BATON ROUGE - Ole Miss 10, Coach O 0.
That is what the Tiger Stadium scoreboard read late in the first quarter as LSU interim coach Ed "Coach O" Orgeron's audition for the permanent job looked a little less than zero.
Then came Leonard Fournette, who broke a 59-yard touchdown run moments later and another one from 76 yards out in the second quarter for a 21-13 LSU lead and another one from 78 yards out in the third quarter for a 28-21 lead. Fournette went on to finish with a school single game record 284 yards in the Tigers' 38-21 victory over Ole Miss.
"I'm glad he's on our team," Orgeron said.
Orgeron is also very glad, as he sits at 3-O in LSU's "new season," that Dave Aranda is his defensive coordinator. After allowing 128 yards, seven first downs and 10 points in the first quarter, Aranda regrouped his defense and limited Ole Miss to 93 yards, six first downs and 11 points in the second quarter, 77 yards, one first down and O points in the third quarter and 67 yards, five first downs and O points in the fourth quarter.
"He's a cool cucumber," Orgeron said of Aranda, who opened this season as Orgeron's boss since Orgeron was just LSU's defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator before being elevated to interim coach to replace the fired Les Miles on Sept. 25.
"He's like a mad scientist," Orgeron said. "He's a very talented football coach."
After completing 7-of-11 passes in the first quarter for 102 yards and a touchdown, Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly was just 12-of-21 for 107 yards with two interceptions for 107 yards the rest of the game.
"You know, Dave Aranda is pretty sharp," Orgeron said. "He makes adjustments when they come off the field. He fixes things and not necessarily changes the defense. But he may change out leverage. He may play off, may play press, changes the technique. There were a lot of times tonight when they were trying to change the play on the line of scrimmage. But once they would change, he would change."
Linebackers Duke Riley and Kendell Beckwith ran down Ole Miss' "basketball on grass" attack throughout the night. Riley made 14 tackles, forced a fumble and intercepted a pass. Beckwith made nine tackles and broke up a pass.
"Outstanding. Outstanding," Orgeron said. "I love the way they ran sideline to sideline against the spread offense. You've got to make tackles in space."
The Tigers look faster than everyone they play because they play in unleashed fashion, particularly in the second half. In Coach O's 3-O start, LSU leads its opponents, 73-7, in the six quarters of play after halftime. The Tigers are not leaving it on the practice field as one of the first changes Orgeron made when he replaced Miles was dramatically shortening practices - sometimes to only 30 or 45 minutes.
"I think it's a tribute to us being fresh," he said, "and us cutting down on the practices and talking about finishing and practicing faster. And we have good players."
Better and faster players than Aranda has ever coached at his previous stops of Wisconsin, Utah State, Hawaii, Delta State, California, Houston and Texas Tech.
Fournette certainly looked faster than anyone on the field, including fellow tailback Derrius Guice, who used to be the fastest until Fournette returned from his ankle injury. And he was not at full speed.
“Everybody thinks I’m healthy, but I’m out of shape," Fournette said. "I’m like 230-233 right now. Over these next two weeks we have, I’m just going to work on getting myself back in shape and also rehabbing my ankle.”
Yes, an overweight Fournette broke the school rushing record for a game. Yes, a winded, uncut Fournette forearmed his way over Ole Miss safety Deontay Anderson on a short pass in the first quarter like Anderson was a twinkie.
“After every two carries I was done with," Fournette said. "I’m telling Derrius or Darrell (Williams) to get in the game.”
After that one carry, Anderson was done.
What will a healthy Fournette do? Well, not nearly as much against No. 1 Alabama on Nov. 5 after the open date. Ole Miss did come in with one of the worst rush defenses in the SEC. But a fresh and fast LSU is the best the SEC has left to have a chance against the mighty Tide, which let Texas A&M stick around for a half Saturday before winning going away, 33-14.
Asked how excited he was to prepare for Alabama for the next two weeks, Orgeron smiled and said, "Well, after you watch the tape, you might not be as excited. No, I'm just joking."
He sure was joking.
A win by the Orgeron Audition over Alabama will be like two or three wins over mortal teams.
"We're going to be up for the challenge," he said. "It's going to be a physical football game. They have very good athletes. They are very well-coached, but so are we."
Don't underestimate O, offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger (aka En-slinger) or Aranda's Army.
(© 2017 WWL)