The first year for Ed Orgeron as head coach at LSU hasn’t exactly gone according to plan so far. The Tigers are 3-2 entering the sixth week of the season, with losses to Mississippi State and Troy. Following last week’s game, the familiar rumblings started about whether or not Coach O is on the hot seat. Things don’t get any easier as the Tigers make the trip to Gainesville for a date with Jim McElwain’s Florida Gators.
The Gators have had troubles of their own, despite the 3-1 start. It’s been a game of musical quarterbacks through the first several games of the year with Feleipe Franks, Malik Zaire and Luke Del Rio all seeing time under center. Del Rio was hurt during last week’s game against Vanderbilt, and it now appears that Franks will be the guy moving forward. He’ll face an LSU defense that is hungry to prove itself after getting beat physically last week by the Trojans.
With the teams set to square off in the spotlight of the SEC on CBS on Saturday afternoon, we caught up with CBS Sports Network analyst and former Georgia QB Aaron Murray to get his thoughts on the game.
CBS Local Sports: LSU has struggled in the past couple of weeks, losing to Troy their last time out. What has been going wrong so far for this team in your eyes, and what needs to be done to fix it?
Aaron Murray: The biggest problem right now is they’re just extremely young on the defensive side of the football. They’re very talented, they always have a lot of talent, but there’s not a ton of experience there. So, those guys are going to continue getting better as they have time to learn and gain experience.
On the offensive side, Danny Etling isn’t going to win you any games. He’s going to go out there, and he’s going to manage the game. He won’t turn the ball over, but he can’t put the game on his shoulders. And if you don’t have (Derrius) Guice out there running the ball, it’s tough. If you can’t pass the ball, you become one-dimensional, and when you play these tough defenses, they’re going to load the box and force you to throw the ball. You’re in trouble if you can’t do that.
They just have to simplify the game plan a little bit. This week, they’re looking for offensive coordinator Matt Canada to use fewer shifts, use fewer motions to allow those guys to play fast. They do have the athletes, but they just have to make it a little less complicated for those guys on the field.
CBS Local Sports: On that front, is it time to make a QB change at LSU? If so, who do they go to?
Aaron Murray: I don’t think so. The big thing is getting Guice healthy and rolling again. He’s been banged up and missing games. If you get a healthy Guice back and you start playing good defense, they’ll be fine.
It’s tough being with a new offensive coordinator too. There’s a lot of things for these guys to learn, especially with how much Matt Canada was putting on their table with the shifts, the motions, the plays, etc. If he slows the pace down for those guys, you should see more progress on offense. Not just them getting better throughout the year and learning the playbook, but just making it easier and knocking down the playbook for them.
CBS Local Sports: For Florida, they’ve had a bit of a revolving door at the QB spot this year, though it now looks like Feleipe Franks will have the job moving forward after Luke Del Rio’s injury. How would you evaluate Franks’ performance so far this year?
Aaron Murry: I really liked Feleipe from day 1. If I was McElwain, I’m hitching my sails to him and rolling with him. He’s a young kid, a lot of talent, big, great arm, and the big thing with him is he just needs game experience. He needs to go through those ups and downs of playing in major SEC football games and have his bad spots and his great spots.
I got to go to the Tennessee-Florida game a couple weeks ago when he launched that 70-yard Hail Mary. The kid has all the tools you want. The big thing with him right now is just what his psyche is. It’s tough to get benched twice. He got benched in the first game against Michigan midway through the game, and he was playing decently well. Then he didn’t start this past week against Vanderbilt, with Luke Del Rio starting instead. Then he comes in once Luke gets injured.
It’s hard when you’re a young QB and your coach has benched you twice. In the back of your head it’s like ‘man, if I mess up, they’re going to put the next guy in now.’ So, for him, he just needs to continue to go out there and play his game. But I like him. He is hot and cold a little bit. Watching him last week, he does make some great throws. He threw a great post pattern down the field, but then he threw it into triple coverage and it bounced off of three defenders. Another time late in the game, he threw it and a couple guys deflected it. He has to learn to take care of the ball and when and when not to force balls down the field.
CBS Local Sports: With this game, what’s the biggest key for each team to pick up a victory?
Aaron Murray: Playing good sound football. That’s the key to all of these SEC games. It’s protecting the football, establishing the run game, and that’s something Florida really harped on all offseason. They were talking about how dominant their offensive line was, and you didn’t really see that the first couple of weeks.
Now, in the past two weeks, they’ve really been able to establish the run game and run the ball well. For every SEC game, it’s about controlling the line of scrimmage. Running the ball, stopping the run and limiting turnovers. Whoever does that will win this game.
CBS Local Sports: Later in the day, there’s a good American Conference match-up on CBS Sports Network with Houston playing host to SMU. SMU is one of the highest-scoring teams in the country at 48.3 points per game, why have the Mustangs been so effective this year?
Aaron Murray: It’s kind of crazy to look at these two teams, because you have SMU scoring in the high 40s and then you have Houston, who’s playing great defense, but not scoring a lot of points on the offensive side. You’ve got Houston at 3-1 and SMU at 4-1, so it should be an interesting game between two teams that are very different.
For SMU, it starts with their quarterback, Ben Hicks. He’s had 14 touchdowns this year against just three interceptions. Trey Quinn on the outside has played extremely well. They just have to keep rolling. They’re passing the ball really well, they’re running the ball really well. But now they’re going to be facing this Houston team that is playing great defense.
CBS Local Sports: For Houston, they lost star defensive tackle to a sprained MCL last week against Temple, how does that affect this defense?
Aaron Murray: When your best player is out, I don’t care what position or what team, when that guy is going out there and producing that much, it’s a huge hit for that defense. But, at the end of the day, they’re going to look at themselves as a whole right now and how well they’re playing and say ‘listen, it’s next man up mentality. He’s a great player, he’s playing well for us but, we’re playing well together.’
They’re excited for a big task. For me, I remember, as an offense, whenever we were playing a great defense, like an Alabama or an LSU, you get excited that week about the challenge. Your mindset is let’s go show the country why we are a top offense. And for Houston, they’re thinking the same thing defensively.
CBS Local Sports: On the offensive side, the Cougars have gone back and forth between Kyle Allen and Kyle Postma at QB. Which guy gives them a better chance to win?
Aaron Murray: Definitely Postma right now. Quarterback is always a big position to figure out, and it’s tough when you don’t have certainty, not just for those quarterbacks but for the entire team when you don’t have a leader to really rally around. For those coaches, it’s about picking one and staying with him and just letting him roll and to gain that confidence.
This offense has been known to be extremely effective and move the ball up and down the field these past couple of years. Suddenly, the switch flips and you have a great defense, and the offense isn’t really moving. It starts at the QB position, having a top guy there to build around, [to] be the leader that the team needs.
CBS Local Sports: If SMU is able to win this game, is it time to start seeing them as a legitimate threat in the American conference?
Aaron Murray: You have to. If you’re 5-1 going into the second half of the season, you have to consider them. They have at Cincinnati, Tulsa, then UCF, who’s a great team, coming up. Looking at their schedule the rest of the way it is going to be very daunting with who they’re playing. UCF is playing great ball, Navy is playing great ball at the moment.
They have a tough second half of the season, but it’s always great to start the year off 5-1. You can’t complain about that as players and coaches. Building that confidence heading into a tough second half of the season is a good thing.