Things haven’t gone quite as planned for LSU running back Leonard Fournette.
The junior hasn’t played or practiced since Sept. 24 against Auburn when re-injuring his ankle, which was also sprained during the Tigers’ season opener against Wisconsin, forcing him to miss the team’s Week 2 matchup against Jacksonville State.
So far, Fournette has only played in three games and has been limited to just 386 yards and 2 touchdowns on 67 carries. He trails sophomore Derrius Guice’s 402 yards and 4 touchdowns for the most among LSU backs, despite Fournette having 21 more rushing attempts.
That’s a far cry from the expectations many had for Fournette entering the season. Along with Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, the LSU junior was one of the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy. He was a shoe-in to lead the SEC in rushing yards and was arguably the best returning player in college football.
But, like LSU’s team, Fournette hasn’t quite had the season many expected. Still, that shouldn’t tarnish his legacy as one of the all-time best backs in LSU history.
Fournette is averaging 5.8 yards per carry and an SEC-best 128.7 yards per game. So he’s still been outstanding when he’s been healthy enough to play.
It didn’t help that Guice and Darrel Williams played extremely well in his absence. Each back recorded 130 or more yards and 3 touchdowns against Missouri in Week 5. But it’s easy to assume Fournette would have done the same against the Tigers, as would’ve been the case against Jacksonville State.
The 6-foot-1, 235-pound back has recorded more than 100 yards in each of his three appearances. At that rate, Fournette would still be a top-five rusher in the SEC.
But let’s look at the bigger picture here. How does Fournette stack up in LSU folklore even with his injury-plagued season?
Fournette faced high expectations even before playing his first down of college football. The former five-star prospect was the No. 1 overall consensus player for the 2014 national signing class. He even drew comparisons to former NFL MVP Adrian Peterson before playing his first game.
Fournette carried the load of LSU’s offense during his true freshman season and recorded 1,034 yards and 10 touchdowns on 187 rushing attempts. In 2015, he recorded 1,953 yards and 22 touchdowns on 300 carries, which earned a sixth-place Heisman finish and put him fourth in LSU history with 2,987 rushing yards.
Fournette currently has 3,373 career yards, which is 1,184 yards shy of Kevin Faulk’s career record. That’s still an obtainable feat once Fournette returns, even though that may not be this week.
“No, he’s not ready. He’s just not ready,” interim coach Ed Orgeron said via The Advocate. “It’s taking a little longer than we thought. I’m sure if he’d be ready, he’d be playing. He’s not ready to even practice right now.”
And why would you rush Fournette back against a team like Southern Miss, a three-touchdown underdog, with two other capable running backs healthy? The former five-star prospect needs time to heal, as proven by him getting hurt again after being rushed back into action earlier this season.
But regardless of whether he breaks Faulk’s record or never plays another down of college football, Fournette will remain one of the best running backs in LSU history.
Faulk needed four years to set the school record, while Fournette is still capable of breaking it in arguably the best three-year stretch by a running back in program history.
Hopefully, we’ll get to see Fournette finish his college career strong and make a successful return. Despite not winning a Heisman or playing for a national championship, the former No. 1 overall prospect managed to live up to lofty expectations and have an outstanding legacy at LSU, regardless of how it ends.
Source: Saturday Down South