ORLANDO, Florida - LSU showcased a coordinator conundrum on Monday in a 21-17 loss to Notre Dame in the Citrus Bowl - on defense and on offense.
Fired offensive coordinator Matt Canada coordinated his last game at LSU on New Year's Day, and it had a definite "Auld Lang Syne" ring to it, as in "Same Old Song."
The Tigers drove 64 yards in nine plays early in the second quarter with the score knotted at 0-0 to a second and goal at the Irish 1-yard line. And they couldn't punch it in. Tailback Darrel Williams got zero on second down, and quarterback Danny Etling also got zero. On fourth and goal, LSU went for it, but drew itself offside, and Connor Culp missed a 22-yard field goal.
In the fourth quarter, LSU drove 74 yards 10 plays to a third and goal at the 3-yard line in the final minutes. Etling threw a quick pass to tailback Derrius Guice, who just missed getting in. And on fourth and goal from inches away, Jack Gonsoulin made a 17-yard field goal for a 17-14 lead with 2:03 to play.
Apparently, Canada - like Ensminger before him in the Florida game last year when LSU could not score with two shots from the 1-yard line as time expired in a 16-10 loss - does not know about quick passes to the tight end at the goal line. Just watch the Saints during your sabbatical, Matt. Ensminger should study that, too, if he ends up replacing Canada.
LSU head coach Ed Orgeron may have remembered that Florida game Monday as he opted for the field goal for the 17-14 lead instead of Guice over the top - another play LSU's offensive masterminds the last two years may not know about.
Orgeron had also watched Gonsoulin miss a 37-yard field goal in the second quarter just after Connor Culp missed a 22-yard boot earlier in the period. Guice jumping over the top seemed more certain. But Orgeron went for the field goal and put the game in the hands of his favored coordinator - Dave Aranda on the defensive side.
"Obviously, you think about it, but you go ahead," Orgeron said. "You go ahead with under two minutes left to go, and your defense has played well. I didn't think they were going to score. Maybe if we had got it on fourth and one the first time, maybe I'd have done it again, but there was no way I was going to do that. I was going to give our team the best chance to win. That was to get the three points."
But Aranda's New Year got off to as bad a start as Canada's. His defense, which kept Notre Dame out of the end zone for three quarters and for more than seven minutes of the fourth quarter, suddenly went all Chavis and against a No. 2 quarterback.
The Irish, which was held to a field goal for a 3-0 lead at the end of the first half and another field goal in the third quarter, drove 76 yards in 12 plays to get within 14-12 with 7:49 left in the game behind backup quarterback Ian Book. After replacing starter Brandon Wimbush late in the second quarter, it was Book who took Notre Dame to all of its scores.
Book, who rushed for 64 yards around four sacks and passed for another 164, hit wide receiver Michael Young for a 6-yard touchdown pass third and goal for the touchdown to cut LSU's lead to 14-12. Then he shoveled on to tailback Josh Adams for the two-point conversion, and it was all tied up.
After Orgeron's decision for the field goal and 17-14 lead, Book took over on his 27 with 2:03 left against a defense that shut out Florida, Arkansas and Texas A&M in the fourth quarter for wins and Auburn and Tennessee in the last two quarters for wins. And he booked Notre Dame's first New Year's Day bowl win since 1994.
Book hit wide receiver Chris Finke for 18 to the Irish 45. Then he threw deep for wide receiver Miles Boykin, who appeared well covered by cornerback Donte Jackson. But Jackson has a tendency not to finish off coverage, and Boykin just beat him to the ball for a one-handed catch. Then he broke Jackson's tackle, which tends to happen, too, and lumbered on, also breaking a tackle by safety John Battle, for a 55-yard touchdown and the 21-17 lead with 1:28 left.
"Winning the 50-50 ball, we talk about that all the time," said Boykin, who won the bowl MVP award. "After that, it was really almost just a blur."
In the end, Aranda gave up a season high 15 fourth quarter points - all over the final 7:49. It was a blur on the LSU side, too.
"I thought we could stop them," Orgeron said.
And it was over. Canada and Etling finished their LSU careers on the Tigers' last drive with six straight incomplete passes.
It was a catastrophic coordinator combination that left LSU at 9-4 after 8-4 in 2016, meaning it has back-to-back seasons of four losses or more for the first time since 2008 and '09.
One could throw in the special teams coordinator for part of the blame as well - what with the missed field goals, D.J. Chark suddenly unable to field a punt and general sloppiness with only 10 on the field twice. But LSU doesn't have one. Orgeron decided to use a half dozen in various roles for this season. Then again, he thought Canada was the man, too.
"I will hire a special teams coach full time," Orgeron said. "That's something that we plan on doing pretty soon."
So, why didn't he do that last year? And why did hire an offensive coordinator who has never run the pro style offense he likes? Orgeron will enter his third season as head coach in 2018 - counting the interim season minus four games in 2016 - and he is practically starting over once again.
"Obviously, we're very disappointed in this loss," Orgeron said. "I told the team to put it on me. I should have prepared them better. Some things we need to get fixed, and we are going to fix them, especially in the areas that we didn't perform."
That's a lot of areas.
After parts of two seasons, Orgeron is 15-6. Les Miles was 17-8 over his last two full seasons before getting fired early in 2016. Orgeron has done some things well. He has done some things poorly. The offense and the quarterback position remain as bleak as they ever were under Miles.
Heading into Orgeron's second full season, there is not a lot of difference yet between the two coaches. And the never ending search for the right quarterback and the right offensive coordinator continues on as if Miles had never left.