Just a few weeks ago, LSU’s season was geauxing, geauxing, gone.
Now it has life.
Now there’s energy. Now there’s a pulse. Now there’s a manic atmosphere, a swarming defense, a quick-striking offense.
Following Saturday night’s 38-21 win against the Ole Miss Rebels, a few things seemed evident.
Interim head coach Ed Orgeron is having one heck of an audition for the permanent job.
These are the Tigers we expected to see during the preseason.
And — dare we say it? — we finally have a legitimate challenger to Alabama.
Mark it down: Nov. 5, Alabama at LSU.
First things first.
Ole Miss (3-4, 1-3) was trying to save its season, a might-have-been effort in which the Rebels built three-touchdown advantages against Florida State and Alabama, only to lose both times. This was a chance to stay solvent in the SEC West.
For a while, with the game locked in a 21-21 halftime tie, it was a flip of the coin.
Then LSU (5-2, 3-1) took over.
Its most compelling force, junior running back Leonard Fournette (16 carries for a career-high 284 yards) was the biggest reason for that fast finish. Fournette had touchdown runs of 78, 76 and 59 yards in his first start since Sept. 24, when he suffered a left ankle injury.
Even with a healthy Fournette in the early season, the Tigers didn’t look right. They had a sleepwalking season-opening defeat against Wisconsin at Lambeau Field, then lost a one-pointer against Auburn. Les Miles, the coach who brought LSU to a national championship in the 2007 season, was fired.
Orgeron, once the head coach at Ole Miss and the interim coach at USC (where he built a 6-2 record following the dismissal of Lane Kiffin), became the band-aid solution for a program that needed to stop the bleeding.
The reversal of fortune has been stunning.
LSU rolled up 634 yards — a program record for an SEC game — against Missouri. It averaged 10.2 yards per play against Southern Miss. Saturday night, fueled by Fournette, it accumulated 515 yards against Ole Miss.
When LSU’s program is clicking on all cylinders, Tiger Stadium is one of the most special venues in college football. A few weeks back, it seemed like the house of dysfunction. Now it looks like LSU is the team no one wants to play.
Fournette is scary enough. With nagging injuries and a sinking team, there was plenty of talk in recent weeks of Fournette shutting it down completely to get ready for the NFL Draft. It appears that was just idle chatter. Orgeron said Fournette is fully engaged in the season, and Saturday night’s performance was confirmation of that.
LSU can hang with Alabama because it has enough elite athletes on both sides of the ball. Despite five straight defeats against the Crimson Tide, LSU will not be intimidated when Alabama rolls into town.
Fournette is back.
The Tigers are back.
The SEC title race just got a lot more interesting.