LSU's RB depth means ball carriers must be patient
Alfred Blue sometimes wonders whether he'd be breaking off more runs like the 45-yard touchdown he had last weekend if had he chosen to play somewhere other than LSU.
''I'm glad I'm here, though,'' said Blue, who is third on LSU's depth chart but is tied for the team lead in touchdowns rushing with six. ''I don't want to play to lose or just to play to have good stats. ... I never won a championship, so I came to LSU to do that.''
The No. 1 Tigers average 195.1 yards rushing, which ranks second in the Southeastern Conference behind Alabama.
However, playing running back at LSU requires patience. Coach Les Miles has shown he's willing to play five different tailbacks at any given time, and no LSU rusher averages as many as 65 yards per game.
''We expect that whoever's number we call, that he go to the field and give us some advantages,'' said Miles, whose team is 10-0 as it prepares to play at struggling Mississippi this Saturday night. ''It is one of the strengths of our football team that we can get into a game where a key drive late in the game can be manned by a guy that is talented, has fresh legs, can carry the ball and make you miss and plays a physical brand of football.''
Spencer Ware, a bruising back who punishes anyone who tackles him, leads the Tigers with 150 carries for 580 yards and six touchdowns. Next is Michael Ford, who has the speed to get to the outside and is the preferred running back when LSU runs the quarterback option with Jordan Jefferson. He has 101 carries for 575 yards and six touchdowns.
Blue, who like Ware and Ford is a sophomore, has carried 66 times for 375 yards. Then there are freshman backs Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee. Hilliard, who is 5-foot-11, 240 pounds, has become a regular in short-yardage situations and has four TDs. Magee, a former high school quarterback who one day could emerge as a wildcat threat, has played the least of LSU's top five tailbacks, but also has found the end zone this season.
''We've got a stable of backs,'' LSU offensive guard Will Blackwell said. ''It's got to be tough not being able to play every play, but ... guys come here knowing that's probably going to happen. We recruit the best.''
Blue said he has learned that the strengths and weaknesses of an opponent's defense - and not so much LSU's depth chart at running back - often has more to do with who gets the most carries in a particular game.
In LSU's 9-6 overtime win at Alabama, Ware was struggling to gain significant yardage against a Crimson Tide defense that is stout through the middle. And with Jefferson in the game at quarterback for most of the second half, LSU decided to attack the perimeter, and Ford wound up as LSU's leading rusher with 73 yards on 11 carries.
Last week against Western Kentucky, LSU got off to a sluggish start and led only 14-7 at halftime. Blue, who did not play in the first half, carried nine times for team-leading 119 yards in the last two quarters.
Blue said it can be ''a little'' frustrating watching an entire half from the sideline as he did last week, but added, ''You can't be greedy. You've just got to wait your turn and be humble, and when your time comes, you just seize the moment.''
In practice, meanwhile, competition among the running backs is intense as each one makes his case for as much playing time as possible.
''It's a lot of motivation,'' Blue said. ''We're all good backs and to win a championship you need depth in the backfield in case somebody gets hurt. Then you know you've got another one that can go in and get the job done, or two more or three more that can get the job done.
''We push each other every day to do great because we know we're trying to win a national championship,'' Blue added, ''and we know we've got to improve every week to get there.''