BATON ROUGE – He may not admit it, but LSU interim coach Ed Orgeron would surely like to shine a light through Ole Miss, which has been the dark cloud of his career, and it hasn’t ceased chasing him yet.
His No. 23 Tigers (4-2, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) host No. 22 Ole Miss (3-3, 1-2) at 8 p.m. Saturday on ESPN.
Besides the fact that his 10-25 record as the Rebels head coach from 2005-07 came up when he was up for the permanent USC head coaching job in 2012 and now for the LSU permanent job, Orgeron’s side of the ball has also gotten dominated twice by Ole Miss since he left there.
Orgeron was Tennessee’s defensive line coach in 2009 when the Volunteers lost at Ole Miss, 42-17, in Oxford, Mississippi, to Orgeron’s replacement, Houston Nutt. Dexter McCluster set Ole Miss records in rushing with 282 yards and in all-purpose yards with 324 in that game, and both marks still stand. The 282 also set the record for most yards allowed by Tennessee. Then last year, Orgeron’s side of the ball allowed 432 yards in LSU’s 38-17 loss at Ole Miss, which led the Tigers 24-0 in the second quarter.
“They better,” Orgeron said when asked if his players will take anything away from that game. “If they don’t, I’m going to remind them because I remember it. Those guys whooped our tail, and there’s going to be respect. And obviously, we’re going to play better this year. We’ve got them at home. I really want to use that as a motivation to remind them who we’re playing. They’ll be ready to play.”
Orgeron said this game is not about any personal revenge for him, though, as he was fired by Ole Miss following a 3-9 season in 2007 that included a 0-8 SEC record.
“Never. Never. It’s all about the players,” he said. “I won’t mention it. That’s the furthest thing from my mind. This is about the LSU Tigers. This is about this football team. That was a long time ago. That’s far from my memory, I promise you.”
But it can’t be that far.
“Obviously, he’s got a history with them,” LSU quarterback Danny Etling said. “I’m sure he won’t put too much emphasis on that, but we know it’s going to be on his mind.”
The head coach Orgeron sees across the field Saturday will be a reminder. Orgeron hired Hugh Freeze in 2005 from Briarcrest Christian School in Memphis, Tennessee, to be his assistant athletic director for football external affairs. In 2006 and ’07, he was Orgeron's offensive assistant and recruiting coordinator.
“I almost hired him as my offensive coordinator, probably should have,” Orgeron said.
“Ed was always very, very good to me,” Freeze said this week.
Freeze and co-offensive coordinators Dan Werner and Matt Luke operate one of the best offenses in the nation this season. It leads the SEC and is 15th in the nation in pass offense with 320 yards a game behind senior quarterback Chad Kelly, who is No. 3 in the league in passing efficiency at 152.4 on 133-of-213 passing for 1,849 yards and 14 touchdowns with six interceptions in six games. Etling is up to fifth in the league in efficiency at 137.4 on 70-of-119 passing for 925 yards and six touchdowns with two interceptions in five games. The Rebels are also third in the SEC in scoring with nearly 40 points a game.
Orgeron’s last Ole Miss team with Werner as offensive coordinator and Freeze as receivers coach finished last in the SEC with 20.1 points a game and second to last in passing efficiency at 110.4.
“We were very close at the very end of it and everything was strained around here for sure,” Freeze said. “But I think he had great confidence in me and I appreciated that the whole time we were here. Again, I am very indebted to him.”
That last season in Oxford, though, included a second loss to Vanderbilt and a finale that sealed Orgeron’s fate – a 17-14 loss to rival Mississippi State in which Ole Miss led, 14-0.
“People are not patient,” Freeze said. “I really think that we had recruited well under Ed here, and it was close to turning a corner. Hindsight is twenty-twenty. I am just saying if you look at the athletes that Ed and his staff, our staff, had brought in, we thought we were really close. We didn’t win enough games that last year to satisfy everyone, and the change was made.”
Freeze has noticed a change in Orgeron through looking at LSU this season.
“They’re playing extremely well right now and are very confident,” he said. “A lot of that has to do with obviously, Coach Orgeron. He’s added a lot of excitement, and the players are feeding off that energy. Formation-wise, they’re different on offense. They force you into some difficult matchups. The quarterback’s playing at a higher level. They are very multiple on offense. Definitely, a different look to it – more balanced.
So is Orgeron.
“In the five years that I became an assistant coach, I said these are the things I need to change,” Orgeron said. “These are the things that didn’t work. You can’t place blame on other people.”
He was 6-2 as USC’s interim coach in 2012 and is 2-0 as LSU’s interim coach.
“I think he has approached these last two opportunities differently,” Freeze said. “When I talk to him now he seems a bit different about his approach, and I think it is working for him. It was no surprise that the kids are playing well under him right now. Their kids are looking like they are having a lot of fun. Whatever he is doing is working.”
Freeze has been preparing for one of the SEC’s best defenses as the Tigers lead the nation in fewest touchdowns allowed with six, are fourth in the nation in scoring defense with 14 points allowed a game and are 13th nationally in total defense with 312 yards allowed a game under coordinator Dave Aranda.
He is also preparing for the Orgeron he knows – the Orgeron who will likely not forget what happened at Ole Miss.
“Who knows why decisions were made? I am not second guessing any of those,” Freeze said. “But I will say this about Ed Orgeron. I don’t know that I have ever been around a coach that is more passionate and who came to work every single day with that same energy, same passion and same drive. It wasn’t a rollercoaster in that regard at Ole Miss. You can see that in his players now.”
Etling sees that in Orgeron.
“He’s got a great interaction with us,” he said. “He does a great job of getting everyone fired up.”