The sophomore running back exploded through a hole for a 71-yard gain on LSU’s first play from scrimmage Saturday and then spent the next three quarters humiliating Auburn defenders as LSU destroyed its SEC West rival 45-21.
Ford made headlines earlier this week by saying that it “shouldn’t be difficult” to defend Fournette, but he and his Auburn teammates never demonstrated the ability to do any such thing.
“Coach Les Miles brought it to my attention and then they put his comments on my locker,” Fournette said after his 228 rushing yards came within 22 of LSU’s single-game record. “After we got out of the team meeting, everybody was reading it and everybody, they were mad about it because they know how I am. They practice with me every day.”
Fournette’s last carry came with 4:14 left in the third quarter when he vaulted into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown, but he had done more than enough by then. Fournette gave easily the best performance of his young career, scoring three touchdowns and setting a new school record with 12 yards per carry -- and if it’s possible, his stat line doesn’t adequately explain how he dominated the game.
“I’m telling you, he did some things today that I said, ‘Wow,’” Miles said. “He took one of their tacklers into another tackler and came out the other end. That was a lack of a real resolve to tackle him.”
There was a lot of that going around. Fournette ran straight over Auburn tacklers a couple of times -- including one in which he trucked cornerback Blake Countess in the open field on a 40-yard touchdown run -- and when he didn’t do that, he was shaking them with cutbacks and other moves. Auburn safety Tray Matthews tried to make a leaping tackle around Fournette’s neck, only to flip over his shoulder as Fournette broke free for a 29-yard score that put LSU up 31-7 in the third quarter.
The nation is getting introduced to the kind of runs that LSU’s players have been seeing in practice regularly for more than a year.
“I don’t know if I’m allowed to say this, but one time my sophomore year when he was a freshman, we saw him outrun Kwon [Alexander, a starting linebacker] and Danielle [Hunter, a starting defensive end] and he stiff-armed someone to the ground -- I don’t even remember [who],” LSU center Ethan Pocic said. “It was a crazy run out here in a scrimmage. Once I saw it on film, I couldn’t believe it. When we see stuff like that, it doesn’t really surprise us as much because we know what he’s capable of doing.”
Fournette has had big games before -- this was his fourth in a row with at least 140 rushing yards and fourth straight game in which he set a new career high for rushing yards in a game -- but this was the explosion that LSU fans have been waiting for since the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect in 2014 signed with the Tigers last year. His performance in last season’s bowl game against Notre Dame, featuring an 89-yard touchdown run and a 100-yard kickoff return for a score, put Fournette in the Heisman Trophy conversation during the offseason. His 159-yard outing last week against Mississippi State only helped his cause.
But don’t expect to see Fournette publicly campaign for the award. Not after Miles ripped into then-freshman Fournette last season for striking the Heisman stiff-arm pose after scoring his first career touchdown in a blowout win against FCS Sam Houston State.
“I don’t feed into it,” Fournette said of potential Heisman hype. “At the end of the day, it’s about my team. I put them before myself, before the Heisman. It’s all about team. The Heisman’s not working with me each and every day, they are.”
But the Heisman buzz is sure to come after Saturday. Fournette simply played at a different level than everyone else on the field, although Miles wouldn’t necessarily agree that his Auburn performance was at a different level from what he’s already seen from Fournette.
“I don’t know if another level was the piece,” Miles said. “We have always known that Leonard is a very talented back and [has] speed and strength and balance and all the adjectives that you use to describe a very, very special back. I just don’t know if it’s another level, possibly.
“If he takes two guys and throws them on another guy, then that would be another level,” Miles chuckled. “If he takes three guys and throws them on another guy …”
Don’t rule it out, Coach. The season is still young.