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LSU uses unexpected open weekend for recruiting, rest

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Ed Orgeron has paraded into Louisiana high schools for years on recruiting assignments, but something was decidedly different about his unexpected visits at the end of last week.

This time, he was there as the head coach of the state’s flagship school.

“‘Coach, can I take a picture?’ It was amazing,” Orgeron said, recounting his receptions around the state. “I stopped, get me a little energy drink. The fans were going crazy. It was wild. I got to hit 10 schools. I saw a lot of friends of mine at those schools, high-fives, everybody, ‘Hey coach, way to go. We like the way the team played.’ Everything was positive, and I did my regular recruiting deal.”

LSU interim coach Orgeron had not intended to make those trips until late last week. When Hurricane Matthew’s impending arrival forced the LSU-Florida game on Saturday to be postponed, Orgeron and the rest of the Tigers had to make other plans.

He and seven LSU assistants scrambled to use the unplanned open date for recruiting purposes -- coordinators Dave Aranda and Steve Ensminger stayed behind to work on upcoming game plans -- while they sent the players home to enjoy an earlier-than-expected open date.

“It feels funny because, me being here for my fifth year, we always had that bye late in the year,” defensive back Dwayne Thomas said. “So to go home and watch high school games and relax on a Thursday and have the weekend off, it felt so funny.”

Indeed, LSU’s open date traditionally comes around Halloween, with the Tigers taking off for the weekend ahead of a physical matchup against Alabama. Each season since 2009, that has been when the Tigers’ off weekend fell on the schedule.

Instead, they learned Thursday afternoon that the Florida game was off -- maybe for now, maybe forever -- and they could instead head home.

That’s where Thomas went, first to New Orleans to see his mother and newborn niece, and then to Houston where his father lives. It’s where Ruston, Louisiana, natives J.D. Moore and K.J. Malone went, too, with Malone heading back to North Louisiana shortly after Thursday’s practice ended and Moore waiting until after he had slept in the next day. Even quarterback Danny Etling was able to book a last-minute flight home to Indiana to enjoy a brief break.

“Anytime you go home, you kind of get away from it all,” Etling said. “It’s always nice. Basically, once you get that flight and you touch down in Baton Rouge, you kind of get back into a different mindset you wouldn’t have had when you were home.”

LSU’s players were no different from fans at either school in their disappointment that Saturday’s game never happened.

In the Tigers’ case, they were enthusiastic about playing the game after a phenomenal week of practice and a blowout win over Missouri the previous Saturday in Orgeron’s debut as LSU’s interim coach.

Carrying over that momentum was a theme of the week before Mother Nature intervened.

“After a week of practice, you want it to culminate in a competition,” Moore said. “That’s what we prepare for all the time, and the fact that there wasn’t was just sort of an empty feeling. It was kind of weird. But I think that momentum that obviously we wanted to carry over week-to-week, now there’s sort of a larger interval between the next game. I think we’ll be able to maintain that.

“Obviously it can seem as though it’s faded, but the way we practice and having fresh legs under us this week because we didn’t play a game is sort of an unexpected result or byproduct of having this open date.”

That’s the silver lining as the Tigers (3-2) move toward a matchup against Southern Miss (4-2) on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET, SEC). Nobody wanted to miss out on playing one of the top rivalry games on LSU’s annual schedule last weekend, but Orgeron plans to use that bottled-up frustration to his advantage this week.

“Everybody was a little ornery wanting to play, and I'm sure they felt the same way,” Orgeron said. “I'm sure the whole weekend they answered questions about what's going on. It's going be good to get back in a team meeting, talk about it, put it to rest and focus on Southern Miss. So, yes, we will use it as an advantage.”