The LSU Tigers have no plans to enter this offseason on a sour note.
LSU saw its 2017 season end with a disappointing 21-17 loss to Notre Dame in the Citrus Bowl which prevented the Tigers from reaching 10 wins for the first time since 2013. The Tigers have a chance to enter this offseason with 10 wins and a victory in a bowl game when LSU (9-3) faces UCF (12-0) Tuesday in the Playstation Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona.
“We talked about that all week,” LSU head coach Ed Orgeron said. “This sets the tempo. When you win a bowl like we did our first year in Louisville and you come out and you play very well, it sets the tempo for the spring.”
“Everybody’s feeling good, everybody’s positive,” Orgeron added. “I’ve been through it twice now at LSU. I’ve been on the good side and the bad side. The other way is not an option. It is something that you don’t want to go through, the negativity. When you win ten games at LSU, I would say — to me, you better win ten games at LSU and more. That’s what is expected in championships. Anything less than that is unacceptable. I understand that.”
For Orgeron’s team to enter the offseason with 10 wins, they must do so with a depleted defensive roster.
The Tigers will take the field without the following starters from this season: Defensive end Breiden Fehoko (season-ending surgery), defensive tackle Ed Alexander (skipping game to focus on NFL Draft), cornerbacks Greedy Williams (skipping game to focus on NFL Draft), Kristian Fulton (season-ending surgery) and Kelvin Joseph (suspended for violation of team rules).
In addition, starting middle linebacker Jacob Phillips will miss the first half of the bowl game for being ejected for targeting from the Texas A&M game.
“Our guys have stepped up, next man up,” Orgeron said. “You’ll see a lot of new faces on defense. I think I read where we have six starters that are not going to play. So we’re challenged right now on defense.
“Dave Aranda has done a tremendous job,” Orgeron added. “As you know, Dave is one of the best coaches in all of football. We have a tremendous plan. But we’re going to have to be able to be steady on offense, move the football. And these guys are going to have to step up and make plays.”
With so many inexperienced players on defense, and facing a UCF offense that is averaging 44 points per game and is riding a 25-game winning streak, the Tigers’ offense knows if must do a better job of eating up clock and giving its defense a lead.
“Obviously there’s really good offense,” said LSU quarterback Joe Burrow who has 2,500 yards passing and 12 TD on the season. “And we have some guys dinged up on defense, some guys not playing, so we’re going to have to do a good job on offense as far as keeping control of the ball, staying on the field on third downs, and just keeping drives alive.”
LSU isn’t buying into the talk that the Knights are not a quality opponent either despite playing in the American Athletic Conference.
“Yeah, they’re a really good football team,” said senior running back Nick Brossette who leads the Tigers with 922 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. “A 25-game win streak, that tells it all right there. So, yeah, you’ve got to respect them.”
Less than a month ago, LSU offensive coordinator Steven Ensminger indicated that the Tigers would be working on adding new wrinkles to the offense — including maybe run plays for Burrow who was the Tigers’ third-leading rusher this season with 375 yards and 7 TD.
UCF defensive coordinator Randy Shannon is expecting to see just that come game day.
“LSU will run some new play, some new formation,” Shannon said. “Every week they’ve shown where they can — whatever the team gives them, that’s the formation. We have to expect a new formation, a new play to come up in this game.”
UCF will be starting Darriel Mack who has replaced starter McKenzie Milton, who suffered a season-ending injury, as the leader of the Knight’s high-powered offense. In UCF’s win over Memphis in the AAC Championship Game, Mack piled up 407 yards and six total touchdowns.
The Knights also have a game-changing playmaker at running back in Greg McCrae who rushed for 1,101 yards and scored 9 TD, and have three different wide receivers with at least 500 yards and 40 catches.
“They’re fast,” LSU All-American linebacker Devin White said. “They make a lot of plays. They try to get a lot of guys in space. That’s what any team does. We just have to come with it on defense and offense. I feel like I know what their game plan is going to be. They’re going to be running the ball and throwing all night, and we’re going to come and get three-and-outs and institute our game.”
For LSU, the goal of Tuesday’s game remains the same. End the season strong with a victory in a bowl game, and ride that momentum into the offseason.
“When you lose in a bowl game, you have to go a long time with off-season training with that loss on your mind,” White said. “I think one of the things that motivated us this off-season is like, man, we really lost the last game and, you know, it was all due to us, lack of leadership, some things that didn’t go right at bowl practices. And this year we didn’t want it to happen. We want to go on to the next. We want to start the next season off with a win. Let that carry us into the next season. That’s all we’ve been focusing on, is getting a win.”