LSU has a new head coach and one of its star players is questionable heading into this weekend’s game against Missouri. That could be reason to be concerned for fans of the Bayou Bengals, but perhaps interim head coach Ed Orgeron won’t need Leonard Fournette as much as conventional wisdom says he does.
That’s not to say having Fournette healthy and ready to go wouldn’t be a huge plus for the Tigers. This will be their first game since the firing of Les Miles, so the more consistency the better.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound too promising for LSU. On Wednesday’s SEC coaches teleconference, Orgeron made it clear that a decision on Fournette’s status won’t come until game day.
“He’ll try to play,” he said via Saturday Down South. “Game-time decision.”
“It’s up in the air right now,” Orgeron also said, per Ross Dellenger of The Advocate. “Will be a game-time decision. Obviously, if it furthers any injury, we won’t play him.”
It’s the last sentiment from Orgeron that LSU should be focusing on heading into his weekend’s matchup. The Tigers are 2-2 and are coming off a tough, heartbreaking loss to Auburn. In fact, it was so heartbreaking that it was the incident that led to Miles’ firing.
Allowing Fournette to possibly injure himself more by rushing him back for this game would make things even worse for LSU. It would turn a sticky situation into a bad situation. Sure, maybe LSU isn’t playing for the College Football playoff anymore and the SEC title is likely out of play as well, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still good things ahead for the Tigers. They’ll need Fournette at or close to 100-percent for some very big games coming up.
They still have chances to pickup marquee wins and for Orgeron, those wins could be statements when it comes to making a case that he should be the guy long-term for the Tigers. Rushing Fournette back against a middle of the pack Mizzou team that has to play LSU in Death Valley at night? Well, that just doesn’t seem like a worthwhile idea in the grand scheme of things.
Yes, LSU may want a player like Fournette to help control the ballgame and help keep Missouri’s offense contained. After all, the best defense is a good offense, and without a doubt, LSU’s offense can be dangerous.
Missouri currently leads the SEC in total offense with 569.5 yards per game. It has put up 2,278 yards (the next closest total is Texas A&M with 2,183 yards) and is scoring 44.5 points per game. The only team scoring more than Mizzou right now in the SEC is Alabama, so that should put the Tigers’ offensive firepower in perspective.
On paper, it could appear to be a big concern for LSU, especially if the Tigers don’t have Fournette on the other side of the ball. LSU does have sophomore running back Derrius Guice though, and he’s reason No. 1 Orgeron should not worry about rushing Fournette back.
Guice is a tremendous backup running back, but he also proved against Jacksonville State — with Fournette out with injury — that he can carry the load for the Tigers. He rushed 19 times for 155 yards and a touchdown. Guice averaged 8.2 yards per carry and put up a long run of 44. Those are Fournette-esque numbers, and sure, the opponent was Jacksonville State, but Guice has flashed starter’s talent whenever he gets the chance to.
At home, at night and against a Mizzou team that’s giving up 131.75 yards per game on the ground (sixth in the SEC), Guice should be able to find success, and at the very least be competent. He won’t be Fournette, but nobody can be. He can be a steady presence on the ground for LSU, though, and that’s a huge way the Tigers can slow down Missouri’s offense.
Ball control. Clock control. Game control.
There’s also the emotion of the game to consider. LSU’s players are going to come out on Saturday with something to prove. They’ll either be playing in honor of Miles — finishing what he started — or playing to lift up Orgeron into the full-time position. Perhaps it will be a bit of both.
Fans will be anxious to see the team get back on track post-Miles, the team will be anxious to get back on track and the atmosphere — as always — is going to be an intimidating one in Baton Rouge.
Looking ahead at the rest of the season, this is LSU’s best chance to turn things around. With games against Florida, Ole Miss, Alabama, Arkansas and Texas A&M still on the schedule, the Mizzou matchup may be LSU and Orgeron’s best chance to get their feet under them before the teeth of the SEC schedule.
Missouri may very well run into a bandsaw on Saturday evening, and LSU doesn’t necessarily need Fournette to put out that kind of emotion and effort.