Leonard Fournette missed LSU’s win over Missouri last week with an ankle injury that he re-aggravated during the final drive of the previous week’s loss at Auburn.
The junior running back for the Tigers will likely be on the bench again this week at Florida, according to interim head coach Ed Orgeron.
“It doesn’t look like Leonard is going to play,” Orgeron said during Wednesday’s teleconference. “We don’t know yet. He hasn’t practiced yet.”
He’s not the only Tiger who’ll miss time.
“I believe [center] Will Clapp will be out the next couple weeks,” Orgeron said. “I believe [tight end] Foster Moreau will be out, but I’m not sure about that.”
Despite the likely absence of their superstar running back and a few players up front who are integral to the success of the running game, the Tigers still have options behind first-year starter Danny Etling. Derrius Guice leads the Tigers with 402 rushing yards and four touchdowns this season, and has successfully stepped in for Fournette on a consistent basis.
“Wow,” Florida head coach Jim McElwain said of Guice.
But don’t be fooled by Guice or Fournette, because LSU vs. Florida won’t come down to the Tigers running game.
Florida’s defense is giving up just 90 rushing yards per game for an average of 2.5 yards per carry and will have enough success against LSU—no matter who the primary running back is—to force Etling to win a tough road game with his arm.
That’s where this game gets interesting, because LSU looked vastly different last week in the win over Missouri. In that game, the Tigers amassed a school record 634 total yards.
“The biggest thing was the use of formations, creating space with their playmakers and getting the ball out of [Etling‘s] hand,” McElwain said. “What that did, obviously, was lighten the box a little bit and allow the running game to really take over.”
Pass to set up the run? Former head coach Les Miles never did that.
The ability of Orgeron and new offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger to keep Florida off balance with passes on first down, unpredictable plays out of formations that have traditionally signaled running plays for LSU and Etling‘s ability to play smart against the stout Gator secondary will tell the tale of this rivalry game.
On the road in a hostile environment with weather and wind from Hurricane Matthew likely whipping around, Etling will have his work cut out for him.
The Mystery of Jalen Hurd
Tennessee running back Jalen Hurd was sidelined in the fourth quarter of last week’s 34-31 win over Georgia, but he made a cameo appearance on special teams on the kick return that set up the game-winning Hail Mary as time expired.
All appeared well Monday, when head coach Butch Jones said Hurd participated in practice, according to SEC Country‘s Jesse Simonton.
Things changed Wednesday.
“He’s day-to-day,” Jones said on the coaches teleconference.
Alvin Kamara has been used as a changeup back and a receiving threat out of the backfield in Jones’ multidimensional rushing attack, and he has 165 rushing yards on the season. But without Hurd to soften up the defense for Kamara and quarterback Joshua Dobbs, how effective can the Vols offense be against Texas A&M’s suddenly stout unit that’s giving up just 3.4 yards per carry?
If Hurd can’t go, sophomore John Kelly—a 5’9″, 212-pounder who has just three carries on the year—will likely take on more of the rushing responsibilities. But he’ll have big shoes to fill stepping in for the 6’4″, 240-pound Hurd.
The Best Is Yet to Come
Alabama currently ranks in the top five in the SEC in total offense (484.4 yards per game), yards per play (6.4), scoring (44 points per game, best in the SEC), explosive plays of 20 or more yards (29), red-zone scoring (95.7 percent), red-zone touchdown percentage (69.6 percent) and third-down conversions (48.7 percent), according to CFBStats.com.
That’s not good enough, according to head coach Nick Saban.
“We’re getting it in some ways, and I’m not disappointed in the progress that we’ve made, considering [freshman quarterback] Jalen Hurts’ experience and how well he’s been able to manage the offense,” Saban said Wednesday. “Some of the injuries that we’ve had at wide receiver have made it difficult for him to do that. We’d like to do it on more of a consistent basis.”
What’s scary is that really isn’t coach speak from Saban.
Running back Damien Harris got banged up two weeks ago after a breakout game against Ole Miss. It hasn’t clicked for Bo Scarbrough yet. Receiver ArDarius Stewart missed the last two-plus games due to injury. Tight end O.J. Howard hasn’t been a huge part of the offensive game plan downfield. Meanwhile, Cam Sims has been banged up for about a month.
Hurts hasn’t hit double-digit carries (sacks included) in back-to-back games since rushing 18 times for 146 yards in the Week 3 win over Ole Miss. That was likely by design, as Alabama has cruised over Kent State and Kentucky.
The Tide won’t have that luxury when they face tougher competition, and that starts this week at Arkansas. Next week, they’ll visit Tennessee before returning home to take on Texas A&M in Week 8.
Alabama’s offense is just fine right now.
“Fine” is only the beginning, though.
In September 2015, Auburn pulled starting quarterback Jeremy Johnson after three games in favor of Sean White. White responded by going 20-of-28 against Mississippi State, albeit in a loss on the Plains.
He’ll get a chance at revenge this week in Starkville, Mississippi, when White and the Tigers look to keep the offensive momentum going against a Bulldogs defense that has had two weeks to prepare for the sophomore signal-caller.
“He’s a guy who understands the offense, and you can see why they like him,” said Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen. “He makes good reads, takes care of the football, throws the ball very well. He adds the component of the dropback pass that they haven’t had in their offense a lot.”
While a lot of the talk after Auburn’s 18-13 win over LSU centered around its red-zone struggles, White did throw for 234 yards against a good LSU secondary and had to deal with several key drops that could have pushed him closer to 300 yards. He followed that up by completing 82.4 percent of his passes (14 out of 17) for 239 yards and two touchdowns last week against Louisiana-Monroe.
A performance like that against Louisiana-Monroe isn’t enough to turn heads, but when it’s the second act of a pretty strong performance the previous week against “DBU,” it matters.
If White and the Tigers can continue rolling this weekend in Starkville, it’ll give them a solid foundation to work with heading into the bye week and the SEC stretch run.
I Love You, I Hate You, I Can’t Live Without You
Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher kicked up a popular offseason talking point this week, when he openly criticized offenses that heavily utilize run-pass options (RPOs) that give quarterbacks the option to run or pass during the play based on the defense the quarterback sees.
“The rules are bent for them,” Fisher said, according to AL.com’s James Crepea. “It’s illegal. What you do now on offense is illegal. It should never be a part of football, and I’m an offensive guy. When you can have linemen go three yards down the field and it is a pass, something is wrong with that.”
Saban has been one of the most vocal critics of RPOs within the SEC and again voiced his displeasure with the practice Wednesday, while also recognizing it’s a fact of life in this day and age and praising the officials’ increased focus on linemen illegally venturing downfield.
“It’s difficult to see when the ball is thrown relative to where everybody is,” said Saban. “But it is tough on defensive players when a player comes downfield to block on a pass play. It’s been that way for a while, and we coach our players to recognize and react as best they can. Everybody’s trying to do a good job of managing this.”
What’s interesting is that, with the increased attention being paid to linemen getting downfield, heavy RPO teams have reacted by giving their linemen more of a heads-up at the line of scrimmage so they at least have a small hint which option will be utilized.
“A lot of teams are adding things to their calls that alert linemen that there’s a possibility that the ball might be thrown downfield based on the run call,” McElwain said. “With that being said—and I’m only talking straight personally—as a guy who grew, I was told that the only time you could have a lineman downfield is when you had a ball completed behind the line of scrimmage.”
The best coaches in the game are having it both ways—as they should—by recognizing that they have to have RPOs in their repertoire, while also fighting behind the scenes for what they feel is best for the game.
“We do it, because we’re allowed to,” McElwain said. “Until we’re told that we can’t, and then we’ll go back to the way the game was intended to be played.”
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.
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Source: Bleacher Report -SEC Football