Ill-fitting pieces come together to form a perfect-puzzle for No. 1 LSU

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Ed Orgeron, Joe Brady
LSU head coach Ed Orgeron (left) added Joe Brady (right) to his coaching staff last offseason (Photo: Jonathan Mailhes)

USC didn’t want to make Ed Orgeron its full-time head coach.

Neither did LSU – at least at first.

Orgeron wanted Steve Ensminger to be his offensive coordinator. Then he didn’t. Then he did again. Then he kinda did and didn’t.

Ohio State didn’t want Joe Burrow to be its starting quarterback, but LSU did.

Some ill-fitting pieces to other puzzles started fitting together for the Tigers, but a key piece was missing.

Orgeron found it in a place no one else was looking and voila! All the other pieces slid into place just right and LSU has put together a seemingly perfect puzzle.

The Tigers are 13-0, SEC champion for the first time in eight years, in the College Football Playoff for the first time, seeded No. 1 and poised to advance to the national championship game if they can beat No. 4 Oklahoma (12-1) on Saturday in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Orgeron has been named national Coach of the Year in his third season as LSU’s full-time head coach after getting promoted from interim head coach when Jimbo Fisher and Tom Herman essentially said Orgeron’s dream job wasn’t good enough for them.

Things went well but not great for Orgeron initially as he struggled to overcome the offensive limitations that had ultimately doomed his predecessor – Les Miles.

As soon as Orgeron was named to replace Miles on an interim basis four games into the 2016 season, Orgeron fired Cam Cameron as offensive coordinator and elevated Ensminger from tight ends coach to coordinator.

The offense showed immediate, significant and ongoing improvement under Ensminger. In the first game with Orgeron as interim head coach and Ensminger as offensive coordinator, LSU set a school record for yards in an SEC game during a 42-7 victory against Missouri.

The Tigers did get shut out by No. 1 Alabama a few weeks later, but they still scored 50 percent more points under Ensminger than they had under Cameron.

But Orgeron, who led the Tigers to a 6-2 record – the same record he had as USC’s interim coach before the Trojans bypassed him for the full-time job in 2013 – sweated while the LSU administration pursued Fisher, a former Tigers assistant then at Florida State, and Herman, the Ohio State offensive coordinator who was pining for the Texas head coaching job, which he ultimately got.

When Orgeron finally got the job and a lukewarm reaction from the LSU faithful, he felt a need to make a big splash early. He knew Ensminger was a loyal Tiger who would accept any role he was given.

So against his better judgment, Orgeron demoted Ensminger back to tight ends coach and hired Matt Canada, Pitt’s well-regarded coordinator to run his offense.

It didn’t work. Canada’s motion-oriented scheme, featuring jet sweeps, wasn’t the spread attack that Orgeron envisioned.

Out went Canada after one season and back came Ensminger, who ran an offense much more to Orgeron’s liking last season.

It was a good season, but something was missing.

The spread attack Orgeron envisioned wasn’t in Ensminger’s playbook either. So Orgeron, who was a New Orleans Saints assistant in 2008, turned to one of the most successful organizations and offenses in the NFL under Sean Payton.

He grabbed 29-year-old Joe Brady, who was essentially an NFL graduate assistant, but a smart one coming from a really successful operation, to coordinate the passing part of Ensminger’s offense.

Brady recently won the Broyles Award, the Heisman Trophy for assistant coaches, and his pupil, Burrow, won the actual Heisman by a record margin.

On Saturday afternoon, USC, which plays Iowa in the Holiday Bowl on Friday night, will be watching and wondering if its fortunes would have been better had it hired Orgeron.

On Friday night, Fisher will coach Texas A&M, which lost to LSU in the reguar-season finale, against Oklahoma State in the Texas Bowl.

On New Year’s Eve, Herman will coach Texas, which lost to LSU in the second game of the season, against Utah in the Alamo Bowl.

By that time we’ll know the match-up for the CFP title game Jan. 13 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

No. 2 Ohio State will play No. 3 Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl shortly after LSU and Oklahoma get done.

Will the Buckeyes wind up playing for a national championship against a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback who was on their team for three seasons and never got to be the starter?

Wouldn’t that be puzzling?

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Les East

CCS/106.1 FM/Daily Iberian

Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…

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