ATHENS — When it comes to getting the inside scoop on LSU football, you can’t do any better than Glenn Guilbeau.
Guilbeau has been covering the Tigers for more than 25 years. At the moment, he provides coverage of LSU and the New Orleans Saints for Gannett News Service and USA Today Network, which he has done since 2004. But he has also covered other teams as well. I first crossed paths with him back in the early 1990s when he was covering Alabama and Auburn for Mobile Press-Register.
Since then, Glenn and I have raised a few glasses together and had a cigar or two while covering sporting events in cities all over the South. We’ll usually get together when he’s in Atlanta or I’m in Louisiana, which I’m looking forward to doing on Thursday night in New Orleans (weather permitting tonight’s travel).
Guilbeau is a native of the New Orleans suburb of Metairie and a graduate of Missouri’s school of journalism. This makes him the perfect Opposing View guest because knows a lot about football, sports reporting and, as you’ll see later, what’s good to eat, drink and listen to in and around New Orleans and Baton Rouge. He’s a darn good writer, too. He won first place from the Football Writer’s Association of America for best column in 2017, best game story in 2016 and best feature 2001. He’s a true triple-threat as a sportswriter if there ever was one.
Now, let’s get see what Guilbeau has to say about Saturday’s matchup between the No. 12 Tigers (5-1) and your No. 2-ranked Georgia Bulldogs (6-0):
The View: Couldn’t believe the bruises on QB Joe Burrow. Shouldn’t we all be concerned? What does that say more about, Burrow’s mentality or the problems on LSU’s offensive line?
Guilbeau: He says he bruises easily, like a peach. I asked, “Georgia Peach?” He said, “There you go.” Seriously, his health not a concern. That’s cosmetic. He’s very tough and athletic, runs well. Coach’s son (Jimmy Burrow is the defensive coordinator at Ohio University.) LSU’s offensive line has been battered. Will start the same five for the first time this season against Georgia. Tigers really miss starting left guard Garrett Brumfield, the only senior on the line who will miss his third straight game Saturday with a knee injury. LSU allowed five sacks and eight hurries at Florida. Tigers are tied for 11th in the SEC in sacks allowed with 13, and that would be more if Burrow was not so good at avoiding them. Burrow has lost three fumbles, though. Georgia, meanwhile, is last in the SEC in sacks with only six, so LSU could be able to mount a decent passing game. When Burrow has been on, it has been with quick drops and throws.
The View: Speaking of quarterbacks, when is the last time LSU signed a good one right out of high school and why do you think the Tigers have struggled so much identifying or developing QB talent in recent years?
Guilbeau: The last quarterback who was good at LSU out of high school was Matt Flynn of Lee High in Tyler, Texas, as a fifth-year senior in 2007. He was signed by Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher in the 2003 class along with JaMarcus Russell, who was from Williamson High in Mobile, Alabama. LSU’s best quarterbacks in this order since Flynn have been transfers – Zach Mettenberger (2012-13 starter) of Georgia via Butler Community College in Kansas, Joe Burrow (2018 starter) of Ohio State, and Danny Etling (2016-17 starter) of Purdue. Les Miles was terrible at picking quarterbacks, and after Fisher left following the 2006 season, his coordinators were not good at developing them, but they weren’t so good in the first place probably. So it’s on Miles, who wanted Dak Prescott to play tight end and thought Russell Shepard could play QB. And so far, Orgeron (recruiting at LSU as an assistant since 2015 before becoming interim coach in 2016) has not done well in recruiting prep QBs, either. Has signed none.
The View: The narrative seems to have changed considerably on Coach Ed Orgeron since we visited with him in Atlanta at SEC Media Days. How would you describe his relationship first with LSU fans, then with administration?
Guilbeau: Orgeron did not enter the 2018 season on the hot seat, as incorrectly reported by some national media. It was warm because of a loss to Troy, but it wasn’t hot. When the athletic director who hired the coach is still the athletic director (Joe Alleva), the coach has a little more rope. And he’s only in his second full year. Orgeron is in good standing with the fan base after the 5-0 start, and he will remain there unless he drops to something like 7-5 or 6-6. But he’ll still survive that.
The View: It seems like LSU’s defense has its usual cast of stars, with Devin White and Greedy Williams and the like. But statistically at least, it doesn’t seem as dominant as some we’ve seen the Tigers field. How would you assess the defense’s play so far and how do you feel about their matchup Saturday with Georgia offense?
Guilbeau: LSU’s defense, which is No. 9 in the SEC in total defense and in pass defense, has been the biggest disappointment of the season. Usually it is in the top 3 or 4 in those categories. Rush defense also average compared to LSU’s past at No. 6 Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is the highest paid assistant coach in college football at $2.5 million a year, and so far he is not earning it. It’s his third year. He should be having his best year, but he’s not so far. LSU did have a key injury to OLB K’Lavon Chaisson, who was lost for the season after suffering the injury in the fourth quarter of the season opener against Miami. But LSU has recruited on defense very well for years, so it should have the depth to compensate. Dan Mullen particularly has Aranda’s number. The 215 yards rushing by Florida Saturday was the most against Aranda since Mullen’s Mississippi State team put up 285 in a 37-7 win last year. On Saturday, Mullen had Aranda guessing wrong a lot. He finessed him and called plays that put LSU in bad match-ups. Wasn’t always between the tackles. LSU was missing starting MLB Jacob Phillips because of an injury Saturday, but he has been practicing this week and is expected to play Saturday. LSU’s defense is likely to have trouble with Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm. LSU fans like to call the Tigers’ secondary “DBU.” But DBU is No. 9 in the SEC with 221.7 yards allowed a game. The 330 yards La. Tech QB J’Mar Smith threw for in Game 4 this season was the most against LSU since Ole Miss’ Bo Wallace threw for 348 in 2013.
The View: Georgia fans are supposedly coming in droves to New Orleans and Baton Rouge this week. They haven’t been there in 10 years. What’s are some do’s and don’ts you might offer the Dawg Nation as it descends on the Pelican State?
Guilbeau: Stay in New Orleans so you can eat in New Orleans and see live music Friday night. I recommend Commander’s Palace, Brightsen’s on the high end side and High Hat Café on the more casual end. As far as music, try Chickee Wah Wah, Rock ‘N. Bowl, Maple Leaf Bar and DBA. As far as Baton Rouge, leave early Saturday, like no later than 10 a.m. because of traffic. Driving to BR from New Orleans on I-10 West, look for the LA 30 exit as you get about 40 minutes out of N.O. LA 30 is a highway that becomes Nicholson Drive, which is the street Tiger Stadium is on.
Tiger Stadium has one of the greatest reputations for crowd noise and atmosphere in all of football. Most of the time, it is much like any other stadium. But every now and then, it rises up and meets its mythology. It happened in 2003 when Georgia came to town, and that was also a day game. It will happen Saturday when Georgia comes to town for the first time since 2008. LSU fans will be at their best for this game as the Tigers are an underdog and coming off a loss. That puts a little edge on the fan base, particularly with Georgia No. 2. Also, this is such an odd game from an LSU perspective because Georgia hasn’t been here in a decade. It’s almost like a non-conference game. Yes, LSU plays Alabama in BR on Nov. 3, but that happens in all even years, and LSU has not beat Alabama in BR since 2010 and fans realize they probably won’t win that game. This is a fresher opponent that is not LSU’s Daddy. So THIS is the home game. LSU will have a better chance against Georgia than Alabama.
Because Georgia is not great at rushing the passer, LSU will have a decent offensive attack. And Aranda’s defense will improve after one of his worst performances last week. LSU wins it on Cole Tracy field goal in the final minutes, 20-17.