LSU must convince recruits to look past the red elephant

In the middle of the TV broadcast of LSU’s win at Ole Miss, analyst Todd Blackledge recalled a conversation with Tiger head coach Ed Orgeron.

“We have to beat ’em, and we have to beat them in recruiting,” said Blackledge, quoting Orgeron.

Coach O was talking about you know who. Orgeron was speaking about that red elephant in the room who has defeated the Tigers six straight times.

The last time LSU defeated Alabama was Nov. 5, 2011, in Tuscaloosa. In that game, LSU had five future first-round draft choices on the roster: safety Eric Reid, cornerback Morris Claiborne, defensive tackle Michael Brockers, pass rusher Barkevious Mingo and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

Cornerback Tyrann Mathieu was honored that year with the Chuck Bednarik Award as the best defensive player in college football.

LSU’s defense was so stout that in the fourth quarter of a 6-6 tie, Alabama resorted to a trick play to try and score a touchdown. Wide receiver Marquis Maze threw a pass intended for tight end Michael Williams. Reid hustled back to take the ball away from Williams at the Tigers’ 1-yard line. It was as good a play as any LSU Tiger has made in the 82-game history of the series.

Four plays later, LSU punter Brad Wing punted the ball over the head of Maze, who let it roll dead at the Alabama 18. LSU won in overtime, 9-6.

Since then – from 2012-17 – Alabama has produced 15 first-round draft picks. In that same time frame, LSU has produced eight first-round picks, but none in 2015 and 2016.

Two areas where Alabama has clearly produced better players is at quarterback and on the offensive line. In Alabama’s current six-game wining streak in the series, LSU has been shut out twice and has not scored more than 17 points.

The margin of error for LSU in the 83rd meeting is, well,  quite marginal. The Tigers must play outstanding defense, not turn the ball over, win the kicking game and generate enough offense to stay in the game, on the road, against the No. 1 team in the country.

But, LSU does have its two best players rounding into form. Running back Derrius Guice (276 rush yards vs. Ole Miss) is healthy, and pass rush specialist Arden Key is looking sharper after missing all of spring ball with an undisclosed absence.

A month ago, LSU at Alabama looked like a complete mismatch. Since then, Orgeron has righted the ship with three straight wins over Florida, Auburn and Ole Miss.

On the same day LSU defeated Ole Miss, Texas was losing for the fourth time in seven games, albeit to 10th-ranked Oklahoma State. And, Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher got into an argument with a fan after a loss to Louisville. Florida State is 0-3 at home for the first time since 1974.

Fisher and/or Herman were the supposed hot commodities in the LSU coach search 11 months ago. In the meantime, Orgeron is 12-4 since replacing Les Miles.

If, after next Saturday, Coach O is 13-4, LSU fans might be asking, “Jimbo who?”

Ed Daniels is sports director of ABC26 WGNO. He can be reached at edaniels@clarionherald.org.

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