LOS ANGELES (AP) — As if trying to bounce back from a disappointing season wasn't enough of a challenge for Ed Orgeron and LSU, the 16th-ranked Tigers got an additional one from Mother Nature going into Saturday's opener at UCLA.
LSU left campus last weekend with Hurricane Ida set to make landfall. The Tigers practiced at the Houston Texans' complex before flying to Los Angeles. Despite having to leave town early, Orgeron said during the SEC coaches teleconference that the team has handled it well.
“Our accommodations have been great, it’s like a bowl," Orgeron said. "Our team has been focused. Everybody’s been early to meetings. We’re kind of in our own little protective cocoon here so it’s been good.”
Orgeron said players have had a chance to talk with friends and families that were affected by the hurricane and that for the most part everyone is fine.
Despite the shift in locations, Orgeron said Monday's practice was the best of the preseason.
The Tigers will face a UCLA squad that is coming off a 44-10 victory over Hawaii last Saturday, which was the first nonconference win in Chip Kelly's four seasons as coach.
Kelly said LSU might have an advantage because the Tigers have updated tape of the Bruins. But Kelly thinks his team has a major plus on its side since teams typically make their biggest improvement from the first to the second game.
“There is unknown on our side, because they do have information on both sides of the ball. I may have to make some adjustments earlier,” Kelly said.
GROUND AND POUND
UCLA rushed for 244 yards and averaged 5.7 yards per carry last week. Michigan transfer Zach Charbonnet ran for 106 yards and three touchdowns while Brittain Brown added 78 yards.
While the Bruins have a deep running back room and a dual-threat quarterback in Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Kelly knows there are going to be times when more is needed from Thompson-Robinson in the passing game.
Orgeron makes his first trip back to Southern California since he was USC's interim coach in 2013. He was 6-2 after Lane Kiffin's dismissal but one of the losses was to the Bruins.
LSU will practice at the Rose Bowl on Friday to get used to the scenery, which is similar to what they did in 2018 when they opened the season against Miami at AT&T Stadium in Dallas.
“I think it’s something that they’re going to want to see. Let them take pictures, let them be part of it, let them get that out the way,” he said.
Sophomore Max Johnson is unbeaten as LSU’s starting QB but remains relatively inexperienced.
He saw little action for most of his freshman season until late November, when Orgeron, frustrated by an interception thrown by T.J. Finley at Texas A&M, decided to give Johnson a chance to lead the team during the second half of a 20-7 loss in College Station. Johnson led LSU to its only touchdown of that game, winning the opportunity to start the Tigers’ final two contests at Florida and at home against Ole Miss. LSU won both to avoid a losing season.
Johnson was spared a quarterback competition this summer when fifth-year senior Myles Brennan, who was last season’s starter until an abdominal injury, broke his arm on a fishing trip right before August camp.
Johnson is an able scrambler and a threat to run but Orgeron has said there won’t be many designed runs for him.
LSU’s defense was a liability much of last season, but perhaps no more under new coordinator Daronte Jones.
Orgeron expects his defensive line, in particular, to perform well this season because it has the depth to keep players fresh and weather injuries.
Other than Glenn Logan, who is currently sidelined by an ankle injury, every starter or regular from last season is back up front for Week 1, and the Tigers have added 6-foot-6, 292-pound freshman interior lineman Maason Smith, whom Rivals rated as the top recruit in the nation at his position.
Orgeron, a former college defensive lineman himself, has been working with that group along with new defensive line coach Andre Carter.
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