LSU interim head coach Ed Orgeron noticed something different from his star running back Leonard Fournette this week in practice.
No, the 6-foot-1, 235-pound back has not changed his powerful running style that saw him completely run over Ole Miss defensive back Deontay Adams en route to breaking an LSU single-game record 284 yards against the Rebels two weeks ago. In the words of Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster, Fournette still “brings the pain” on every run.
What Orgeron noticed about Fournette heading into No. 13 LSU’s matchup against No. 1 Alabama on Saturday is how much his starting running back wants redemption against the Crimson Tide.
“He’s probably the most motivated guy on the team, to be honest with you,” Orgeron said Wednesday morning on the SEC teleconference. “I heard him this week in leadership, he has spoken to the team and will speak to the team again. His want-to to have success against Alabama is as high as any player I’ve seen.”
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Despite his illustrious college career, Fournette has been underwhelming in his two previous games against Alabama. The Tide dominated Fournette last season in Bryant-Denny Stadium, holding him to 31 yards on 19 carries. The year before that, he was the recipient of a massive hit by Foster on the last play of regulation in an overtime loss in Tiger Stadium.
The fact that Fournette is said to be extra motivated for Saturday’s game against Alabama come as no surprise to Tide players.
“I’d hope he’d come out that way, and I’m expecting it,” Alabama defensive end Jonathan Allen said. “And I’m going to be ready for it.”
Alabama head coach Nick Saban said Saturday’s matchup is not going to be a “trick-em” game, meaning most of the battles will be won by physical play up front. The Tide’s plan for stopping Fournette isn’t too complicated either — just beat the man in front of you and clog up any potential running lanes. Through eight games this season, Alabama has been the nation’s best team at stopping the run, holding opponents to 70.13 yards per game
“If you can dominate the line of scrimmage, you can stop almost every back,” Allen said. “So as a defense we always plan on dominating and controlling the line of scrimmage.”
Don’t get Allen wrong, Alabama knows Fournette isn’t just any back. Playing in just four games due to injury this season, Fournette leads LSU with 670 yards on 83 carries, an average of 8.07 per attempt. During his Monday news conference, Saban referred to Fournette as “probably one of the most dynamic running backs that has played in college football for awhile.”
Coming off the best performance of his career against Ole Miss, Fournette has gained more than 100 yards in all four games he’s played this season. At this time last year, he had a similar streak, ripping off seven straight games with more than 150 yards heading into the game against Alabama.
Fournette entered that game as the Heisman front-runner before the Tide all but ended his chances of the award, propelling Alabama running back Derrick Henry to win the honor. Despite missing three games this season, Orgeron believes his star back is still in the running for the Heisman this year.
“When you look at the things he did last week, it puts him in consideration, obviously it’s not his fault that he was hurt,” Orgeron said. “If there’s a better player in the country, I’d like to see him.”
Saturday, in a primetime matchup against the nation’s stingiest defense, Fournette will get a chance to make his case.
“He’s definitely different,” Allen said. “He’s going to come with it now, but so are we. Like I said, we’re excited. We can’t wait to get it going.”