BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU's upcoming appearance in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl will mark Ed Orgeron’s first game as the Tigers’ full-fledged head coach.
Don’t expect to see anything different from the man who led the program for the previous seven games as interim coach, posting a 5-2 record to set up this bowl matchup against Louisville.
“I was acting like I was [full-time head coach] the first game, to be honest with you,” Orgeron said Sunday night, eight days after learning he had the job. “I didn’t know what was going to happen, but I was coaching the way I’m going to coach this game. Nothing’s going to change in my style or who I am.”
That said, this game will set the tone for LSU’s offseason and for Orgeron’s tenure as LSU’s head coach. Uncertainty surrounded his two months as interim coach, with LSU’s staff and players not knowing whether he would still be around for bowl season or whether the Tigers might have a new head coach by then.
Now they all know who has the job and together they must direct their attention toward defending Heisman Trophy front-runner Lamar Jackson and an explosive Louisville offense.
“I think it’s going to be an important game, obviously, to see the results of our preparation, to go out there and compete again, take our team on the road,” Orgeron said of the bowl game, which will kick off at 11 a.m. ET on Dec. 31 in Orlando, Florida. “Obviously we’ll be in a hotel for several nights and the discipline and the way we handle being there for a while, our staff working together, and I do believe that our guys are going to do a fine job of it.”
While Orgeron now knows he has the full-time job, he does not anticipate completing his coaching staff until after the bowl game. He crossed one top objective off the list by convincing defensive coordinator Dave Aranda to stay at LSU, but still has a highly anticipated offensive coordinator hire to make. Alabama’s Lane Kiffin – Orgeron’s old co-worker and friend – is a leading possibility, but he is also reportedly a candidate to replace Tom Herman as Houston’s head coach.
After firing special teams coach Bradley Dale Peveto last week, Orgeron said the current staff will likely handle the kicking game in bowl preparation with possible assistance from an outside consultant. Otherwise, any future staff moves could take some time.
“I think we’re going to take our time,” said Orgeron, who will be coaching in a bowl game for the first time as a head coach. “We’re going to see how everything pans out and there’s some things that we want to get done. There’s some people that we’re recruiting. I think it’s going to fall in place.”
On the roster front, Orgeron offered good and bad news for Tigers fans on Sunday night. He said senior linebacker Kendell Beckwith will not play against Louisville after injuring his knee against Florida on Nov. 19. However, he said that he expects other Tigers who missed the regular-season finale against Texas A&M – a group that includes wide receiver Travin Dural, outside linebacker Arden Key and running back Leonard Fournette – to be available for the bowl.
Fournette’s gimpy ankle kept him from playing in four games and limited his workload in several others, but Orgeron said he has every reason to believe Fournette will attempt to play against Louisville.
“He’s been at every meeting bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, wanting to go,” Orgeron said. “He’s always indicated to me that he wants to represent the LSU Tigers in the best way. I don’t see any other reason for anything to happen. Now if an injury prevents him, it prevents him. But I think if he’s well, he’s ready to go, he’s going to play.”
Fournette is among a handful of LSU juniors who could test the NFL draft waters in the coming weeks, a group that also includes safety Jamal Adams, defensive lineman Davon Godchaux and receiver Malachi Dupre.
Orgeron said he has spoken to most of the draft-eligible players about their decisions and that “some of them are still up in the air. Some of them are kind of leaning one way or another.”
Nobody has announced a final decision to him yet, Orgeron said.
“It’s never over till it’s over, just like recruiting,” he said.