LSU coach: Leonard Fournette is ‘the best running back I’ve ever seen’

WPPROD

It was more than just a jaw-dropping highlight. It was a message. To his team. To their team. To the rest of college football.

When Leonard Fournette took a swing pass on a third-and-five and freight-trained poor Deontay Anderson of Ole Miss Saturday night in Death Valley, he reminded everyone who the most talented running back in the country is, but also added fuel to a fire that has started to rage around Louisiana.

“That was huge,” LSU interim head coach Ed Orgeron told FOX Sports Sunday. “When he ran over that dude–'Oh my God. That brought a different level of physicality to our team, to our sideline. That brought it to the entire stadium. It just erupted with energy, and you could see it kinda jolt the other sideline too. It did send a message.”

The play occurred on the last snap of the first quarter with the Tigers trailing 10-7. They had been outgained to that point. After that, LSU outscored Ole Miss 31-11 and outgained the Rebels 390-197.

Fournette has missed three games this season due to a bone bruise in his ankle, prompting many outsiders to suggest he should just shut it down for the rest of the season and save it for the NFL. After all, the Tigers had fallen out of the Top 25. Was there anything left to play for after their 2-2 start that cost beloved head coach Les Miles his job?

Fournette’s teammates have answered that challenge with two dominant performances, but Saturday night, it was the LSU star’s turn to make his own statement against an Ole Miss team that had thrashed the Tigers last year.

And, what a statement it was. Fournette smashed LSU’s single-game rushing record on his first eight carries, ripping off three runs of 59 yards or longer. He finished with 284 yards in a 38-21 romp over the No. 23 team in the country. He added another 25 receiving yards, including the play where he obliterated Anderson.

Orgeron told me that in three-plus decades in football, he’s never seen a back run as violently as Fournette does.

“It’s unbelievable the power he generates from his hips and lower body that comes up through his shoulders,” he said. “He’ll run over you, through you or he can run around you. He also can run by you and ‘outspeed' you.

“He’s the best running back I’ve ever seen. No question. He’s just so physical and so fast. He catches the ball well. He does everything.”

Orgeron also raved about Fournette’s character and competitive spirit. “He’s always been a leader. He’s emotional in the locker room. He worked his ass off to be out there (against Ole Miss on Saturday night). He’s nothing like some of these guys wanna think he is (that he would shut it down this season to save himself for his future NFL career).”

Orgeron said those who think that don’t grasp what playing for LSU means to Fournette.

“He’s like I am,” the native Louisianan said. “This is his state. He came to represent that state. It really does mean something to him. He feels connected to everybody.”

There were reports that Fournette had handed a game-ball to Orgeron for beating his old team. The interim LSU head man downplayed that on Sunday. “We don’t give out game-balls. This is all about our team. There is no ‘MVP. We’re all MVPs.”

RANDOM STUFF

*My sideline game this weekend for FOX was OU at Texas Tech, which set a record for most total yards with each team piling up a mind-boggling 854. The Red Raiders were 20-for-25 on third downs, many of which were third-and-long situations. I’ll have more on it in The Audible this week.

*Speaking of OU, think Baker Mayfield is happy to have speedy WR Dede Westbrook finally healed from the hamstring pull that slowed him for the first month of the season? Mayfield is averaging a gaudy 12.1 yards per attempt in four games this month and averaging 389 yards per game — almost 40 more than any other QB and is completing 76 percent (up from 65 percent last month). In October, Westbrook has 35 catches for 776 yards and 10 TDs. That’s more yards and almost three times as many TDs as Westbrook had in 13 games last year.

*No assistant coach may have had a better last two weeks than Tony Gibson. The WVU defensive coordinator held two of the nation’s Top 10 most prolific offenses — Texas Tech and TCU — to a combined 27 points in two blowout wins for the Mountaineers. They held Tech almost 300 yards below their season average and TCU to around 200 yards under.

*Cal lost the first pick in the draft in QB Jared Goff — and its top six leading receivers — yet the Bears are still averaging 44 points per game, almost a TD more than they did last year. They’ve also topped 40 points in six of their seven games. That’s already more than they did in all of last season. They’re also running the ball much better this season, up 30 spots nationally from ranking No. 92 in 2015. New OC Jake Spavital has, along with grad transfer QB Davis Webb, proven to be a great addition for coach Sonny Dykes.

*Best under-the-radar coaching job this fall: Wyoming’s Craig Bohl, who has the Cowboys at 5-2, one win less than he had in his first two seasons there after leading North Dakota State to FCS national titles.

*Stat of the Week: Stanford’s defense the past two weeks has scored 10 points — the same as the Cardinal offense. And it’s been a season-long funk for the Stanford offense, which has just 10 TDs this season. That’s three fewer TDs than Alabama’s scored from its defense and special teams.

*Stat of the Week, Take II: This is courtesy of the AP: Penn State is ranked in the Top 25 without Joe Paterno as its coach for the first time in 62 years.

*Stat of the Week, Take III: Auburn ran for a staggering 543 yards in its 56-3 blowout of Arkansas. That’s 106 more yards than South Carolina has run for in its five SEC games combined this season, and it’s also more than Arkansas, Vandy and Mizzou have gained in 2016 SEC competition.