NCF Nation: Terrence Magee

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Les Miles would have loved Leonard Fournette's response when asked what would constitute a successful sophomore season at LSU.

Fournette smiled, paused for a moment while staring at the ground, and then looked up and said, "Championship. That's the only thing that's on my mind that I want to focus on."

The nation's No. 1 overall recruit in 2014, Fournette drew criticism last fall -- including from Miles, his head coach -- when he struck the Heisman Trophy pose ... after his first career touchdown ... in a blowout win over FCS opponent Sam Houston State.

But that's old news for Fournette and water under the bridge as far as his coach is concerned. Fournette learned a lesson after facing rare ridicule, and now he's focused on becoming the leader in the locker room that he already is on the field.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Fournette
AP Photo/Jonathan BachmanLeonard Fournette was criticized for striking the Heisman pose following his first career touchdown.
Fournette got off to a relatively slow start last season, but still set a record for LSU freshmen with 1,034 rushing yards. He capped that freshman campaign with 146 rushing yards -- and an unforgettable 22-yard touchdown run where he bowled over safety Howard Matthews -- in the regular-season finale against Texas A&M, followed by 264 total yards and three touchdowns in the bowl game against Notre Dame.

After that, he didn't need to strike any post-touchdown poses to have hype start building for a possible 2015 Heisman campaign.

"It kind of boosted my confidence that that's the kind of game I need to have," Fournette said of the Notre Dame game, where he rushed for an 89-yard touchdown and returned a kickoff 100 yards for another score. "I know with my teammates, I can have it constantly, every game."

Believe it or not, Fournette might have lacked a bit of confidence early last season. There were times where he admits that he ran tentatively, when defenders were able to take him to the ground in one-on-one situations -- something that almost never happened when his speed and power running helped him become a prep legend at New Orleans' St. Augustine High School.

He had a lot to learn, and his transition to SEC football wasn't as smooth as he might have expected beforehand.

"I'm not used to one guy tackling me to the ground, and I've been working on it during the offseason," Fournette said.

The experience Fournette gained during that transition will soon be helpful for an entirely different reason. He was the rookie in LSU's backfield last year, when seniors like Terrence Magee, Kenny Hilliard and Connor Neighbors shepherded him along by offering knowledgeable counsel. Now Fournette has to be that kind of leader.

Now he is far and away the most experienced player in LSU's backfield. Fellow sophomore Darrel Williams ran for 302 yards last fall, but otherwise the backfield features converted tight end John David Moore, converted wide receiver Tony Upchurch, walk-on Trey Gallman and early enrollee David Ducre at fullback. Over the summer, two more freshman signees -- Derrius Guice and Nick Brossette -- will enter the mix at tailback.

In a matter of months, Fournette will transform from rookie with a lot to learn to veteran responsible for teaching the newcomers.

"Coach Frank [Wilson, LSU's running backs coach] said he'd never had sophomores, a young back, to lead a team until now," Fournette said. "Me and Darrel are only sophomores. Everybody else is freshmen. He said it's a big role, but he believes in us and we can do it."

Fournette said he has known Guice and Brossette -- ESPN's No. 8 and 12 tailback prospects for 2015 -- for some time and said they already felt like brothers. That bond will be valuable once the rookies arrive this summer and Fournette and Williams take them under their wings.

"You actually have to teach them what Terrence, Kenny and Connor taught us: everything," Fournette said. "They did a great job with us, and it's only right that we pass it down and teach the younger players."

Maybe that Heisman buzz will return for Fournette this fall. He figures to be the centerpiece of LSU's offense for at least two more seasons, after all. But right now, he's focused on learning how to block properly -- an assignment that he said he was uncomfortable with until the Notre Dame game last season -- and doing a better job of reading defenses. Sharpening those skills will only allow Fournette to teach his younger teammates more effectively and help LSU's offense improve in the process.

Miles accused Fournette of acting selfishly when he struck that Heisman pose last season, and Fournette agreed with his coach in hindsight. That's why Miles would love how his star player talks about "team" and "winning" when he could easily focus on individual accolades today.

"I'm not really focused on it right now. I'm just focusing on getting better with the team and winning a championship," Fournette said of the Heisman buzz.

"It didn't affect me at all. That's everyone's goal. They want to win it, but after the Notre Dame loss, I kind of wasn't worried about it anymore."
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Jalen Mills wasn’t even sure what position he would play if he returned for his senior season at LSU.

But regardless of whether he plays cornerback or safety this fall, Mills had greater concerns when he decided the join the unusually large -- by LSU standards, anyway -- group of draft-eligible players who decided to turn down the NFL for at least another year.

He and the other returning Tigers want to be remembered for more than simply staying just long enough to earn a pro football paycheck.

[+] EnlargeJalen Mills
Gerald Herbert/AP PhotoJalen Mills decided against entering the NFL draft so he could make a run at a national championship.
“We have a little group text message between us guys, just us, and that’s all we talk about. That’s the reason why we wanted to come back,” said Mills, already a three-year starter in LSU’s secondary. “Of course you want to get your degree, but for the most part, you want to win a national championship.”

Seated in the Tigers’ team meeting room, Mills looked up toward the collage of former Tigers greats such as Glenn Dorsey that borders the room’s massive film screen and pointed.

“You want to be those guys in the meeting room where you have these guys up there,” Mills said. “You want to be those guys that are always talked about. You want to be those guys in the record book, ‘This is the team that won the national championship, these are the guys who came back and made that happen.’ You want to be those guys, and I feel like that is really what put all these guys over the edge to come back.”

It says something about how hard LSU has been hit by early draft entry in the last couple of years that losing just three juniors to the NFL this year -- linebacker Kwon Alexander, cornerback Jalen Collins and defensive end Danielle Hunter -- was cause for celebration.

Only three college programs (Florida State with five and USC and Florida with four apiece) lost more underclassmen than LSU, but this was nothing compared to the Tigers’ draft hit following the 2012 and 2013 seasons. A whopping 11 LSU underclassmen entered the draft after the 2012 season and seven more players with college eligibility remaining made the jump after last season.

Perhaps that makes Mills’ championship goal more realistic since the 2015 Tigers will have fewer glaring holes to fill. In fact, he might be a candidate to fill one of those holes since Collins and fellow cornerback Rashard Robinson have both left the program. Mills spent nearly all of his first two college seasons at cornerback before shifting to safety to address depth concerns.

“When the safety numbers are low and the corner numbers are high, I moved to safety. And now the corner numbers are low and the safety numbers are high, [so] it’s a possibility I could move to corner,” Mills said. “I haven’t really met with the defensive staff yet. I’m pretty sure something is going to happen pretty soon with spring ball right around the corner.”

Several factors could impact that outcome. How will Dwayne Thomas bounce back from a torn ACL? And who will the Tigers land on the recruiting trail? They are still in the running for some coveted defensive back recruits, and ESPN’s No. 10 overall prospect Kevin Toliver II (Jacksonville, Fla./Trinity Christian) is already on campus and will practice at cornerback in the spring.

Mills said he was encouraged by Toliver’s response when he approached him shortly after LSU’s spring semester classes started and invited him to participate in drillwork with several veteran DBs.

“I told him, ‘Hey man, I know you like that room, I know you like that bed, but it’s time. You’re not in high school no more,’” Mills said. “And he kind of told me, ‘All right, just give me a call when you guys want to do drills or whatever.’ So we’re going to get him rolling.”

Otherwise, the Tigers’ most important holes to fill are at offensive tackle – Jerald Hawkins and Vadal Alexander expect to fill those spots and defensive end, where starters Hunter and Jermauria Rasco are both gone.

In December, Hunter pointed at Tashawn Bower and Sione Teuhema as possible replacements.

“There’s a couple of guys down there,” Hunter said. “You’ve got Sione, you’ve got Tashawn. Those guys are guys that we look up to, guys that we can see coming to be the next great pass-rusher here at LSU.”

Lastly, LSU will once again feature youth in the backfield. Leonard Fournette and Darrel Williams distinguished themselves last season as freshmen, and the Tigers will rely on first-year players once again at both fullback and tailback.

Senior tailbacks Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee are both gone, as are fullbacks Connor Neighbors and Melvin Jones, so this will be an important class to address backfield depth.

The good news is that versatile David Ducre (Mandeville, La./Lakeshore) is already on campus, plus the Tigers have verbal commitments from homegrown ESPN 300 backs Derrius Guice (Baton Rouge, La./Catholic) and Nick Brossette (Baton Rouge, La./University Laboratory).

Of course with last year’s No. 1 overall prospect Fournette already on campus, those freshmen will not face immense pressure to produce immediately. He seems prepared to take another step forward after setting a freshman rushing record with 1,034 yards in 2014.

“That dude there is ridiculous,” Hawkins said. “I just can’t wait to block for him. All our running backs, but especially him. There’s just something special about him. He’s going to pretty much shock the world this year.”
BATON ROUGE, La. -- The game rested on Anthony Jennings' young shoulders when he took the field last season against Arkansas. This was no time for the 19-year-old quarterback to play like a tentative true freshman.

"Obviously if you come in like a mouse talking to the huddle and things, they won't believe me," Jennings recalled, "so I had to come in with confidence high and tell the guys, 'Here we go. We're going to go score.'"

[+] EnlargeAnthony Jennings
Crystal LoGiudice/USA TODAY SportsThe last time LSU played Arkansas, on Nov. 29, 2013, Anthony Jennings (pictured) and Travin Dural forged a lasting quarterback-to-receiver bond.
Jennings' LSU team trailed the Razorbacks 27-24 in the fourth quarter and Jennings was standing in his own end zone when he took the first snap on a possession that would forever tie his name with that of Travin Dural in LSU lore.

To that point in the season, Jennings had appeared only on a few select running plays and in garbage time, but here he was replacing injured senior starter Zach Mettenberger and needing to drive the Tigers 99 yards in the game's final 3:04 if LSU was to avoid a huge upset.

When the Tigers' backup quarterback entered the huddle, he projected the necessary confident tone, said Dural, then a redshirt freshman who spent most of the season in veteran stars Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham's shadows.

"He came in like he had been playing the whole game and came in like he was the starter and the offense never missed a beat," said Dural, whose Tigers (7-3, 3-3 SEC) will visit Arkansas (4-5, 0-5) on Saturday.

The drive started with a 2-yard Jennings run to get the Tigers some breathing room away from the goal line. Completions of 16 yards to tight end Dillon Gordon and 11 yards to Landry soon followed. Then Jennings broke a 21-yard run to push the Tigers past midfield.

The drive started to stall from there, however. Jennings tossed an incomplete pass to Kadron Boone and then completed a screen pass to tailback Jeremy Hill, but Arkansas' Deatrich Wise stopped him for no gain. The Tigers called a timeout, facing third-and-10 from the Arkansas 49-yard line with just 1:22 to play.

That's when Jennings lined up in the shotgun and launched a perfect strike down the left sideline to a wide-open Dural, who had streaked 10 yards behind Arkansas defensive back Jared Collins. Dural hauled in the pass and crossed the goal line to give LSU a 31-27 lead, and the final score, with 1:15 remaining.

It was one of the most exciting moments of the entire season for the Tigers, and it was a pair of freshmen who hooked up to make it happen.

"You're always going to remember that play and that 99-yard drive," Jennings said. "That's the story and then being a freshman at that, I'm always going to remember that."

Jennings and Dural used that game-winning touchdown pass as a launching point, with both players enjoying much more prominent roles in the Tigers' offense as sophomores.

Dural (30 catches for 701 yards, 7 TDs), who has started every game this season and ranks fourth in the SEC with an average of 70.1 receiving yards per game, said the Arkansas touchdown gave him confidence that he could become an impact player in the SEC.

"It was coming, but after that play it was really there," Dural said. "It kind of showed me, 'OK, I can make plays. I can do this.'"

Jennings (80-170, 1,266 yards, 9 TDs, 6 INTs) has had an up-and-down sophomore season, but the Tigers have won eight of his 10 starts since he took over for Mettenberger.

He said he didn't need the Arkansas comeback to believe he belonged at LSU, although he first credited his teammates and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Cam Cameron for making the drive a success.

"I don't think it was confirmation. I think I always had that confidence in myself that I could play at a high level," Jennings said. "So just that happening was a product of all the teammates around me helping me, guiding me, coaching me, Coach Cameron calling great plays there. So it really was not on me. It's about the guys around me."

The duo has already combined to provide several other huge plays for the Tigers since the Arkansas game. They hooked up for an 80-yard touchdown in a season-opening win against Wisconsin and combined for a school-record 94-yard touchdown on LSU's first offensive play the following week against Sam Houston State.

Dural was also the recipient of a 41-yard pass from Jennings on third-and-25 that extended the Tigers' go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter against Florida. He made a one-handed, 11-yard touchdown catch to cap the drive and give LSU a 27-24 lead with 2:40 to play.

Needless to say, Jennings-to-Dural has become one of the SEC's top big-play combinations this season, and it all started with an unlikely 99-yard drive last season against Arkansas where two freshmen showed up at the game's biggest moment.

"That was a big moment for both of those guys. It kind of jumpstarted both of their careers," senior running back Terrence Magee said. "They've made big plays throughout the year this year and we've counted on both of those guys and we're going to continue to count on them through the rest of this season.

"I think the big-play ability and the connection that they have with each other is going to be vital to the rest of this season and into the future for those guys."
 
A breakdown of LSU's 10-7 upset win over Ole Miss on Saturday night.

How the game was won: Defense. LSU held Ole Miss to 313 offensive yards and got two critical stops in the final two minutes. The first came with 1:44 remaining on a fourth-and-1 try in which the Tigers stuffed the Rebels, and the second came with two seconds left when, instead of trying a 47-yard field goal, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze elected to try one more play. The Tigers made him pay for the decision. LSU senior safety Ronald Martin intercepted a pass from Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace with two seconds left to seal the upset win.

Game ball goes to: Leonard Fournette. The true freshman running back, who was the No. 1 recruit in the 2014 class, came up big after Terrence Magee left the game with an injury. Fournette finished with 113 yards on 23 carries, including some critical runs in LSU’s final scoring drive. He even got his face mask ripped off by an Ole Miss defender, but his work on the last scoring drive help set up the game-winning score. Give the LSU defense a ton of credit also for keeping the Tigers in it even though they turned the ball over four times.

What it means: We have a big shakeup near the top of the rankings and in the College Football Playoff race. Previously undefeated Ole Miss (7-1, 4-1 SEC) will drop and LSU, a team that is in the midst of what many have called a "rebuilding year" seems to be getting stronger. The Tigers (7-2, 3-2 SEC) have now won three in a row and are building momentum.

Playoff implication: Ole Miss’s chances take a hit. How much of a hit? We’ll find out when the playoff selection committee’s rankings are released on Tuesday. But a team that once controlled its own fate no longer does.

Best play: Without a doubt, the play that sealed the win for LSU ... Martin intercepting Wallace:

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What's next: Ole Miss must regroup quickly as it returns home to Oxford to host No. 5 Auburn a week from today. LSU has an open date next week and doesn’t return to the field until Nov. 8 when it hosts No. 4 Alabama in Baton Rouge.
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- A player can’t be considered a star when the average fan still reaches for a roster after he makes a play in order to make the connection between name and jersey number.

[+] EnlargeJamal Adams
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesLSU has already seen the impact Jamal Adams can have on and off the field.
 LSU’s Jamal Adams might be on the verge of making the transition from hyped newcomer to household name.

“That’s what’s kind of happening to him: ‘Who’s No. 33?’ and then they go look him up in the program because simply put, he’s making plays wherever you line him up at,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “That’s a great characteristic.”

The freshman safety’s name was already well known among recruitniks, as the No. 2 safety and No. 18 overall prospect on this year’s ESPN 300. He was the highest-rated defensive player to sign with LSU in February. He’s quickly gaining recognition among more casual fans -- and not just because of his dramatic flop against Florida after Gators punt returner Andre Debose lightly shoved Adams’ facemask.

That play, which went viral on the Internet and drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Debose, has been a source of nonstop comedy in the LSU locker room, with several teammates comparing Adams’ antics to that of NBA superstar and noted flop king LeBron James.

“That was too funny. That was something I expect out of him,” safety Rickey Jefferson said. “Then he tweeted and said LeBron taught me.”

Linebacker Deion Jones agreed, adding, “It was hilarious. I laughed about it on the field.”

Running back Terrence Magee, who was only a few feet away when Debose’s attack occurred, also got a laugh out of the play.

“He’s been watching basketball too much,” Magee said.

Adams said the play exemplified his energetic on-field personality, which Miles has described as “electric.”

“I’m a character and I do whatever for the team,” Adams said. “That flop, everybody’s blowing it up, so it was just definitely something I needed to do at the time.”

His contributions of late are not limited to appearances on SportsCenter’s Not Top 10, however. Adams is getting significant playing time in LSU’s nickel and dime defensive packages and is one of the team’s most valuable special-teams performers. He leads the Tigers with nine special-teams tackles and delivered the key block that sprung Tre’Davious White for a 67-yard punt return touchdown last Saturday against Kentucky.

On White’s first return of the night, Adams noticed that his side of the field was wide open for a return and pleaded with White to bring the next punt his way. Sure enough, White ran toward the Kentucky sideline with his next return and Adams crushed Kentucky’s A.J. Stamps with the block that helped White sprint into the open field.

 “He’s put himself in a great position to make big-time blocks for us,” White said. “I went back and watched the first punt that actually I took [17] yards. It could have been another touchdown if I would have just went outside. He was right and I did it that time and he made a big block like he said I would and sprung me for a touchdown.”

It was Adams’ most notable play in what was probably his best night as a Tiger to date. He continued to shine on the coverage teams, posting two special-teams tackles and also made his biggest impact yet on defensive downs. Adams finished with a career-high eight tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack.

“He has a motor that don’t stop,” White said. “He’s a guy that brings so much energy. He’s just not like that in games, he’s like that around practice. Very vocal, and he’s a young leader and we look forward to him making plays down the road for us.”

In truth, Adams is making plays now. Although he hasn’t started a game yet, he ranks fifth on the team with 37 tackles and is starting to live up to the preseason comparisons that LSU insiders made to former All-America safety Eric Reid.

Asked why he is becoming a more productive player, Adams fell back on the attributes that so many teammates cited while describing his game: He consistently shows great effort and energy.

“[LSU’s coaches have] been stressing how to be the player that you want to be,” Adams said. “They stress it hard in practice. It’s practice how you play, so every time in practice I’m going hard, I’m running hard, doing the little things. The little things separate you.”

SEC helmet stickers: Week 8

October, 19, 2014
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The only good thing about a day full of blowouts in the SEC is that there are plenty of helmet stickers to hand out.

Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia: How do you top a 143-yard, one-touchdown performance in your first collegiate start? By rushing for 202 yards and two touchdowns in your second start. That's exactly what Chubb did in place of the suspended Todd Gurley on Saturday, leading Georgia past Arkansas, 45-32. He became only the third freshman in school history to rush for more than 200 yards in a game (Herschel Walker, Rodney Hampton). As long as Chubb keeps getting 30-plus carries a game, he's going to keep showing up on this list.

Marquis Haynes, DE, Ole Miss: Don't get me wrong. Senquez Golson is deserving of a helmet sticker with two interceptions on Saturday. But it was Haynes and the defensive line that set the tone for the Rebels. They held Tennessee to zero rushing yards in large part thanks to nine sacks on the night. Haynes led the way with five tackles, 2.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery during the 34-3 win. The freshman might not get the recognition of his counterpart Robert Nkemdiche, but he's one of the SEC's better young stars whom nobody's talking about.

Terrence Magee, RB, LSU: It was supposed to be Leonard Fournette with the huge game, but Magee said “move over freshman, I'm taking this one.” Magee rushed for 127 yards and two touchdowns on just nine carries in LSU's 41-3 win over Kentucky. That's 14.1 yards per carry for those counting at home. He also happened to be the team's leading receiver with three catches for 44 yards. Fournette might be the LSU running back to watch in the second half, but don't forget about Magee. He's not going anywhere.

Marcus Murphy, RB, Missouri: Murphy wasted no time putting his stamp on Saturday's game in Gainesville, returning the opening kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown. But he wasn't done yet. No, he had more in store for the Gators. Murphy made it 14-0 with a 5-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, and he would later return a punt 82 yards for another score. The senior finished with 224 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns on the night. He was one of the big reasons why Missouri won 42-13 despite only gaining 119 yards on offense.

Blake Sims, QB, Alabama: T.J. Yeldon, you deserve a helmet sticker. Amari Cooper, you deserve a helmet sticker. Alabama's defense, you deserve a helmet sticker. It was that kind of game for the Crimson Tide. But the nod here goes to Sims, who went 16-of-27 for 268 yards and three touchdowns in the Tide's 59-0 win over Texas A&M. He also made arguably the best move of the day on his 43-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter. This team, Sims included, was criticized after last week's win over Arkansas. It responded in a big way.

Three key factors in LSU-Auburn

October, 3, 2014
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Nick MarshallAP Photo/Butch DillContaining Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall will be one of LSU's main tasks this week.

BATON ROUGE, La. -- This will become a familiar scenario for No. 15 LSU (4-1, 0-1 SEC) for at least the foreseeable future. Entering Saturday's game against No. 5 Auburn (4-0, 1-0), LSU probably can't afford another division loss if it wants to remain in contention in the SEC West -- much less a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

That's a tall order this weekend, considering Auburn hasn't lost at Jordan-Hare Stadium since Gus Malzahn became coach last season (11-0) and LSU will have a true freshman quarterback, Brandon Harris, making his first career start.

LSU has won six of the past seven games in this series, but getting a win Saturday will be a major challenge. Let's look at three key factors as kickoff approaches, with some help from ESPN's Stats & Information group:

Who can run and who can stop it

Both starting quarterbacks -- Harris and Auburn's Nick Marshall -- are understandably getting plenty of attention ahead of this game. But it's the teams' respective running games -- and whether the defenses can slow them -- that might be the most important factors.

Auburn ranks 17th nationally with 260.5 rushing yards per game and boasts two of the SEC's most productive runners in Cameron Artis-Payne (86 carries, 468 yards, 5 touchdowns, fourth in the SEC with 97.2 YPG) and Marshall (42 carries, 273 yards, 2 touchdowns).

Meanwhile, LSU has struggled against the run, ranking 12th in the SEC and 70th nationally by allowing 161.6 rushing YPG. Coordinator John Chavis' defense is thin at defensive tackle, and its problems there were evident against Mississippi State, which rushed for 302 yards against LSU two weeks ago. Wisconsin also rushed for more than 250 yards against LSU.

Auburn is 13-0 when it runs for at least 250 yards under Malzahn and 3-2 when it does not.

On the other side, LSU's struggling run game got a boost last week when it picked up 363 yards on 54 attempts against New Mexico State. LSU is sixth in the SEC with 226.2 rushing YPG, but Auburn has been stingy against the run (third in the SEC with 90.8 YPG). If coordinator Ellis Johnson's defense is able to shut down Leonard Fournette (LSU's leading rusher with 322 yards on 56 attempts, 64.4 YPG), Kenny Hilliard (57 carries, 298 yards, 59.6 YPG), Darrel Williams (33 carries, 165 yards, 41.2 YPG) and Terrence Magee (34 carries, 144 yards, 28.8 YPG), that will place even more pressure on Harris' shoulders.

Defending the zone read/QB run

Let's dig a little deeper into the running game. To have any chance on Saturday, LSU must contain Marshall and Auburn's option runs.

Auburn has been one of the nation's most effective teams at using the zone-read run since the start of last season. It is averaging 144.39 rushing yards and 6.8 yards per carry in those games.

It's worth noting, however, that Kansas State kept itself in the game against Auburn two weeks ago by slowing Marshall and the zone-read runs. The Wildcats held the Tigers to just 62 yards and 3.1 yards per carry off the zone-read, holding them below 200 total rushing yards for only the second time in Malzhn's tenure as Auburn's coach.

LSU was atrocious against the zone-read in its 34-29 loss to Mississippi State two weeks ago. The Bulldogs ran 20 times for 192 yards from that look, averaging 9.1 yards per carry and breaking five runs of at least 10 yards.

The key element here is slowing Marshall, but LSU has struggled to do that against mobile quarterbacks. LSU has allowed the sixth-most rushing yards to opposing quarterbacks (56 carries for 260 yards) of all FBS programs this season. That includes a 79-yard touchdown last week against New Mexico State and a 56-yard run by Mississippi State's Dak Prescott.

Marshall has 1,341 rushing yards since the start of last season, which ranks third among active FBS quarterbacks.

Harris vs. Auburn pass defense

This subject has been beaten to death all week, but Harris is in rare air for an LSU quarterback. He's the first LSU true freshman to start at the position since Jordan Jefferson in 2008 and the first since Jamie Howard in 1992 to start by Game 6.

He clearly outplayed Anthony Jennings against Mississippi State and New Mexico State, but both of those outings were off the bench. Making his first road start against a better-than-average Auburn defense -- Johnson's defense is fourth in the SEC in total defense (313.2 ypg) and sixth in scoring defense (16.2 ppg) -- won't be easy.

However, Auburn has yet to face a prolific passing team. Its opponents thus far rank 107th nationally (Arkansas, 167.8 ypg), 62nd (San Jose State, 243.0), 59th (Kansas State, 246.3) and 55th (Louisiana Tech, 248.4) in passing offense and yet Auburn still ranks seventh in the SEC in pass defense at 222.5 ypg.

We'll see whether Harris can settle his nerves enough to exploit it, but Auburn is vulnerable against the pass -- especially if veteran safety Jermaine Whitehead remains on suspension for a third straight game.
Leonard FournetteAP Photo/Jonathan BachmanLSU freshman running back Leonard Fournette was criticized for striking the pose.

BATON ROUGE, La. -- All of his life, Leonard Fournette has been ahead of the athletic curve, so naturally he was disappointed when his first college game didn't go according to plan.

In LSU's season-opening win against Wisconsin, Fournette ran eight times for 18 yards and returned five kickoffs for 117 yards, while senior Kenny Hilliard instead carried the Tigers' running game. It was an OK debut for a typical freshman running back, but not for the player who was ESPN's No. 1 overall prospect in the 2014 recruiting class, whom many college football analysts had compared to the greatest college running backs of the last 20 years.

"I was kind of hard on myself because I was so used to having 200-plus rushing yards in a game and I didn't have that, so I was kind of disappointed," Fournette said. "But I talked to Coach, talked to my father and my mother and they were like, ‘This is college now. It's not going to happen [in college] like it used to happen.' "

Maybe that early disappointment also made Fournette want to fast forward his collegiate development. A week later came Fournette's most memorable college moment to date -- one that brought more criticism than praise.

After a 4-yard touchdown run against Sam Houston State, Fournette's first college score, he struck the Heisman Trophy pose in the end zone. LSU coach Les Miles immediately gave Fournette an earful over the freshman's me-first moment and he later apologized to his teammates for what could easily be called a premature celebration.

All of a sudden, he was the subject of national ridicule -- a rude awakening for a player who had been roundly praised since middle school.

"I prayed on it, my parents talked to me, Coach Miles talked to me and just told me, ‘Don't worry about it,' so I got over it," Fournette said of the Heisman backlash.

Ever since then, Fournette has quietly shown steady improvement. Other SEC freshmen like Tennessee's Jalen Hurd and Texas A&M's Myles Garrett have made bigger national splashes, but last Saturday's win against New Mexico State marked the fourth straight game that Fournette led No. 15 LSU (4-1, 0-1 SEC) in rushing.

Each week since the Wisconsin game, Fournette has averaged at least 5 yards per carry, which he believes is a result of improved patience.

"We'll be in the meeting room and watching practice and I'll be seeing [senior running back Terrence Magee] making cuts like I used to make in high school," Fournette said. "I'll just be like, ‘Man I wonder why I can't do that?' I'm always rushing, so I feel like I've just got to be patient, slow down. I've been taking all that to heed and I've been slowing it down and the cuts will be there for me."

Running room and cutback space were certainly available last weekend against New Mexico State, when Fournette broke the 100-yard barrier for the first time at LSU. He finished with 122 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries, all career highs, and credited his offensive line and seniors Magee and Hilliard afterward -- exemplifying another lesson in humility that he learned from the Heisman hoopla.

"Thanks to Kenny, thanks to Terrence, like they're really my mentors. Anything I have a problem with, I come to them," Fournette said. "I never really had a big brother on the football team. I always was the big brother, so I have them and they help me a lot."

The veterans, in turn, credit the rookie for his personal growth. Making the transition from high school legend to SEC freshman can be difficult, but Magee said Fournette adjusted his expectations to fit what LSU has asked of him thus far.

"Every game you're not going to go out and rush for 200 yards, 100 yards, so I think he's a lot more comfortable than what he [was] now and starting to relax and just play his game," Magee said.

That said, Fournette has not fully tapped into his massive potential yet. As Fournette mentioned, he hasn't hit holes decisively at times and, for a player listed at 230 pounds, he has been surprisingly ineffective at breaking tackles.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Fournette ranks 11th in the SEC and 59th nationally with 3.48 yards per carry before making contact with a defender. And yet he's fourth among regulars in his own backfield in yards after contact. Freshman Darrel Williams (3.64 ypc after contact) and Magee (3.18) both rank in the SEC's top 10, but Fournette's average of 2.27 ypc also ranks behind Hilliard (2.53) among LSU regulars.

His game remains a work in progress, but it is easy to envision a game-breaking finished product on the occasions when Fournette accelerates past defenders or leaves one in the dust with a well-placed stiff-arm, as he did on his first touchdown run against NMSU.

Those brief flashes are signs that Fournette is coming along fine, even if he didn't achieve instant superstardom like some expected.

"That's hard, especially with those expectations," center Elliott Porter said. "I don't think nobody in the last 10 years faced quite that much hype."

Freshman spotlight: 'Heisman moment'

September, 7, 2014
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- OK, that had to be a first.

It was definitely LSU freshman Leonard Fournette’s first touchdown of his career. There’s no question about that. But Fournette’s striking the Heisman pose after the 4-yard run against Sam Houston State on Saturday might have made him the first player in college football history to raise his knee and throw the legendary stiffarm pose after his inaugural score.

“I think it’s little premature to launch a Heisman candidacy,” LSU coach Les Miles said after the Tigers’ 56-0 win. “I think that he needs to realize, too, that this is his team and it’s not to do with personal liberty. There were a lot of guys blocking for that run and a lot of effort and energy to help that man score that touchdown."

SEC Network announcer Brent Musberger saying afterwards, “A little early for that pose, young man, but I got your excitement.”

Whatever Miles said to the freshman running back afterward, it was apparently not as forgiving. He was caught on TV giving Fournette an earful immediately after he returned to the sideline following the play.

“I looked at Coach,” quarterback Anthony Jennings said. “He was coming onto the field and I already knew what was going to happen.”

Fournette finished with 92 rushing yards on 13 carries, plus 32 receiving yards on two leaping catches. It was an outstanding Tiger Stadium debut -- even if he might have jumped the gun a bit with his Heisman moment.

“He definitely has the potential to be a Heisman Trophy winner, but as of now I believe he needs to stay humble and keep running the ball like he is,” right tackle Jerald Hawkins chuckled.

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The touchdown run itself was nothing special -- a 4-yard burst up the middle against an FCS defense that barely got a fingertip on Fournette before he entered the end zone. But the play immediately before that was more like what Tigers fans expected to see from the nation’s top overall prospect when he signed with LSU in February.

On second-and-10 at the SHSU 44, Fournette took a handoff left and then cut back toward a huge hole in the middle of the line. He cut right at the 41 to dodge safety Michael Wade, then followed receiver John Diarse’s block on cornerback Mikell Everette at the 29. A Bearkats defender didn’t get to Fournette until he ran through safety Eric Agbaroji’s tackle at the 21 and then dragged cornerback Ernest Payton from the 13 to the 4, where he finally went down.

The highlight-reel 40-yard run set up Fournette’s touchdown burst on the next play.

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There were plenty of firsts to go around on Saturday for members of LSU’s vaunted 2014 recruiting class. In his first substantial playing time, quarterback Brandon Harris also contributed a couple of highlights -- including a 46-yard touchdown run that was much more worthy of the Heisman pose.

With the Tigers already up 27-0 in the second quarter, Harris faked a handoff to Terrence Magee and instead ran up the middle. He first spun through a tackle attempt by linebacker Lance Duran and then backed into cornerback Darion Flowers, who was unable to bring Harris down before he spun toward the LSU sideline and broke into the open field. Then it became a footrace and Harris barely avoided Everette’s diving tackle attempt at the 9 and followed Diarse’s block on Trenier Orr as he bolted into the end zone for his first career score.

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Harris put an exclamation point on the night when he and freshman receiver Malachi Dupre combined for two more firsts -- Harris’ first touchdown pass and Dupre’s first scoring catch -- early in the fourth quarter.

On second-and-goal from the 8, Harris lobbed a pass to the back right corner of the end zone, where a diving Dupre brought it down just beyond cornerback Tevin Creeks’ coverage. It was yet another example of what LSU fans envisioned when Dupre, the nation’s top wideout prospect, and No. 2 dual-threat quarterback Harris joined the Tigers earlier this year.

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You shouldn’t have much trouble remembering the year 2011. It wasn’t that long ago. There was an NBA work stoppage, the NFL threatened a lockout and the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State rocked the college football world. Jack Kevorkian passed away, Aaron Sorkin released the film “Moneyball” and Miley Cyrus was only beginning to embrace her inner crazy.

Oh, and somewhere in there the SEC landed two teams in the BCS title Game.

[+] EnlargeBlake Sims, Karl Joseph
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsBlake Sims is reminiscent of the "game manager" quarterback that Alabama had when it beat LSU for the 2011 national championship.
It was only three years ago, but it feels like a lifetime. The BCS system has since been retired and the perception of both Alabama and LSU have changed significantly since they met in New Orleans. AJ McCarron found a way to break free of the “game manager” label at Alabama, reaching within ear shot of a Heisman Trophy. Meanwhile, Cam Cameron and Zach Mettenberger helped reshape the image of LSU’s offense, incorporating a more vertical, NFL-style passing game.

Now things have changed again. And in so many ways it feels like 2011.

At Alabama, the phrase “game manager” is back to being embraced. If Blake Sims can only manage the game and take care of the football, then the Crimson Tide might be capable of reaching the inaugural College Football Playoff. Like McCarron’s first season starting, he won’t be asked to do it all. Despite hopes to the contrary, he probably won’t throw the ball deep very much. We’ll all do well to remember that 43 quarterbacks had more passes of 20-plus yards than McCarron in 2011.

With two stellar running backs to lean on, the offense should be fine either way. You think the duo of T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry isn’t comparable to Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy? Like Richardson, Yeldon is a junior with an established resume. Like Lacy, Henry is an emerging sophomore with talent to burn.

Granted, Alabama’s defense isn’t as experienced as it was in 2011, but there’s certainly more than enough talent to draw upon with the current roster. Landon Collins looks an awful lot like a leaner Mark Barron, and Trey DePriest is the same kind of physical inside linebacker Nico Johnson was. The veteran cornerbacks might not be there, but the defensive line has the potential to be better than its ever been during Nick Saban’s tenure in Tuscaloosa.

LSU, on the other hand, is in an eerily similar boat.

In one offseason, Les Miles saw his entire passing game head for the NFL as Mettenberger graduated and both his top receivers, Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, declared for the draft. Now it’s a new cast of characters, starting with quarterbacks Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris. And judging by their play against Wisconsin, we might be looking at a return to the 2011 days of Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee. Harris clearly wasn’t ready for the big stage on Saturday, and Jennings had trouble reading the defense and seemed limited with throws outside the standard go-route.

There’s hope at receiver, though, with Travin Dural and John Diarse, coupled with young guns Trey Quinn and Malachi Dupre. Sound familiar? It should. In 2011, LSU’s leading receivers were Rueben Randle, Beckham, Deangelo Peterson and Russell Shepard, with Landry coming off the bench.

But the real heart of LSU’s offense is still at running back with a three-headed monster of Kenny Hilliard, Terrence Magee and Leonard Fournette. In 2011, it was much of the same with Michael Ford, Spencer Ware and Alfred Blue shouldering the load.

Will the Tigers defense be as good now as it was then? Only time will tell, but there are certainly the parts in the secondary to harken back to the days of old. Jalen Mills played lights out at safety against Wisconsin, as did Ronald Martin. Between Jalen Collins, Rashard Robinson and Tre'Davious White, we might be able to call it DBU once again.

This is all to say that while Alabama and LSU looked quite different this past weekend than we’ve become accustomed to, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Their respective passing games might have taken significant steps back, but it’s not the end of the world.

It might feel like forever ago now, but in 2011 these two programs didn’t rely on quarterbacks to win football games. McCarron wasn’t a star when he took his first trip to New Orleans. Neither were Jefferson or Lee. Strong defenses and solid running games got them there.

Given the tendency toward overreaction and overanalysis this early in the season, it felt like a good time to remind everyone that three years isn’t that long ago. The SEC probably won't land two teams in a national title game again, but there's nothing to say that Alabama and LSU are out of the playoff hunt altogether.

Five questions about LSU-Wisconsin

August, 28, 2014
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One of college football’s most anticipated openers will kick off Saturday night in Houston, with No. 13 LSU taking on No. 14 Wisconsin -- two programs that might reside in different conferences, but share similar philosophies about playing mean-spirited, physical football.

Both teams have aspirations of competing in the inaugural College Football Playoff, and Saturday’s outcome might eventually rank among the top determining factors in whether they make it into the four-team field.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at five questions facing the two teams as their matchup approaches.

[+] EnlargeTerrence Magee
Crystal LoGiudice/USA TODAY SportsSenior Terrence Magee should be a key piece to LSU's running game this season.
1. Who gets the most carries?

Those around the LSU program say it looks like it’s only a matter of time before freshman running back Leonard Fournette shows why he was the nation’s No. 1 overall recruit. But will Fournette’s time come in this game? LSU coach Les Miles has praised veterans Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard throughout August. The seniors have earned their touches, too, so it will be intriguing to observe how LSU distributes the carries between the vets and the young phenom.

2. How will LSU fare in the passing game?

Wisconsin has plenty of holes to fill on defense, but the one area with a veteran presence is its secondary (and the Badgers were 17th nationally against the pass last season, allowing 202.5 yards per game). That would seem like an advantage against an LSU offense that must replace not only its quarterback, but the only receivers who did much of anything last fall, Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry.

The Tigers have some super-talented youngsters like freshmen Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn, but many of the team’s wideouts will be playing their first college games. Keep an eye on whether LSU uses its talented group of tight ends and running backs in the passing game. The tight ends will almost certainly get more looks as pass-catchers in 2014 while the young quarterbacks and receivers settle into their roles.

3. Can either team stop the opponent’s run?

Wisconsin obliterated South Carolina’s run defense for 293 yards in its last outing, a 34-24 loss in the Capital One Bowl. Heisman Trophy contender Melvin Gordon ran 25 times for 143 yards in that game. So it would probably be misguided to assume that LSU’s reconstructed front seven is going to completely shut down a Badgers running game that includes Gordon, Corey Clement and four returning starters on the offensive line.

Likewise, Wisconsin lost its entire starting front seven on defense, so the Badgers will probably have some difficulty against an LSU line that also returns four starters -- particularly since backs like Fournette, Magee and Hilliard will be running behind them.

4. How will Wisconsin look up front on D?

Let’s say this one more time: Wisconsin lost every single starter along the defensive line and at linebacker from one of the nation’s best defenses in 2013. We’re talking about standouts like Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Chris Borland and defensive linemen Beau Allen and Ethan Hemer who helped Wisconsin finish as the nation’s No. 7 defense overall (305.1 ypg) and No. 5 against the run (102.5).

It’s not like the cupboard is bare, though. ESPN Big Ten blogger Brian Bennett listed sophomore linebacker Vince Biegel as a potential playmaker, and the Badgers have others back like linebackers Marcus Trotter and Derek Landisch and defensive linemen Warren Herring and redshirt freshman Chikwe Obasih who should keep defensive coordinator Dave Aranda’s 3-4 defense clicking.

Asking that many new players to function adequately against a veteran LSU front will be asking a lot, though. Wisconsin’s production along the defensive front might be the determining factor in this game.

5. Who FINISHES at quarterback?

Never mind who starts, who’s going to finish this game at quarterback for either team? That might have a much greater impact on this season than who takes the first snaps for either Wisconsin or LSU.

Miles and Wisconsin’s Gary Andersen have tiptoed around questions asking whether the starting quarterback will be Anthony Jennings or Brandon Harris at LSU or Joel Stave or Tanner McEvoy at Wisconsin. But if this is a close game, their choices on who leads their offenses in the fourth quarter -- and how those players perform in such a situation -- might tell us much more about where these competitions are headed.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Brandon Harris and Leonard Fournette have been waiting for this opportunity since well before they became roommates at LSU this summer.

With barely a week to go before they make their college debuts against Wisconsin, Fournette and Harris -- ESPN’s No. 1 and 37 overall prospects in the ESPN 300 -- have done nothing to slow the hype about what their futures hold.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Fournette
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertLeonard Fournette is one of several standout freshmen expected to get extensive playing time for LSU.
“We’ve talked about this since before we got here, just dreaming it up, texting all the time during the season and hearing about him breaking every record and doing this and that,” Harris said of Fournette, the only player ever to win Louisiana’s Gatorade Player of the Year award twice. “So nothing surprises me, what he does.”

LSU fans’ expectations are sky high over what Fournette might accomplish once the running back takes the field in purple and gold. But they aren’t much lower for the other offensive skill-position standouts who helped him make the Tigers’ 2014 recruiting class one of the best in school history.

You have early enrollee Harris, who is still competing with Anthony Jennings to become the starting quarterback. Harris clearly outplayed Jennings in LSU’s spring game and has flashed impressive running ability as well as a powerful throwing arm.

“At practice, man, his arm is so live,” Fournette marveled. “Everything with him is [hard]. Sometimes it’ll be hard to catch.”

And then there are receivers Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn, who are among the candidates to step into departed stars Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham’s roles as the Tigers’ go-to pass-catchers.

Dupre was ESPN’s top receiver prospect, No. 17 overall, and Quinn was the No. 3 receiver and ranked No. 29 overall on the ESPN 300. But asking them to immediately fill in for Landry and Beckham, who combined for 2,345 of LSU’s 3,263 receiving yards last season, is an awfully tall order.

“I don’t feel any pressure,” Dupre said. “I’ll leave it up to the coaches to make the proper game calls and just do what I do and make plays and try to be the best that I can be and not worry about what they did in the past. But also definitely try and pick up where they left off at because they were definitely two great receivers. Hopefully I can become as good as they were, but we’ll see what happens.”

In truth, it’s Quinn who appears more ready to take over a big role at wideout. Dupre dealt with an undisclosed injury for a portion of preseason camp -- he participated in his first scrimmage on Tuesday and LSU coach Les Miles said he should be fine now -- but Quinn has already turned heads among coaches and teammates.

He might not look like a prototypical NFL prospect -- LSU’s roster lists him at 6-foot and 194 pounds -- but don’t bother labeling Quinn as a possession receiver. Not to offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, anyway.

“He’s not a possession receiver at all. He can run, he’s tough, he can catch,” Cameron said. “I had [Denver Broncos receiver] Wes Welker as a rookie and … he got labeled that possession guy and I watched him run by corners on the outside every day in practice. So he’s a football player, he’s an outside receiver, he’s a blocker, he’s smart. All he needs is time and college experience and I think he’ll be an outstanding player.”

In fact, many an LSU veteran has complimented Quinn in particular for acting like he belonged as soon as he arrived on campus. Then again, football has typically come easily for Quinn, who set a national career record with 6,566 receiving yards at Barbe High School in Lake Charles, Louisiana. He knows his pinch-me moments are still ahead next week when LSU’s fall semester begins and then he caps the week by facing a ranked opponent in his first college game.

“I think I’m going to go through that first week of college with everybody being on campus, just seeing numbers and numbers of students, and by that first Saturday in Houston, that’s going to be that athletic part where I’m just like, ‘Wow. I’m an LSU Tiger, I play football,’” Quinn predicted. “And it’s go time from there. There’s no looking back.”

That’s the way most LSU freshmen think, and it’s particularly the case among the four freshman stars who are still trying to carve out a niche for their first SEC season. All four players would admit that they have a lot to learn, but they were recruited to contribute immediately and it seems highly likely that all four will do so.

Fournette will absolutely get his share of the carries alongside seniors Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard and fellow signee Darrel Williams. LSU lacks proven receivers other than Travin Dural, so Miles said Dupre, Quinn and freshman D.J. Chark will all play roles in the passing game. And even if Harris doesn’t start against Wisconsin, it would be a major surprise if he fails to see the field.

Not only will the members of that group contribute, Miles said, they will hold their own. That’s the LSU way.

“Young players are going to play,” Miles said. “I say that with the idea that they’re talented and they were recruited to fill that void and we’re going to coach them hard. We’re going to make sure that we try to anticipate mistakes and avoid them. But yeah, I’m not anticipating just terrible growing pains there.”
HOOVER, Ala. -- Terrence Magee should have been upset. Or annoyed, at the very least. He wore a crisp, charcoal three-piece suit and a flannel bow tie to SEC media days last month, eager to introduce himself to the national media. He looked sharp. He looked ready. But when it came time to talk about his upcoming season at LSU, a large swath of reporters weren’t particularly interested. It was his backup that they wanted to talk about instead.

A lesser man might have taken offense. A lesser man might have wondered, Why don’t they want to talk about me? It was as if his 626 rushing yards last season hadn't happened. Never mind that he had the 10th-best yards-per-carry average in the country or that his touchdowns-per-rush ratio ranked in the top 15.

[+] EnlargeTerrence Magee
Crystal LoGiudice/USA TODAY SportsThis should be Terrence Magee's time to shine in the spotlight. But instead, the focus is on his backup, prized recruit Leonard Fournette.
But Magee, all 5-foot-9 and 217 pounds of him, didn’t seem to mind. He wasn’t upset. He wasn’t the least bit annoyed. The senior looked at his rookie teammate and said, “I’m excited to see him play.”

Leonard Fournette dominated SEC media days without even being there. His head coach compared him to Michael Jordan, for goodness sakes. He was being hailed as a Heisman Trophy contender, if you can imagine that. Magee was asked about him and said he looked like Adrian Peterson. It was all a little surreal.

“I honestly don’t think I’m putting too much on him,” Magee said. “I truly feel that he can do it. He’s proven himself in high school, and in a few more weeks everyone will get to see what he can do on the college level.”

Magee lauded Fournette’s vision, speed and power. He watched him blow by players in practice he thought were fast and said, “Man!”

“He can go from zero to 100 just like that,” he said.

Fournette’s demeanor made him easy to like, Magee said. He spoke about Fournette’s humbleness, his eagerness to learn and how he asked veterans, “How do I get better?” According to Magee, “How can you not gravitate to a guy like that?”

Except that goes against our perception of what a competitor should be. You should want the ball to yourself. You shouldn’t want to praise your backup so much. Right?

“A lot of people are used to being the man and the biggest star at their high school,” Magee said. “I played with another SEC guy, Josh Robinson, and another receiver that went on to play college football. So I didn’t mind sharing the spotlight. Me coming here wasn’t like anyone stealing my thunder.”

Magee understood what awaited him in Baton Rouge.

“It’s always been running back-by-committee at LSU,” he said. “Everyone is going to get their fair share of carries. But at the same time, everyone in our backfield are team-oriented guys. Whatever is in the best interest of the team, that’s what I’m willing to do. If that means me taking 15 carries or taking five carries, then I’m for it.”

Said coach Les Miles: “I think that's an advantage. If you look at Terrence Magee, we've gotten them tired. There have been times when he just busted a big run, took significant contact. Kenny Hilliard had just played. In fact, we will need those guys that have fresh legs. I think you can always kind of count on that from us.”

In each of the last three seasons, the Tigers have had four running backs with 60 or more carries. And with no entrenched starter at quarterback this season, there could be even more carries to go around.

Magee, of course, smiled at the thought.

“We pride ourselves on running the ball at LSU,” he said. “If we don’t do anything else, people know we’re going to run the ball well.”

LSU Tigers season preview

August, 12, 2014
8/12/14
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» More team previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC 

Previewing the 2014 season for the LSU Tigers:

2013 record: 10-3 (5-3 SEC). Beat Iowa 21-14 in the Outback Bowl.

Key losses: QB Zach Mettenberger, RB Jeremy Hill, WR Odell Beckham, WR Jarvis Landry, LB Lamin Barrow, S Craig Loston, DT Ego Ferguson, DT Anthony Johnson, RB Alfred Blue.

[+] EnlargeLa'El Collins
Scott Clarke/ESPN ImagesLa'el Collins will anchor an LSU offensive line that will try to pave the way for the Tigers' inexperienced, albeit talented, skill-position players.
Key returnees: OT La'el Collins, DE Danielle Hunter, DE Jermauria Rasco, RB Terrence Magee, CB Tre'Davious White, OG Vadal Alexander, WR Travin Dural, LB D.J. Welter, LB Kwon Alexander, OT Jerald Hawkins, S Jalen Mills.

Instant impact newcomers: RB Leonard Fournette, QB Brandon Harris, WR Malachi Dupre, WR Trey Quinn, LB Clifton Garrett, S Jamal Adams, CB Ed Paris, DB John Battle.

Breakout player: It’s tempting to focus on Hunter or sophomore cornerbacks White and Rashard Robinson here, but let’s go with Fournette. As the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect and headliner of ESPN’s second-ranked 2014 recruiting class, the star tailback has already generated a ton of buzz. Magee, Kenny Hilliard and freshman Darrel Williams will all get some touches, but anything short of immediate stardom for Fournette would be a bit of a letdown.

Key position battle: Quarterback competitions always generate the most attention, and that will be the case this August at LSU. The battle between early enrollee Harris and sophomore Anthony Jennings started in spring practice -- and the freshman won the first round by clearly outplaying Jennings in the spring game. LSU’s coaches were in no rush to name a starter at the time, though, so Jennings still has a chance to prove he deserves the job. He engineered the game-winning, 99-yard touchdown drive to beat Arkansas after replacing an injured Mettenberger and got a win (despite a disappointing performance) in his lone start, the bowl win over Iowa. Impressive dual-threat talent Harris is going to be awfully difficult to hold off, however.

Most important game: Oct. 4 at Auburn. Sure, the Alabama game (Nov. 8 at Tiger Stadium) is the game every LSU fan has circled, and the Aug. 30 opener against Wisconsin carries plenty of intrigue, but the Tigers’ midseason visit to the defending SEC champs might be the key to the season. LSU handed Auburn its only regular-season loss last season and has won six of the past seven in the series.

Biggest question mark: LSU is inexperienced at several key positions (most notably quarterback, receiver and defensive tackle), so the new starters’ abilities to quickly adapt to the grind of SEC football will likely determine whether the Tigers become serious contenders in the Western Division this season.

Upset special: Oct. 11 at Florida. The Tigers will be only a week removed from what could be a street fight against Auburn when they visit The Swamp. Injury-depleted Florida became a punch line last season, but the Gators have plenty of talent and a chip on their shoulders after crumbling in 2013. LSU is understandably favored here, but getting a win will not be easy here.

Key stat: 12-211. With Landry and Beckham combining for 72 percent of LSU’s receiving production (2,345 of 3,263 yards), there weren’t a lot of balls to go around to everyone else. LSU’s tight ends combined for just 12 catches and 211 yards, led by Dillon Gordon (6-88) and Travis Dickson (5-109). Cam Cameron’s offenses have typically made good use of the tight end, and the group believes it will be more active in the passing game this fall. Keep an eye on sophomore DeSean Smith (1-14), who caught a touchdown in LSU’s spring game -- a day when the tight ends combined for eight catches and 131 yards.

Preseason predictions:

ESPN Stats & Information: 8.01 wins

Bovada over-under: 9 wins

Our take: Les Miles has led the Tigers to a school-record four straight seasons with at least 10 wins. Because of the massive production losses on offense -- including the first combination of a 3,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard rusher and two 1,000-yard receivers in SEC history -- the Tigers are one of the biggest wild cards in the SEC. The defense looks like it’s rounding into the impressive form that characterized LSU’s best teams of the 2000s, but the Tigers’ record will likely rest on the progress the new quarterback makes, whether Fournette immediately lives up to his advance billing, and whether at least a couple of the young receivers can handle big roles. The window for this team is probably somewhere between eight and 10 wins. Let’s split the difference in our prediction and go with 9-3.

Cam Cameron: More than one quality QB

August, 11, 2014
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Maybe he doesn't want to give away anything to Wisconsin, maybe it truly is a tight battle -- and maybe it's both -- but LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said the quarterback race between Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris is too close to call.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Harris
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsFreshman Brandon Harris made a heck of a first impression during LSU's spring game.
"The competition is so stiff every day in practice," Cameron said. "You can improve in two, two and a half hours like you wouldn't believe because the pressure you're under here every day. I've seen as much improvement in our quarterbacks this week as I've ever seen in a group of quarterbacks in that small a timeframe.

"And that has nothing to do with me as it does with the attitude of the guys, No. 1, but the amount of pressure John [Chavis, LSU's defensive coordinator] and his defense put on them. Any flaw a guy has is going to get exposed and get exposed in the first 30 minutes of practice."

LSU's assistant coaches, quarterbacks and freshmen spoke with reporters on Sunday for the first and possibly only time this preseason, so Jennings, Harris and Cameron were among the day's busiest participants.

Head coach Les Miles said he is not rushing yet to name a starter between sophomore Jennings and freshman Harris as he wants to allow a competitive environment to thrive.

"I think the naming of a starter will be when one separates himself from the other. And when it's a real advantage to name him as a starter because he needs to recognize as does the team that this is where we're going," Miles said. "We're not there."

[+] EnlargeAnthony Jennings
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsCan sophomore Anthony Jennings secure the starting quarterback job out of preseason training?
Also the Tigers' quarterbacks coach, Cameron agreed with that philosophy. The longer true competition exists, the better off Jennings and Harris will be, he said.

"My job is to make this decision as tough on Les as possible," Cameron said. "What do you mean by that? Well, we've got two guys that we feel confident we can win with -- if not three, if not four. We're not coaching one guy more than the other hoping he's the guy."

Cameron might even find roles for both quarterbacks to fill.

He's best remembered for leading the game-winning touchdown drive against Arkansas after replacing injured Zach Mettenberger last season, but Jennings played in nine games -- including contests against TCU, Florida, Ole Miss, Texas A&M and his first start in the bowl win against Iowa -- in 2013.

Using him in spot duty made more sense because the dual-threat Jennings possesses a different skill set from Mettenberger, a prototypical dropback passer. However, Jennings and Harris are much more similar players.

Regardless, Cameron expressed confidence that whoever wins the competition will be ready to be successful once the opener against Wisconsin arrives on Aug. 30.

"I would say this confidently: we're going to have more than one quality starter here at LSU," Cameron said. "That's what we're charged with and we'll get that done."

Linebacker rotation?: Defensive coordinator John Chavis has rarely enjoyed the luxury that a deep group of linebackers might provide this season. Beyond starters Kwon Alexander, D.J. Welter and Lamar Louis, Chavis' position group runs two and three deep with quality players across the board -- and that might help not only on defense, but on special teams.

"If they're ready to play, we're going to play them. There's no question about that," Chavis said. "They're not any different than anybody else on our field. In an ideal situation, you'd like to have six starting linebackers and then they all could go play special teams and we could rest them on defense. Unfortunately we haven't been that way with depth.

"Is this a year that we can reach that? We're closer than we've been in the past."

In addition to players such as Deion Jones, Duke Riley and Ronnie Feist, Chavis has talented sophomore Kendell Beckwith trying to surpass Welter as the starting middle linebacker and one of the Tigers' top 2014 signees, Clifton Garrett, behind them.

It might be difficult to juggle, as there are only so many snaps to go around between the three linebacker spots. But Chavis seems confident that everyone who deserves to play will be on the field in some capacity.

"If you can go two deep and you don't have a drop-off, then that just makes your special teams even better," Chavis said.

No decisions on return men: Speaking of special teams, coach Bradley Dale Peveto said he is considering six candidates for the punt return and kickoff return jobs, but wasn't ready to identify them yet.

Tre'Davious White and Travin Dural are among the players known to be working at punt returner and Terrence Magee is among the kickoff return men.

"We had four great days in evaluating a lot of our team, got it down to six guys at each spot," Peveto said. "I don't really want to talk about that yet because we've got a great competition going on, but I'm going to tell you we've got enough. We've got some really good guys, some really talented young men who might compete for those positions."

Miles said earlier that Trent Domingue has taken over as the Tigers' kickoff specialist.

Right guard competition: Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes chuckled when asked how the right guard competition is shaking out.

"It's still shaking," Grimes said. "We'll let it go until somebody lays claim to it."

Seniors Fehoko Fanaika and Evan Washington have battled for the starting job at right guard, the lone spot where the Tigers lost a starting offensive lineman from 2013.

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