalized offense, under the direction of Coaches O and Ensminger, and the passing game of Danny Etling, is up to the task of making them pay if they take that approach this year?
Mike: Yes, they will try and spread them out, but Alabama is so good they didn't really load the box last year. They played mostly in a seven-man front. They are that talented again this year and so it will be rare to see them with eight upfront. Last year versus LSU, they played a base-front over 70% of the time.
It is converting third down plays that has killed LSU when playing Bama. They have failed miserably to get those critical third down conversions to keep the chains moving and score points. The short passing game is the biggest key. Etling has to connect on those throws. And Bama is a whole lot better than anything he has played against the past three weeks on defense. I go back to the Auburn game. Auburn physically got after LSU's offensive line and they really won the battle. But LSU's O-line, despite sustaining injuries is better today than it was against Auburn.
I have never believed the idea of a caretaker quarterback. Etling has to make 8 to 10 crucial plays in a game to win – either by running the ball or by connecting downfield. The keys to victory for both clubs lay in the hands of Danny Etling and Jalen Hurts.
Now, I do think Alabama also has had a game plan of attacking the belly of LSU's run defense. They know LSU has great speed and so they occasionally try the edge stuff, but they bang away at LSU's middle and they have had success. Greg Gilmore, Kendell Beckwith, Ed Alexander and Duke Riley have to play big vs. Bama. Lewis Neal and Davon Godchaux will hold down the edges good, but Alabama has hit them hard and had success running straight up the middle versus LSU in the past and expect them to go after that spot again.
The other issue is field position and Josh Growden has really punted the ball well the past three games and that is a huge plus for LSU because Bama has a stud in JK Scott.
Scott: Last year, Alabama held Leonard Fournette to just 31 yards. The year before, it was 79. During LSU's five-game losing streak to Bama, the Tigers have averaged 91 yards per game rushing. This year, Fournette is coming off a record-setting 284-yard game against Ole Miss. So, my question is, will Fournette break the 100-yard mark against Bama? If so, why?
Mike Detillier, based in southern Louisiana, is editor and publisher of Mike Detillier’s NFL Draft Report. He’s also the college and pro football analyst for WWL 870 AM Radio in New Orleans, a sports columnist for several newspapers and Web sites, and a frequent guest on radio and television programs across the country. Visit Mike’s website at mikedetillier.com and follow @MikeDetillier on Twitter.
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