17 Duck revival:
❚ LSU powers into Playoff picture,
Mario Cristobal has built Oregon back into a national contender.
BATON ROUGE, La. – Somewhere in the mosh pit, someone started the chant — because it appears to be a college football requirement, someone has to do it, and everyone else has to join in:
“We want ’Bama! We want ’Bama! We want ’Bama!”
Never mind that LSU’s date with the Alabama Crimson Tide is a few weeks away. Or that it appears no one really wants ’Bama. In the moment, it all seemed to make sense.
The Tigers had just mauled No. 2 Georgia 36-16 in what was easily the program’s most impressive, and significant, victory in years. Not long afterward, Ed Orgeron summed up the result, rumbling as only “Coach O” can:
“Great LSU football — just the way it’s supposed to be.”
Maybe it’s a one-off. Given college football’s topsy-turvy nature — on Oct. 13, or this season or really any season — it certainly could be just one more unusual event. But ponder for a moment what else the result might mean:
What if LSU is back to playing great football, the way it’s supposed to be, and has just recalibrated the Southeastern Conference’s hierarchy?
We have heard all along about Alabama and Georgia. But LSU has wedged its way improbably into the conversation.
“Where this takes us, we don’t know,” said Orgeron, who like his players emphasized the necessity of moving on to Mississippi State rather than musing on the big picture. “But hopefully it gives us some confidence we can play with anybody in the country. … (If) we play well and do the things we can, we can be in there with most teams in the country.”
Does that include Alabama? It seems more likely every week, as the Crimson Tide take a wrecking ball to yet another overmatched opponent, that we’ll eventually learn it’s ’Bama and then a drop to everyone else in the SEC, not to mention the rest of college football. But for now, let’s rerank the league. Behind Alabama, it’s LSU. And then a gap from there. And on Nov. 3, LSU gets ’Bama in Tiger Stadium with a chance to earn an even more significant victory.
Georgia, which entered the day squarely in the final four of everyone’s projections, still has every possibility in play: the SEC East, an SEC championship, the Playoff. But there’s no margin anymore for error. More significant, there are plenty of errors to address.
The loss to LSU brought an important revelation: This Georgia team is not that Georgia team.
Its No. 2 ranking was largely built on last year’s reputation, but this version has some significant flaws. Especially defensively. Especially in the front seven. On the other side of the ball, an offensive line playing two freshmen was overmatched. Sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm was not good Oct. 13, either. He threw two interceptions, and in the pivotal first half he was 5 of 16 for only 47 yards.
“That’s not indicative of who we are,” Kirby Smart said afterward, but it might be indicative of exactly who they are.
Never mind the Playoff. The Bulldogs now find themselves in a three-way tie in the loss column in the SEC East. If you’re thinking Georgia has to be better than Florida or Kentucky, you’re clinging to last week’s perception. Or last year’s. The Bulldogs might be the best in the East, but after Saturday, are you certain?
Meanwhile, it’s been hard to know what to make of LSU. The Tigers have built perhaps the best résumé in college football, but they’ve been inconsistent. The Tigers fired out to five consecutive wins to start the season, including wins against Miami (Fla.) and Auburn, both ranked in the top 10 at the time (the Auburn win, at least, does not look nearly as impressive now). But LSU’s clunky offense seemed like a limiting factor, and when it sputtered in a loss last week at Florida, it wasn’t especially surprising.
Orgeron and players said their poor performance against the Gators served as motivation. They also heard plenty all week about Georgia’s “dynasty and all that stuff,” as Orgeron put it, adding, “Our guys were ready to go.” But Oct. 13 seemed like more than just emotion or a revved-up crowd of 100,000plus (which included a lot of Georgia red). The old formula seemed slightly tweaked but still looked very familiar.
Stifling defense: Georgia managed 113 yards rushing and a season low in total yards (322) and points.
Physical running game: LSU rushed 51 times for 275 yards.
An adequate passing game: Joe Burrow won’t be mistaken for dynamic, but the quarterback was efficient and poised and resembled some of his LSU predecessors from the glory years.
Beyond that, there was mind-set: LSU was all aggression and guts. Orgeron went for it on fourth-and-short four times, converting each time. The conversions helped LSU build the lead but also served as a statement.
“We were gonna be as aggressive as we can,” Orgeron said. “Take shots and go for it. Play to win the game the whole time.”
It added up to a dominant, impressive performance that seemed to open up all kinds of possibility and potential. Maybe we’ll look up in a few weeks and find that the SEC is Alabama and then everybody else. But for now at least, there’s reason for the Tigers and their fans to dream.
“It’s hard to tell,” Burrow said when asked how good LSU is or can be. “We’ve still got a long season ahead of us. I know we’re a really good team, a really talented team.
“We still have a lot to fix, but we’re heading in the right direction.”
That “We want ’Bama” chant on the field didn’t last long. After a few lines, it was swallowed quickly by a louder chant of: “LSU! LSU! LSU!” — which, ask around, is probably a smart move. Mississippi State comes first. And though LSU’s performance vs. Georgia was splendid, it’s hard to see anyone really wanting ’Bama.
But three weeks from now, the Tigers get their shot in Death Valley to play more great LSU football.
Tigers coach Ed Orgeron summed up the 36-16 rout of Georgia: “Great LSU football — just the way it’s supposed to be.”