- Gary Laney, Reporter, GeauxTigerNation
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- The carries keep coming for LSU fullback J.C. Copeland.
After getting just two carries -- for no yards -- in his first two seasons, the junior already has two rushing touchdowns in his junior season with six carries for 35 yards in the first two games.
"I worked on it all summer," said Copeland, a converted defensive tackle. "I worked on catching the ball, hanging on to the ball, being a better overall player."
He had little background in anything involving ball skills. When offensive line coach (and now offensive coordinator) Greg Studrawa asked Copeland if he had ever played fullback during his freshman year, Copeland said he had in high school, but only as part of a "crazy package" his prep team put together. He embraced the move and got playing time, splitting time last season with senior James Stampley. But he was mostly called on to be a battering ram at the position.
This season, not only have his snaps gone up as he's become the unquestioned starter, but also because of a change of offensive focus. After the departure of Jordan Jefferson, a quarterback whose talents led to the Tigers running a lot of plays from the spread, LSU has been more of an I-formation team this season with drop-back passer Zach Mettenberger at quarterback. That means more plays for Copeland because fullbacks would normally not be part of the a spread personnel package.
LSU has run only 30 offensive plays this season that have not included the use of a fullback. Opponents have struggled to slow down a rushing attack averaging 5.7 yards a carry, most of which come behind Copeland, who has slimmed down to a still-powerful 272 pounds this season.
"It's great," running back Kenny Hilliard said of following Copeland. "A fullback, 270, in front of you, crushing linebackers ... you know what I'm saying? I'll run behind him any day of the week. I just love what he's doing."
Now, Copeland added ball skills to his game. With two touchdowns in two games on the ground, the next step would be to catch a pass, something coach Les Miles said is in his repertoire.
"He's capable," Miles said. "It's an advantage to have a guy who can run as well as he does and block as well as he does and, we'll see if we can get him some receptions because we really think he's that guy."
ULM provides lesson: Don't think for a minute that Louisiana-Monroe's upset of Arkansas won't be a topic of conversation at LSU this week as the Tigers prepare to play Idaho.
"I'm certain that it will be mentioned at our meetings," Miles said. "It's a great example in college football. There's one every year, like Appalachian State over Michigan to open the season (in 2007)."
Miles said the lesson from these games is simple:
"When these teams come in, you'd best come with the same intensity and play well," he said.
Mills shows competitive streak: True freshman cornerback Jalen Mills has shown a competitive streak in his first two games, especially when when he intercepted his first pass in LSU's 41-3 win over Washington last week.
Miles said the competitive nature of Mills, who became the starter after LSU dismissed Tyrann Mathieu from the team Aug. 10, was something the LSU staff saw on film when evaluating Mills when he was a high school star in DeSoto, Texas.
"You can see competitive nature on film," Miles said. "When the game gets close, the style of play that's being made by him, how he translates competition, you see it on film."
The question, Miles said, was about whether Mills would take that competitive streak with him to college, or whether he'd be "starry eyed and look to see where he fits."
The answer came quickly in August camp.
"For him, it happened right away," Miles said. "He came out, he's playing hard and aggressively."
And productively. With opponents generally avoiding junior Tharold Simon, Mills has seen plenty of action and has held up with an interception, one pass broken up and 11 tackles.
2dJeremy Crabtree and Brandon Chatmon