He lost amid opportunities to win, but LSU coach Ed Orgeron still had one of his finest hours as a coach in the Tigers’ 20-14 loss at No. 2 Alabama Saturday night, even though he was fired last month effective at the end of this season.
And who knows, after his $17 million buyout is completely paid in four years, Orgeron could get a job at Alabama if Nick Saban is still coaching at 74. Saban hired and resurrected the careers of fired coaches Lane Kiffin from USC (now Ole Miss head coach), Steve Sarkisian from USC (now Texas head coach) and Mario Cristobal from Florida International (now Orgeon head coach and up for the LSU job), to name a few.
“I truly thought we were the better team tonight,” Orgeron said after three trips into Alabama territory in the fourth quarter resulted in no points. “But we just came up a couple plays short. I want to compliment our team for how hard they played.”
LSU’s defense, in particular, played with the guts and determination of a team playing for a new interim coach instead of the lame duck Orgeron, who was told he would not be returnign next season after a 3-3 start.
The Tigers (4-5, 2-4 SEC) were minus nine injured defensive players who had started this season – freshman defensive end Maason Smith, junior cornerback Cordale Flott and freshman safety Sage Ryan recently and junior cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., sophomore cornerback Eli Ricks, freshman safety Major Burns, senior defensive end Ali Gaye, senior defensive end Andre Anthony and sophomore defensive tackle Joseph Evans from earlier in the season.
Senior defensive end Soni Fonua started for the first time in his career. So did sophomore transfer linebacker Mike Jones Jr.
This rag-tag bunch held Alabama (8-1, 5-1 SEC) to one of its worst running games in the history of the program – six yards on 26 carries. The last time Alabama rushed for that few yards was in a 9-0 loss to Penn State on Oct. 27, 1990, to drop to 3-4 in the first season of coach Gene Stalliings, who would finish 7-5. The Tide managed six yards on 30 carries in that game.
That should impress Saban, who may be keeping an eye on LSU defensive coordinator Daronte Jones as well if he is not retained by the new LSU coach. Jones put together his best game plan in his first year at LSU with an impressive blitz package that produced four sacks of Alabama quarterback Bryce Young with two hurries and a fumble recovery.
“We couldn’t run it at the end of the game when we needed to,” Saban said. “We didn’t block them up front really well. We had some protection issues. They deserve a lot of credit. They had a good plan. They changed some things up, and their guys really competed hard and played well.”
LSU’s offense under first-year coordinator Jake Peetz was not as impressive. The Tigers were punchless when it mattered after drawing within 20-14 at the 2:27 mark of the third quarter on an 8-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Max Johnson to wide receiver Jack Bech.
LSU failed on fourth and goal from 7-yard line with 6:46 to go, on fourth and nine from the 41 with 2:36 left and on the last play of the game on Alabama’s 30.
“I wish we would have had a better plan on offense, especially in the second half,” Orgeron said. “We had opportunities to score, and we didn’t. I have to take that responsibility. I just wish that we could have put our guys in a better position to win. We were in position to win this football game. We stalled.”
In the end, Alabama’s defense won the game as its offense scored its fewest points since losing the national championship game, 44-16 to Clemson on Jan. 7, 2019, after coming in averaging 45.8 a game.
“There was no way we were going to let them score at the end,” Saban said. “The defensive players stepped up, and that was great competitive character. It’s always good to beat LSU. I knew this was going to be a tough game. I knew they would play their best game of the year against us. But I can’t tell you how proud I am of the way our guys competed to be able to win.”
Alabama linebacker Will Anderson Jr. had a game-high 12 tackles with eight solo stops and four behind the line, including 1.5 sacks. Johnson completed 16 of 32 passes for 160 yards and two touchdowns with an interception around five sacks and eight hurries.
LSU was better than Alabama in the running game as tailback Tyrion Davis-Price gained 104 yards on 23 carries, including a 37-yard burst up the middle on fourth and one to the Tide’s 8-yard line in the fourth quarter. But LSU failed to score.
“There are a lot of things in the game that we probably didn’t do well,” Saban said. “A lot of things we can fix, and I think we need to fix them so we can be a little more consistent.”
“I know that sometimes we have an expectation that we’re going to win easy, but sometimes it’s not so easy,” Saban said. “I think it’s difficult to win in this conference. We probably didn’t play or best in some areas.”
LSU hosts Arkansas, Louisiana-Monroe and Texas A&M to end the season and Orgeron’s time at LSU, unless he coaches in a bowl should LSU reach one.
“We should’ve played like this every single week,” Johnson said. “To be in the spot we’re in right now is frustrating.”
SEC WEST GAMES SATURDAY
New Mexico State (1-8) at No. 2 Alabama (8-1, 5-1), 11 a.m., SEC Network; No. 16 Mississippi State (5-4, 3-3) at No. 13 Auburn (6-3, 3-2), 11 a.m., ESPN; No. 14 Texas A&M (7-2, 4-2) at No. 16 Ole Miss (7-2, 4-2), 6 p.m., ESPN; Arkansas (6-3, 2-3) at LSU (4-5, 2-4), 6:30 p.m., SEC Network.
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