Suprising to all but Orgeron

LSU defying projections

Ed Orgeron will tell you that he’s not at all shocked that his LSU team is 5-0 and ranked No. 5 in the country.

After all, one way or another, it’s kind of what he and the coaches had in mind while working all offseason.

But even he will admit that some of the ways and the anothers are a bit of a surprise to him.

“I knew that we would be solid on defense,” he said. “I always thought that we could run the ball.”

He might have been in the minority on the latter.

But while the defense, for the most part, has been typical for LSU, the work in progress that is the offense is what gives the Tigers some hope as they open a brutal stretch of their schedule beginning Saturday at Florida.

The 573 yards it hung on Ole Miss’ suspect defense last week aside, it’s still not putting up gaudy numbers.

But it has done what it needed to when it had to, and has seemed a little more encouraging each week, led by graduate-transfer quarterback Joe Burrow.

But to most not named Orgeron, this looked like the year LSU finally ran out of NFL-ready running backs.

And there doesn’t appear to be another Leonard Fournette or Derrius Guice in the backfield.

Yet journeyman Nick Brossette, who set the tone for the Tigers’ surprising season with a 50-yard dash in the opener against Miami, is fourth in the Southeastern Conference in rushing (92 ypg) while Clyde Edwards-Helaire has had his moments complementing him, including 136 yards against Louisiana Tech.

LSU at Florida 2:30 p.m. Saturday CBS

“I believed in our backs,” Orgeron said.

But even he admitted, “They’re a little bit better than I thought they would be. Nick is running faster than in the years previous. Clyde is about what I thought he was going to be. I thought Clyde would be a really good player.”

Never mind that they’ve been running behind a patched-up offensive line virtually from the start of the season.

Orgeron’s preseason optimism might have been tempered a tad if he’d known he’d be using five different combinations in the offensive line through the first five games.

“Coach (James) Cregg deserves the credit of patching up that offensive line,” Orgeron said.

They’ll use a sixth combination for Florida, although they got a big boost now that center Lloyd Cushenberry, originally thought to be out this week, has returned to practice and is expected to start. Also back will be left tackle Shaadiq Charles after missing the last two games.

That leaves only starting left guard Garrett Brumfield out.

“This is as healthy as we’ve been on the offensive line,” Orgeron said.

The offense has expanded as Burrow gets more comfortable in the pocket — he was often holding the ball too long in earlier games, leading to sacks and pressure.

But, Orgeron said, as Burrow’s pocket presence has improved, he’s spread the ball around more, leading to improved play from the receivers.

They were often hit-andmiss in the early games, but might have had a break out against Ole Miss while Burrow was hitting nine receivers for 292 yards and three touchdowns.

Orgeron credited the mix-and-match tinkering by offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger and receivers coach Jerry Sullivan.

“I believe that the passing game that you saw against Ole Miss is the one I expected all year,” he said. “I believe we have a great set of receivers. So we finally got the receivers in the right spot, we finally are doing the right plays to get the receivers open. I think that’s the biggest improvement we’re making.”

Justin Jefferson has been the constant (18 catches, 294 yards), but others have gradually emerged, including late-blooming juniors Stephen Sullivan (11-143) and Dee Anderson (10-141).

“You can see guys … in practice last week, they’re excited with everybody (getting) a piece of the action, giving them some accountability,” Orgeron said.

The latest is tight end Racey McMath, a converted wide receiver, who brought a new element to the air game with two catches for 42 yards last week.

“Speed,” Orgeron said of McMath’s strength. “Mismatches. Racey is 220, he can block. He’s physical and he’s tough. And again, here’s a young man that’s hungry and wants to play now he’s getting his chance to play so they bring a tremendous attitude at practice.”

Bottom line, however: “You got to give the credit to our players,” Orgeron said. “They want to win. You can see the look in the eyes. I think it’s a want to, a will to win, good leadership, those things.”

CBS Saturday 2:30 p.m. 

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LSU Tigers running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire (22) breaks through the line of scimmage against Miami Hurricanes during the Advocare Classic at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas on Sunday, September 2, 2018. (Dennis Babineaux/Special to the American Press)

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