It’s expected that superstar running back and Heisman candidate Leonard Fournette will play in Week 3’s matchup between the LSU Tigers and Mississippi State Bulldogs.
LSU head coach Les Miles seemed to have a very optimistic outlook regarding Fournette’s status when asked about it after practice on Wednesday.
Miles says Leonard Fournette practiced today. "Full speed ahead." #LSU
— Ross Dellenger (@RossDellenger) September 14, 2016
“Full speed ahead” is a phrase that will likely haunt Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen’s dreams for the rest of the week, and defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon will be losing sleep right along with him.
Fournette at “full speed ahead” is one of the most dynamic players in college football. He has the size of a bruising back but the breakaway speed of a home-run hitter. He runs angrily — something Adrian Peterson became famous for — but is also shifty and elusive enough to create highlights on a weekly basis.
In his true freshman season with LSU, Fournette ran for 1,034 yards and 10 touchdowns. Last season, 2015, was even better. He completely blew through the sophomore slump wall and rushed for 1,953 yards and 22 touchdowns.
If it wasn’t for a bad outing against Alabama — who doesn’t have a bad outing against the Crimson Tide defense? — and a stretch of three straight losses for LSU, Fournette would have had a strong case to be a Heisman Trophy finalist. He lost a lot of hype in that three-game stretch, but he didn’t lose any of his talent or potential for LSU.
Case in point: He rushed for 212 yards and four touchdowns in the Tigers’ Texas Bowl win over Texas Tech. He also started the 2016 season with 138 yards on 23 attempts against Wisconsin in a LSU loss. Fournette didn’t score, but he did average 6 yards per carry. It was impressive considering the fact that he was in a walking boot in mid-August due to a hurt ankle.
The Tigers wisely decided to rest Fournette for Week 2’s game against Jacksonville State. As could have been predicted, they didn’t need him.
LSU won, 34-13, and the rushing game put up 244 yards on the Gamecocks. Fournette’s backup, sophomore Derrius Guice, rushed the ball 19 times for 155 yards and a touchdown. He averaged 8.2 yards per carry.
Derrius Guice. Touchdown. https://t.co/MekAI1sCzb
— Cody Worsham (@CodyWorsham) September 11, 2016
If Fournette is truly healthy and ready to rock, the Tigers would be wise to “feed him” in their first SEC contest of the season. Mississippi State did lose to South Alabama earlier this season, but the defense allowed only 94 yards to the Jaguars on the ground. In a win against South Carolina, the Gamecocks had an even tougher time — rushing for only 31 yards as a team.
The Bulldogs have been stout against the run so far, but that’s something Fournette will put to the test.
To completely forget about Guice would be a mistake on LSU’s part, though, especially when considering how good he has been.
In 2015, he rushed 51 times for 436 yards and three touchdowns. He averaged 8.5 yards per carry (efficiency seems to be a trend with him), and he also caught five passes for 20 yards.
He’s not as big as Fournette — 5-foot-11, 212 pounds compared to Fournette’s 6-foot-1, 235 pounds frame — but he’s a tough runner who can lower his shoulder and initiate contact, and he has the speed and burst to hit the hole hard and make defenders miss at the second level.
Guice is a starting running back in a backup role, and though he’ll eventually get his shot as LSU, he can still play a huge part this weekend for the Tigers.
Yes, LSU would be smart to try to get Fournette going, but the Tigers also don’t want to overburden their star. They should let him gain some momentum and rest, all the while keeping in mind that they can go to Guice and not lose much as far as backfield presence is concerned.
When fully healthy, Fournette is a 1-A, full-time starter who should get a majority of the snaps. Until Miles and his staff are confident they can get that from him consistently, why not lean on Guice a bit more? He’s proven to be a more than capable runner, and if LSU uses him right, Guice can be a vital player this weekend against Mississippi State.
“I think we’re fortunate to have real quality backs to turn to when you have a guy like Leonard Fournette out,” Miles said on Monday, according to Nick Bromberg of yahoo.com. “We are looking forward, though, to seeing him return.”