Why LSU Feels Like It Finally Has Found Winning Formula Against Alabama After Eight-Year Drought
The setup has been there every season for LSU. Whether the team was ranked just inside the top-20, like it was in 2017 when the Tigers lost 24-10 in Tuscaloosa, or in 2018, when the team confidently strolled in as the No. 3 in the country only to be blanked 29-0 on its home turf.
It seems every year is THE year for LSU to finally break through against Alabama and end a drought that dates back to when Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" controlled the Billboard's Hot-100 list. And 2019 feels no different, only this time the Tigers just might have the team and formula to back it up.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron has received nothing but praise over the hire of Joe Brady during the offseason, a move that has done wonders in the program's transition to the spread offense. That was the ultimate goal for Orgeron after all—to find a way to implement the modern offense—but he needed a few more pieces to the puzzle.
With the promotion of Steve Ensminger to offensive coordinator and the recruitment of quarterback Joe Burrow, the LSU offense has never looked more dynamic.
"I like our quarterback, obviously, I like the way our offense is putting points on the board," Orgeron said. "We have gotten better on the line of scrimmage on the offensive side of the football. I feel like our guys have been tested against Auburn, they have been tested against Florida, obviously they are going to be tested again this week. I do believe we have better depth on the defensive line. I think that our guys are equipped and this is the best football team we have had going into this game."
To start the season, the LSU offense was fueled by a passing game that has maintained that second-to-none status, but over the last few weeks, it's been the run game that has been able to fuel the offense. That statement couldn't ring truer than against Auburn in Week 9.
With the offense struggling to get going in the first half while facing a defensive scheme not seen all season, the team decided to run it down Auburn's throats. Junior running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire responded with perhaps his best game as a Tiger, rushing for 136 yards on 26 carries.
Edwards-Helaire speaks for the entire offense when discussing how equipped this LSU team is to take on an Alabama squad that has had the Tigers' number for the last decade.
"I know that we have the players to do the things that we need to do," Edwards-Helaire said. "To follow the gameplan, to execute the things we need to execute, make sure everything's polished up this week in practice and go out and do our job."
Edwards-Helaire says "floor general" Burrow is what makes the LSU offense one of the more efficient offenses in college football, because of the senior's uncanny ability to recognize a defensive scheme and adjust the offense accordingly.
"Being able to check out of plays, check into plays, see coverages, seeing defensive fronts, he's the field general," Edwards-Helaire said. "He's taken that role and done an amazing job with it. Me always being in the backfield next to Joe, I feel like I can do no wrong. He points us in the right direction and we go."
For Burrow, the 2019 season is one for the record books. He's on pace for or has already broken nearly every single-season record LSU has to offer.
Orgeron called Burrow one of the top-five recruits the Tigers have ever had during Monday's press conference, something that Burrow is not comfortable accepting as truth, instead turning the statement into how he helps the team win on Saturdays.
"I just try to bring some toughness and leadership to the team," Burrow said. "I just try to bring 100% every day and try to prepare in a way I think enables us to be successful on Saturdays. I'm going to bring toughness and bring leadership and I think that's all you can ask for from a quarterback."
Burrow says what makes Alabama such a tough task for an opposing offense is its elite coaching staff, putting its defenders in the best possible scenario to have success while simultaneously hiding its weaknesses.
"Our job is to take advantage of those weaknesses that they show," Burrow said. "I think we have eight to nine guys that you have to defend at any time. In the passing game you really have to pick your poison because we have five guys on the field that can make you pay if you don't cover them."
What makes this LSU team more equipped to beat Alabama this go around for Burrow is the level of competition that the team has played against in 2019, along with the maturity that lies on the roster.
"Being with all these guys for an extra year, it feels like a perfect storm," Burrow said. "Ja'Marr, Terrace, Justin, Clyde emerging, all five O-linemen coming back, emerging as one. And the you add in coach Joe and coach Ensminger working together, it's been something special for us this year and we have all the confidence in the world in each other."
Burrow also believes there's no mental hurdle for this team to have to climb as it pertains to the losing streak.
"I think we're really confident in our abilities and in our coaching staff and scheme as well," Burrow said. "We know the kind of offense we run so we have to go out and face them but they have to face us as well."
As an offensive line, center Lloyd Cushenberry hears the way Burrow and Edwards-Helaire talk about the unit's development but will take no pats on the back.
Cushenberry remembers what it felt like to be shutout at home in 2018 and for his unit to be shouldered with some of that responsibility. All of the extra work the team has put in since the 2018 season ended in January has propelled the offensive line to new heights in 2019, Cushenberry says, and now is the time for them to prove it.
"Just the mentality and the swagger we've been playing with this year is just completely different," Cushenberry said. "I feel like we accept the challenge of people doubting us and putting the game on our shoulders. The whole mentality of this group is completely different than it's been in the past."
There will be plenty of proving it on both sides of the ball come Saturday for LSU. While the team won't be making the game bigger than what it already is, you better believe Orgeron is "feeling good."
"I feel good, I feel good about Ja'Marr Chase, feel good about Justin Jefferson, I feel good about Terrace Marshall, I feel good about our backups, I feel good about our tight end, I feel good about our quarterback, I feel good about our two running backs," Orgeron said.
"Those guys are going to come ready to play, I believe in those guys. I would not want anybody else in the country on our offense or our defense than our football team that we have right here. I believe in these guys."