LSU’s winning recipe includes more than Leonard Fournette
BATON ROUGE — The English language does not have enough words to describe the breathtaking talent that is Leonard Fournette.
He’s explosive, bursting through holes that swallow some of the sport’s best running backs. He’s relentless, as evidenced by his career-high 31 carries for 180 yards and two scores against Florida on Saturday night. And he’s not afraid to get a little physical, throwing a punch or shove or whatever that was, instead of a stiff-arm, late in LSU’s 35-28 win against the Gators.
Fournette is many things, which means the Tigers’ offense is many things; but those many things all tend to involve Fournette. Their rushing attack is terrific, third best in the country. Their offensive line is hailed as one of the nation’s best. And so their quarterback has been deemed a handoff specialist — at least, according to him. But that’s no longer the case, if it ever even was.
Brandon Harris, the LSU sophomore, got worked up late Saturday night as he described the criticism levied against him and the LSU passing game. This narrative, Harris said, began with LSU’s sloppy win against Eastern Michigan earlier this month. He completed just four of 14 passes for 80 yards in that one.
“I can’t stand it,” Harris said Saturday night, after he was 13-of-19 for 202 yards and two touchdowns. “I can’t stand it. I play with a chip on my shoulder every single week. I say this over and over again, and I say this real humbly: This team knows how talented we are passing the ball; everybody knows what I can do throwing the football. …
“It really hurts when people say all we have is a running game, this and that. That’s so much motivation. Keep saying that. Keep doubting me. I love it.”
Harris said he knows opponents will try whatever they can to stop Fournette, theHeisman Trophy favorite, and that makes perfect sense to him. “They’ll put nine in the box,” Harris said. “I’ll say, ‘Thank you,’ and take advantage of it.”
LSU coach Les Miles chuckled when he heard Harris’s comments. Particularly the idea that Harris has something to prove to anyone.
“Everything we ask him to do, he does extremely well,” Miles told USA TODAY Sports. “There’s going to be days where he’ll throw for 400 yards, and there will be days he throws for 70. It’s really pick your poison (with the passing or run game). I would hope he doesn’t have a chip on his shoulder. … If he has a chip, it’s probably just because he wants to make everybody know he can throw. Everybody will find out soon enough.
“He probably wants to define who he is by throwing the football, running the offense and being the quarterback he knows he can be. Should he do that, he’ll have one of the more successful careers in college football.”
Or one of the more successful quarterback performances this season, if this keeps up. It’s important to Harris to show that this offense is multi-faceted, and it’s important to Fournette, too. A strong passing game opens up lanes for Fournette; a supremely talented tailback opens up a plethora of play-action passing opportunities.
Harris wasn’t just solid against Florida on Saturday — he was terrific, particularly in the first half and especially when Tigers offensive coordinator Cam Cameron called for a flea-flicker. Harris handed the ball off to Fournette, who attracted his fair share of Florida defenders before pitching the ball back to Harris. Harris lofted a deep ball to Malachi Dupre, a 52-yard play.
Showcasing some sort of a passing game proved crucial against the Gators, who boast the best defense LSU has seen yet this season. (And the 13th-best rushing defense in the nation, entering Saturday.) It’s a critical piece moving forward, too, so future foes have to prepare for it instead of attempting new ways to have 11 defenders attack one ballcarrier.
It’s important, too, for Fournette. He said that Florida’s defense was the most physical one he’d faced yet this year. He described defenders grabbing him, pushing him, prodding him. “We were going pound-for-pound every single play,” he said. It’s a corollary to that old adage: If you can’t beat him, beat him down.
Though Fournette seems indestructible now, it’s better not to test that theory out. It’s best just to develop a passing game to take pressure off him, and his body. Throw in a trick play or two — the Mad Hatter was at it again, with a fake field goal that turned into the kicker, Trent Domingue, running the ball in for a score — and LSU has a winning formula.
It’s gotten the Tigers to 6-0, and it can take them a lot farther, too. With Harris throwing the ball like he did Saturday and Fournette doing things only he is capable of, this LSU team might very well have what it takes to put together a special season.
“Really special,” Miles corrected. “Really special.”