Over the course of a few hours on Monday night, the gap between SEC West frontrunner Alabama and LSU seemed to grow into a canyon.
Just before the College Football Playoff National Championship kicked off, news broke that LSU would promote tight ends coach Steve Ensminger to offensive coordinator. Even if it turns out to be the right move for the Tigers, it is not one that inspires hope among the fan base. Ensminger inspires as much sizzle as a Christmas sweater.
Things were a lot more analog the last time he was a full-blown offensive coordinator. Prior to his eight-game stint as interim offensive coordinator in 2016, Ensminger hadn’t called a game since 1998. Dial-up was the hottest way to get online, busy signals were still commonplace and if news couldn’t wait you could always hit someone up on their pager.
Just as technology has changed, so too has the nature of moving the football and scoring points. Purdue and Kansas State were two of the nation’s premier offensive innovators in 1998. Ed Orgeron has gone out on a ledge because he believes Ensminger has properly updated his playbook.
After previously promising that he would always bring LSU the top coordinators in the country, Orgeron has to know he’s on that ledge. Perhaps it should be comforting that he has this much faith in Ensminger when he’s well aware that a misstep with this hire could send him tumbling off that ledge.
But even if Ensminger does work out, the elephant in the room for LSU remains The Elephant. And it became very evident over the course of Monday night that The Elephant isn’t going anywhere.
Georgia appeared to solve the Alabama riddle — for half a game, anyway. Instead, the Crimson Tide decided to roll more models off the assembly line in the second half.
Upstart quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is going to be a jaw-dropping problem for the SEC the next two seasons. You could see precisely why Orgeron’s first move as head coach was to make a too-little, too-late run at the Hawaiian sensation, even if it meant alienating commits Myles Brennan and Lowell Narcisse. Neither of them is Tagovailoa.
Unfortunately for LSU, Tagovailoa isn’t the only true freshman who was vital to bringing the Tide off the canvas. There’s also running back Najee Harris, who carried the ball six times for 64 yards. Most painfully of all, there’s Devonta Smith, an Amite, La., native who hauled in the title-clinching 41-yard touchdown catch in overtime.
Those three players represent the biggest gap between the Tigers and Tide. LSU’s defense is capable of going toe-to-toe with anybody, and that will be even more true next year. But where will LSU find the explosiveness to make championship-caliber plays on offense like Alabama did with three guys who came off the bench?
LSU is trusting that Ensminger can be the guy to solve that puzzle. For Tigers fans, that thought will make for an understandably uneasy offseason.