Alabama kept recruiting edge despite vision of Ed Orgeron, LSU –

Oozing optimism and often stuffed with clichés, coaches’ introductory news conferences can be worthwhile to revisit when expectations crumble into reality on the field.
That is the case for LSU’s unveiling of Ed Orgeron as its “permanent” head coach — as then-athletic director Joe Alleva said with a knock on the wooden lectern — almost five years ago.
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“I have a vision, and there’s certain pieces of the puzzle that have to come together,” Orgeron said Nov. 26, 2016, when the school removed his interim label. “And I do believe they will come together, and once they come together, off we go.”
One of the pieces to that puzzle was recruiting, especially in the state of Louisiana. And although Orgeron might have been right about things coming together for LSU to beat Alabama and win its national championship in 2019, his program still largely had problems fending off Alabama on the recruiting trail and on the field despite his hopes otherwise.
With Orgeron now weeks away from a planned divorce with LSU, the Tide is plucking prospects away from its SEC West rival and is favored by 29 points in Saturday’s game at Bryant-Denny Stadium, two years after the Tigers’ 46-41 win.
“I was sitting out there thinking, wow, how things have changed,” Orgeron acknowledged Monday. “Last time we [were] going over there [to Tuscaloosa], I was sitting on my porch out there — I knew if we win that game, we had a chance, but we had to go through Alabama. That was a big victory for us [in 2019]. Things are different now, but it’s still LSU-Alabama.”
A win Saturday would be Alabama’s fourth in five games against LSU since Orgeron became the not-so-permanent coach. The Tide has outscored LSU, 159-73, since Orgeron replaced Les Miles in 2016 — including a 38-point win last December in Baton Rouge.
“You are judged by that [Alabama] game,” Orgeron said when introduced as the full-time coach. “That’s the nature of the beast. I welcome it. I say bring it on. I can’t wait ‘til the day we beat those guys. That’s the benchmark.
“Now, we have to recruit better. We have to get players that are very similar to the benchmark of this conference. We have to get coaches that can coach at that level. We have some coaches on the staff that can. We have to have the mindset that we can go out and beat those guys.”
Before Alleva turned the microphone over to Orgeron that day in 2016, the AD said there was “no question” in his mind Orgeron would be able to recruit Louisiana, calling his new coach, “one of the finest recruiters in the country.”
“State of Louisiana first,” Orgeron declared at the time of his recruiting priorities. “One star, two star, three star, four star, five star, any star. I don’t care. We going to get them. … And then we’re going to get outside our borders to get potential first-round draft picks.”
The next day, Baton Rouge outside linebacker Christopher Allen — the fifth-best Louisiana prospect that year as rated by 247 Sports — committed to Alabama. A few months later, Amite’s DeVonta Smith (No. 2 in Louisiana) and Monroe’s Phidarian Mathis (No. 4 in Louisiana) joined him.
“For me, it wasn’t really that hard,” Mathis said Monday of informing his friends and family of the decision. “Everybody understood [that] it was my dream to come here. I had to make the best decision for me.”
Orgeron snagged a pair of talented in-state wideouts from the 2018 class in Terrace Marshall and Ja’Marr Chase, as well as the top 2019 prospect from Louisiana in Derek Stingley. But Alabama still broke through LSU’s fence around Louisiana that year and secured commitments from No. 3 prospect Ishmael Sopsher, a defensive lineman now at USC, and the No. 5 in-state recruit in Baton Rouge’s Christian Harris.
“A lot of people there are LSU fans, but at the end of the day, I had to do what was best for me and my family,” Harris said Tuesday of his choice. “So that’s what it really came down to at the end.”
When Orgeron offered reporters his customary Monday scouting report of Alabama, he made sure to note left tackle Evan Neal and outside linebacker Will Anderson, and how LSU recruited both of them. Each would have fulfilled Orgeron’s promise to go outside Louisiana’s borders to find first-round picks.
But instead of Neal, from Florida, and Anderson, from Georgia, playing for LSU, they are two of the Tide’s best players this season. Neal is expected to be one of the top picks in next April’s NFL draft, while Anderson is well on his way to being one of the first taken in 2023.
Orgeron ended his scouting report by noting the dynamic punt-return abilities of JoJo Earle and how Earle, from Texas, “was committed to us for about three months” before flipping to Alabama.
Alabama has already capitalized on Orgeron’s departure. A day after LSU announced Oct. 17 that Orgeron would leave after this season, 2022 wide receiver prospect Aaron Anderson announced he was de-committing from the Tigers. 247 Sports’ 10th-ranked Louisiana recruit said Friday night he would instead attend Alabama.
“We had an agreement on if [Orgeron] leave, I would be taking my talents to Alabama,” Anderson said.
He might not be alone. Of the top seven prospects from Louisiana in the 2022 class, five are uncommitted and Alabama is among the schools listed as vying for each.
Defensive coordinator Pete Golding is listed as the primary recruiter for most of Alabama’s targets in Louisiana, which is part of the Hammond native’s region on the trail. Golding has gone into Louisiana and gotten commitments from Harris, Aaron Anderson and 2022 defensive lineman Walter Bob, among others.
“I’ve always had a good relationship with Pete since he started recruiting me,” Harris said Tuesday.
LSU’s recruiting success in the state of Alabama has been limited under Orgeron. The Tigers signed a pair of Trussville prospects in 2020 defensive tackle Eric Taylor and 2021 running back Armoni Goodwin, but Alabama’s fence around its own state has largely held up. Of the state’s top-eight rated prospects in 2022 by 247 Sports, five are committed to the Tide and two others, Khurtiss Perry and Shemar James, are projected to pledge the same.
Yet even after the program’s swift decline the past season-and-a-half cost Orgeron his job, he is still recruiting players to LSU — and not backing down ahead of his final trip to Bryant-Denny Stadium as Tigers coach.
“I’m going to be ready to go,” he said Monday. “It’s a tremendous challenge, lot of respect for this football team. But we’re coming.”
Mike Rodak is an Alabama beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @mikerodak.
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