LSU's Leonard Fournette bursts to the forefront in Heisman race

LSU's Leonard Fournette bursts to the forefront in Heisman race

September 23rd, 2015 by David Paschall in Sports - College

LSU running back Leonard Fournette knocks over Auburn's Blake Countess during a 40-yard touchdown run last Saturday in Baton Rouge.

Photo by Gerald Herbert

Auburn wrote the book last week on how not to defend LSU sophomore tailback Leonard Fournette.

Leading up to last Saturday's showdown of nationally ranked teams, Auburn safety Johnathan Ford provided motivation by claiming it "shouldn't be difficult" to slow the 6-foot-1, 230-pounder from New Orleans.

"I laughed at it," Fournette said Saturday evening in a news conference. "Words are words, and this game is about playing."

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Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Saturday's SEC schedule

Noon: Southern at Georgia, SEC Network

Noon: LSU at Syracuse ESPN

Noon: UCF at South Carolina, ESPNU

3:30: Tennessee at Florida, CBS

4: UL-Monroe at Alabama, SEC Network

7: Vanderbilt at Ole Miss, ESPNU

7: Texas A&M vs. Arkansas, ESPN

7:30: Missouri at Kentucky, SEC Network

7:30: Miss. State at Auburn, ESPN2

Fournette raced 71 yards on LSU's first play from scrimmage and racked up a career-high 228 yards on 19 carries as the homestanding Tigers rolled to a 45-21 victory. Two other Auburn defensive backs, Blake Countess and Tray Matthews, took different approaches in trying to tackle Fournette, with each getting humbled by the runaway freight train.

Countess got plowed over on a 40-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter, and Matthews attempted to tackle him high but crashed to the ground on a 29-yard score early in the third. At least those two tried, as footage from the game revealed a play showing the outspoken Ford wanting no part of Fournette.

"I'll tell you one thing: Leonard sure likes playing," a jubilant LSU coach Les Miles said in his postgame news conference. "He did some things today where I said, 'Wow!' He took one of their tacklers (Nick Ruffin) and threw him into another tackler (Jonathan Jones) and still came out on the other end.

"When you have a big back who can really move his feet, at times it can be very difficult to tackle him."

Fournette's performance against the preseason pick to win the Southeastern Conference has vaulted him to the forefront of the Heisman Trophy conversation. Fournette has the best odds currently of winning college football's top individual award, and ESPN has him atop a list with Georgia tailback Nick Chubb second and TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin third.

A running back hasn't won the Heisman since Alabama's Mark Ingram in 2009, but the former five-star prospect already has made up for lost time.

LSU had its opening game Sept. 5 against McNeese State canceled by lightning, which scratched an opportunity for Fournette to compile some early stats. He has rushed for 387 yards the past two weeks against Mississippi State and Auburn and has more yardage than any tailback in the SEC other than Chubb, another super sophomore who has 468 yards in three games.

Fournette averaged 5.7 yards per carry in Starkville and 12.0 last Saturday, when he sat out the fourth quarter.

"He gets everybody going," redshirt freshman guard Will Clapp told reporters Saturday. "When he's able to make that extra man miss and get the extra 10 or 15 yards or maybe even a touchdown, that's something that gets us going and makes us appreciate how hard he runs."

Said Auburn's Jones: "He's a good back. You have to give him credit."

Fournette struck a Heisman pose last September in LSU's second game against Sam Houston State, a gesture for which he apologized to teammates afterward. His candidacy for this season arguably started in December, when he had an 89-yard touchdown run and a 100-yard kickoff return in a Music City Bowl loss to Notre Dame.

At the SEC meetings in July, Fournette was asked about the Heisman and quickly admitted that he considers Chubb the better back.

"The thing that makes him special is that he's a very humble man," Miles said in Monday's news conference. "He's a great teammate. He wants us to achieve as a group, and his teammates enjoy him."

Fournette has produced a more dazzling highlight reel than Chubb and everybody else so far this season. His Tigers travel to Syracuse this week and remain out of conference next week when Eastern Michigan visits, so he won't have quite the stage as last week.

His biggest showcase could be the Nov. 7 trip to Alabama.

"I was just feeding off of the crowd and the loud noises," Fournette said after shredding Auburn. "The Oline said they were counting on me, so I put the team on my back."

And Auburn's Matthews, too, at least for a split-second.

"I can't explain that one," Fournette said. "I was about to jump over him. I thought he was going to come low. Actually, he jumped over me.

"Making them miss — that's my job."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.