During the year between when Ed Orgeron was not hired as head coach at USC and when he was hired by Les Miles as defensive line coach at LSU, he had a lot of time on his hands. One day he got a call from Dan Mullen, who was then the head coach of the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
The two had gone back nearly 20 years, when Mullen was a graduate assistant at Syracuse, the same year Orgeron was a defensive line coach with the Orange. Mullen asked Orgeron all of those years later to come watch the Bulldogs practice and speak to the team. It turned into a three or four day trip for Orgeron who was able to pick the brain of Mullen, a great offensive mind.
One of the areas he asked Mullen about was the quarterback position and what is the one trait that Mullen considered was the top one for quarterbacks to possess.
"I asked him what is the number one factor you're looking for at quarterback. He did not hesitate. He said, Toughness," Orgeron said.
That's what Orgeron was able to find in Ohio State transfer Joe Burrow years later. It's also what Mullen believes he has in Heisman frontrunner Kyle Trask, who is in year two of his starting career with the Florida Gators.
There's no doubt that LSU's defense faces another difficult challenge moving from Steve Sarkisian to Mullen in back-to-back weeks. Trask has been one of the breakout players in the country, tossing for 3,243 yards and 38 touchdowns behind Mullen as his signal caller.
"He's a diamond in the rough. The way he operates, the way he finds the guys," Orgeron said of Trask this week. "Dan is a great game day caller. He knows exactly what to do with his quarterback. I think it's a combination of a great quarterback and a great caller."
Slowing down Trask's connection with tight end Kyle Pitts will be among the top priorities for the Tigers this weekend. The duo has connected for 641 yards and 11 touchdowns this season and that's with Pitts missing two games this season.
It's very likely LSU will try and double team the highly productive tight end, something the Tigers weren't able to do against Devonta Smith a week ago. The one player that figures to be a key cog in that effort is linebacker Jabril Cox.
"He's kind of like an Arik Gilbert and that's someone I've seen most of the time in practice, the way he runs his routes," Cox said. "The way he battles for the jump balls and is physical so me and him matched up would be great competition."
On the defensive side of the ball, the Gators lead the SEC in sacks and have shown some improvement over the last few weeks, albeit against inferior competition. That means that the offensive line will be under the microscope once again as the unit has been mostly inconsistent this season, leading to recent offensive struggles.
"We have to win some one-on-ones. They are very talented up front. I know their defensive coordinator very well. He was a defensive line coach, teaches great technique. It's going to be a challenge for us," Orgeron said.
"There's been games where we've struggled to get into a rhythm," center Liam Shanahan said. "One big thing for us is when we've established the run game it's helped us get into a groove. There's been a couple of times where we've lost one on ones and been times where we've been out schemed by the defense. It's something we're still working to improve."
It does look like freshman Max Johnson will earn the first start of his career behind center. Orgeron said Johnson had taken most of the first-team snaps at quarterback and that it was prudent for the program to see what Johnson would look like as a starter.
The best way to beat the Florida defense is open with a successful, up-tempo passing attack to steal some gap integrity and effectively open up the run game. Johnson being a bit more mobile could help open up the run game if some early pass plays break down.
Either way, it'll be difficult as the Tigers have now lost their top two weapons in back-to-back weeks in Terrace Marshall and Arik Gilbert. LSU will now be relying on a weapons attack headlined by Kayshon Boutte, Jaray Jenkins, Koy Moore, Trey Palmer, Jontre Kirklin and Kole Taylor.
"The past few weeks, even though we knew TJ was going to be the guy starting, I still put in just as much work with Max as I do with TJ," Shanahan said. "I believe in both of them."
LSU should view this as another opportunity to help the young guys receive experience against an experienced team that's playing as a well oiled machine.