Burrow gives LSU something to build on
LSU had to fight to overcome some pretty low expectations to finish 10-3 this year.
That won’t be a concern next season.
Oh, you just watch.
It was probably going to happen anyway.
All season this looked like a team that was a year away from something special.
Of course, we’re talking about the national perception of the Tigers here.
LSU fans already think the Tigers ought to be there in the hunt every year — and Orgeron is just the latest coach to at least pretend like he wouldn’t have it any other way.
But going into this season the feeling from the more rational outposts was that this was a seven-win team, probably fifth best in the SEC West.
Next year will be different. There’s no reason the Tigers shouldn’t be in the hunt for the College Football Playoff.
The 40-32 Fiesta Bowl victory over Mickey Mouse’s “defending national champion” Central Florida only validated the suspicion.
Yes, LSU will be a popular summer choice to crash the national discussion.
It wasn’t just the win in the desert. Certainly not the final score.
It wasn’t unexpected.
But if you watched the game or checked the stat sheet LSU should have been emptying the bench and taking curtain calls in the fourth quarter instead of relying on a fortunate bounce to recover an onside kick to salt the game away.
Oh, but wait.
The Tigers already were emptying the bench. But not by choice, no curtain calls involved.
They had a wide receiver playing cornerback in the second half, which is about the time everybody lost count — eight or nine seemed like a good round number — as to how many defensive players who would have been in the game were unavailable by a wide array of suspensions, early NFL defections, injuries and ejections.
Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda somehow made it work against one of the nation’s scariest offenses. Ten of those points were on the offense — the pick-six touchdown and the field goal after the Tigers’ defense registered a fourth consecutive three-and-out following a fumbled punt.
Aranda will start next season with LSU’s usual real secondary and no glaring questions at any level of his defense — even if All-American linebacker Devin White comes to his senses and declares early for the NFL draft.
Anyway, you never worry about the LSU defense.
The centerpiece of the expectations will be what won’t be returning.
Yes, LSU fans will have to dream up a new offseason dilemma.
For the first time in forever, LSU will enter a season without having to answer that age-old, head-scratching question as to whether it will ever — every question — find a usable quarterback.
Joe Burrow “is exactly what we feel like an LSU quarterback ought to be,” Orgeron said.
Burrow was pretty good most of the season, certainly an upgrade.
Maybe it took him a while to get his footing. Perhaps the Tigers didn’t know exactly what they had.
But in the last regular-season game — the screwy seven-overtime loss to Texas A&M — Burrow really had his coming out party.
In the bowl game, next year’s LSU team truly became Burrow’s Team.
“It looked like the passing game we wanted,” Orgeron said. “Joe was on the money. We had some tremendous receivers.”
Yeah, he was on the money. That’s nice.
And that’s about one-tenth of what it takes to inspire an offense to new levels.
His teammates probably already knew how tough he was — offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger has given up telling him to slide on running plays.
But it became the stuff of legend Tuesday when he got up off the deck from the blind-side slobberknocker hit of the season — woozy and sporting nasty two scrapes and a welt on his neck — to shake off the cobwebs and play his best of the season while rallying LSU from a 14-3 deficit.
The play was the seminal moment of the game. Burrow was much better after the collision than before it.
Football street cred is what it is. And it’s nice to have in the huddle.
“We believe in him,” Orgeron said.
If they didn’t before, they do now.
“I really think our passing game was … what we wanted, exactly what I have always dreamed about our passing game being at LSU,” Orgeron said.
The inconsistent receiving corps, all of whom return, also straightened up its act. The potential was always there.
“They’re going to be special next year,” Burrow said. “Those guys are going to be special. It gives us a lot of momentum going into next year. I think we’re going to be really special and do some great things, as long as we keep our feet on the gas pedal and keep working.”
So LSU now has nine months to truly build an offense around a quarterback instead of working around the usual limitations.
“We want to run a spread offense, create space, put the ball in our playmakers’ hands,” Orgeron said.
He’s been saying that for a while.
The Fiesta Bowl showed there’s nothing holding him and Ensminger back now.
LSU with a quarterback. Just think of the possibilities.
The Tigers’ goal going in should be to at least get into that playoff discussion. I’m guessing the notion will gain steam nationally over the summer.
True, Alabama is still in the same SEC division.
But just so you know …
Just in case …
The national championship game next year is in New Orleans.
Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at email@example.com
LSU’s Joe Burrow