Leonard Fournette is college football’s most violent metronome.
Left. Right. Left. Right. Never Ceasing.
LSU’s sophomore tailback is 6-foot-1, 230 pounds. He was the subject of an intense recruiting battle two years ago, and the world is seeing why now.
Fournette leads the nation in rushing with 216 yards per game. He is the first running back in SEC history to rush for more than 200 yards in three consecutive games, and he could set an NCAA record for most yards in a five-game stretch with 318 on Saturday against South Carolina.
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The notion of someone rushing for that many yards in an SEC game seems preposterous, but given Fournette’s talent and the Tigers’ preferred offensive approach it’s not impossible.
“You just have to love to play football because that is what this team does, they play old-school football,” South Carolina defensive co-coordinator Jon Hoke said. “They are going to run the ball downhill, and it’s going to come down to blocking, tackling and who gets off their blocks.”
LSU leads the SEC and is fourth in the nation in rushing yards per game with 334 as a team. The Tigers are second in the conference in rushes per game with 46.8, and their run-pass ratio is the most run-heavy in the league.
The psychological effect of knowing one of the nation’s best, and most bruising, players is going to be running between the tackles all day long is not insignificant.
“Certainly a guy like Leonard, it certainly takes its toll as the game goes on,” LSU head coach Les Miles said.
LSU’s 15.3 passing attempts per game are the fifth fewest in the nation and the fewest of any team that doesn’t run a triple-option offense. The message is clear: Fournette is going to be coming again and again and again. He has carried the ball 99 times in four games and his 24.8 carries per game rank fourth in the nation.
“As a linebacker, I love that, just coming downhill, having a physical challenge like that gets me excited,” said 218-pound South Carolina linebacker Skai Moore. “I am definitely ready for the challenge and to put my body on his and see what happens from there. It’s fun to me. I like hitting. That’s what gets me psyched. I’m just ready.”
All the Gamecocks defenders better be, South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier said.
“They have to get pumped up,” Spurrier said. “They've got to have some fight and want to. You have to hit him low, you have to try and get his ankles together if you can. Obviously, our defensive backs and linebacker-type guys. Hopefully maybe our D-linemen can maybe stop him. Hit him in the waist area or so forth. It's called gang-tackling. That's how you stop all those guys. Herschel Walker, Bo Jackson, their teams didn't win every game.”
South Carolina’s rushing defense is ranked ninth in the SEC, surrendering 170 yards per game on the ground. Its 4.89 yards per carry allowed ranks 13th in the SEC.
“You have to tell the guys, you have to play for four quarters,” South Carolina linebackers coach Kirk Botkin said. “It’s going to be a four-quarter, smash mouth game. They are going to keep running it and keep running it and they are just waiting to wear you down. You just have to take that approach and play your best this play. Be the best player this play. That’s the attitude you have to take. That’s every week, but especially this week.”
“It’s a game you want to play in. Bring it on, let’s go, and I think they have that mentality.”
Running to record club
LSU running back Leonard Fournette, with 864 yards rushing in four games, needs 136 yards against USC to become the 10th player in history with 1,000 yards rushing in the first five games. The top five:
2006;Garrett Wolfe, N. Illinois;1,181
1981;Marcus Allen, Southern Cal;1,136
1996;Byron Hanspard, Texas Tech;1,112
1998;Ricky Williams, Texas;1,086
1996;Troy Davis, Iowa State;1,047