As you might’ve heard, Les Miles isn’t LSU’s football coach anymore.
No, that job now belongs to Ed Orgeron, a man who is a stranger to neither coaching in the SEC nor taking over as an interim midseason. And one game into his tenure at LSU, Orgeron is looking like a bona fide head coaching commodity, having led the Tigers to a 42-7 victory over Missouri.
Being a head coach isn’t easy. Every game on the sidelines involves making at least one split-second decision that there really isn’t a way of preparing for. With that in mind, let’s take a look at five of the different kinds of decisions that coaches have to make in a given week and see how Orgeron did in those phases of the game.
Managing the clock
Given the dumbfounding way that the Les Miles era at LSU ended, clock management may be the most important challenge Orgeron faces. Whether you consider it a product of luck or of good coaching, Orgeron didn’t really have to make too many decisions concerning the clock Saturday night since his team led big for the whole second half.
That said, there was one instance where Orgeron’s clock management instincts could be seen. With just more than a minute left in the first half, LSU punted the ball back to Missouri, pinning their opponents on their own 20 yard line. On first and 10, Missouri threw incomplete. On second and 10, Missouri running back Ish Witter rushed and was stuffed, only gaining two yards.
At this point, Orgeron still possessed two timeouts and was facing an opponent that was averaging fewer than four yards per play. Yet he chose not to use a timeout to preserve the clock and potentially get the ball back, allowing Missouri to milk just about 40 seconds off the clock.
LSU was winning by 21 at that point, so maybe Orgeron was just playing conservatively to minimize risk. But in a situation where his defense had up to that point only allowed four first downs in an entire half, trusting the defense and trying to get some extra points on the board before half almost certainly would’ve been the better decision.
One of the major responsibilities of modern coaching is setting the tone for how gutsy your team will be. Near the end of the first quarter, Orgeron had the chance to do just that and managed to make both the right and wrong decision.
With less than a minute left in the first quarter, LSU faced a fourth-and-2 on Missouri’s 25-yard line. LSU’s lead was only 7-0 at this point, but the team already had rushed for more than 100 yards. So Orgeron elected to keep the offense on the field to try to pick up those two yards, something that shouldn’t have been too hard for a team that was averaging more than eight yards per carry.
The decision to keep the offense on the field was almost undoubtedly the correct one. When you’re as close to the end zone as LSU was, going for the first down has a higher expected point value than attempting a field goal. But the play call itself was somewhat bland. Orgeron and offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger chose a simple handoff up the middle to Derrius Guice, who was dropped for no gain.
The moral of the story? Orgeron isn’t afraid to take risks, and it seems as if his reasoning on when to take them is sound. He just needs to be as liberal with his play calling as he is with his decision making.
It’s unfortunate that discipline is a major tenet of college coaching, but it’s an unavoidable truth. Orgeron had the opportunity to exact discipline on players both pre-game and in-game Saturday, but seemed pretty relaxed in that regard.
For one, there was Davon Godchaux, who was arrested Monday morning and saw the charges against him dropped Wednesday. Orgeron took his time with the decision on whether to play Godchaux, not revealing his thought process at all before the game, but ultimately decided to give Godchaux the start. Whether you think Orgeron should’ve punished Godchaux for even being in the situation he was in or think that the legal system did its job and the situation was over, you have to commend Orgeron for waiting and thinking over the decision.
In-game, Orgeron had the opportunity to discipline cornerback Tre’Davious White after he was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty at the end of the first half, but no such discipline came down; White continued to play and played rather well. It would be safe to assume that if White is going to be punished, it’ll come on the practice field during the week, not in-game to the detriment of his teammates.
On Monday when Orgeron was introduced as LSU’s head coach, he said one of the biggest mistakes he made as the head coach at Ole Miss was trying to do too much on his own and not trusting his assistants. If Saturday was any indication, Orgeron has learned from those mistakes.
A defensive coach, Orgeron chose not to call his defense’s plays. Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda retained those responsibilities. On offense, Orgeron left the responsibilities to Ensminger, consultant Steve Kragthorpe and the rest of the team’s assistants. And on special teams, Orgeron left the duties of management to Bradley Dale Peveto.
Orgeron’s role Saturday was more administrative, which is oftentimes the mark of a level-headed coach. Sometimes, the best quality a coach can have is to admit that he doesn’t have all the answers.
Controlling the pace of the game
At the end of the day, the most important thing a head coach does is try to put his team in the best position to win. And the easiest way to do that is control the time-of-possession, something LSU did for an impressive 42 minutes of the game. But Orgeron didn’t just use his team’s time with the ball to milk the clock. He pressed when he needed to, managing the game well.
One of the prevailing axioms about football is that the most important drive of the game is the first one in the second half. It sets the pace for the half and has the potential to get the crowd into or take it out of the game. Orgeron managed that drive impeccably, leading the team 75 yards down the field in less than four minutes for a touchdown, expanding the LSU lead to 28-0.
Had LSU come out and played soft or conservatively on that drive, it would’ve been much easier for Missouri to begin clawing back. But by setting the tone that LSU was not going to relent, Orgeron squelched any dream Missouri might’ve had of a comeback.
If there’s anything to be learned from that sequence, it’s that Orgeron is coaching to win, not to not lose. That’s the most important quality a coach can have, and, given Saturday’s win, Orgeron knows what he’s doing. It’ll just come down to if he and his players can keep doing what they did.