LSU Tigers: Terrence Magee
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Jalen Collins was shocked to learn at the NFL scouting combine that he had a fractured right foot.
For his sake, thankfully the combine medical staff still allowed Collins to participate, and he delivered one of the most impressive performances of any cornerback at the event despite the injury.
The former LSU cornerback, whom some draft analysts project as a first-round pick, recently underwent surgery to repair an incomplete Jones fracture in his foot. It prevented him from participating in LSU’s pro day on Friday, but should only sideline him for about three more weeks.
“When I first found out, I was kind of disappointed because I didn’t think I was going to be able to work out at the combine,” Collins said. “When my name wasn’t on the list of people that had to sit out, I was excited to hear that.
“Just after the combine workouts I just went into it [thinking] this is something that I have to get done -- a little speed bump, but it shouldn’t be too hard to come back from.”
The foot surgery is about the only disappointing aspect of the three months since Collins declared for the draft. He started seven games last season as a junior and just 10 in his entire college career, but Collins’ combination of ideal size (6-foot-2, 198 pounds) and raw tools helped him vault up the list of prospects at his position.
Not bad for a guy who was advised to stay in college when he submitted his name to the NFL underclassman advisory board to be evaluated as a possible draft entrant. Undaunted, Collins had faith in his own abilities. Those abilities have him sitting 24th on ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.’s Big Board and ranking as Kiper’s No. 3 cornerback.
“I was honestly just hoping for the best,” Collins said of his decision to enter the draft. “Everybody wants to be in the first round, obviously, but coming in, I really didn’t have any prior expectations. I was just going to do what I could do and hope for the best.”
Following his combine performance, where he ran a 4.48-second time in the 40-yard dash and finished among the top cornerbacks in several other drills while performing well during positional exercises, Collins has reason for optimism.
Collins said he already has interviews lined up with nine or 10 NFL clubs, starting with the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars next week. Once his foot heals, he will surely have several more individual workouts with interested suitors ahead of the April 30 draft.
“It really has [been a whirlwind],” Collins said. “Leading up to the combine and just kind of working out, not really having any idea what would happen, just, ‘I’m going to work hard, do what I can.’ And then after the combine, it’s like, ‘Wow, this is really happening.’ ”
While Collins was unable to participate on Friday, 22 former LSU players were able to compete in front of approximately 100 scouts and coaches representing every NFL club.
Offensive tackle La'el Collins -- another possible first-round pick -- was among them, although he stood on the numbers he posted at the combine and participated only in positional drills alongside former teammates Elliott Porter, Fehoko Fanaika and Evan Washington.
Linebacker Kwon Alexander, whose 4.55 time in the 40 was among the fastest for linebackers at the combine, participated only in the shuttle run and positional drills. Defensive end Danielle Hunter did all of the events and drills on Friday except the 40 -- he ran the fastest time of any defensive lineman at the combine at 4.57 -- and the bench press after completing 25 reps at the combine.
“I felt great [at the combine],” said Hunter, who injured himself at the combine while running his second 40. “I had a little hamstring injury and I didn’t want to do all the drills, so I just waited until pro day to do most of the drills.”
But Hunter was pleased with his showing on Friday, when he posted the best numbers out of all of the day’s participants in the 20-yard shuttle run (4.31 seconds), three-cone drill (6.95 seconds), broad jump (10 feet, 10.5 inches) and vertical jump (36.5 inches). ESPN Scouts Inc.’s No. 77 overall prospect and Kiper’s No. 9 defensive end, Hunter participated in positional drills at both end and linebacker.
“I got the times I needed,” Hunter said. “I showed what I can show in my drills. My hips, they could be a little better.”
The aforementioned foursome -- Jalen Collins, La'el Collins, Alexander and Hunter -- has already solidified positions as LSU’s top draft prospects, but several other Tigers needed strong performances on Friday in order to help themselves.
Two such players were running backs Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard. Magee did not run the 40 at the combine after injuring his hamstring at a postseason all-star game, and Hilliard probably wished he hadn’t run in Indianapolis after posting a 4.83. He fared much better on Friday, posting a 4.6, while Magee ran a 4.56.
“I heard a couple different things. I heard 4.6 and I heard 4.5, but I’m glad with either one,” Hilliard said. “I just wanted to improve here from the combine and that’s what I came out here and did.”
Receiver Quantavius Leslie posted the fastest 40 time of the day (4.45), while Porter completed the most bench press reps (34). For a full list of results, see the pro day page on LSU’s official athletics site here.
A half-dozen signees from ESPN’s No. 2-rated class -- including Leonard Fournette, Jamal Adams, Malachi Dupre and Davon Godchaux -- became instant-impact freshmen, and most of the 23-man class contributed in some capacity.
LSU’s newest crop of signees does not face the same pressure to make an immediate impact since the Tigers weren’t hit by the NFL draft as hard as they had been in recent years. That said, there are still several players in this class who seem likely to play right away.
Here is an early attempt at identifying some of those players:
Arden Key: LSU loses both of its starting defensive ends in Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco, and the candidates to replace them are largely unproven. The Tigers also need to bolster their pass rush after totaling just 19 sacks last fall. Enter Key, who LSU coach Les Miles described as a “pass-rush specialist” and who defensive line coach Ed Orgeron compared to former Tigers star Barkevious Mingo.
Miles and Orgeron both predicted on signing day that Key, ESPN’s No. 24 overall prospect and No. 6 defensive end, will immediately help address the Tigers’ needs at end.
“It’s the school that he always wanted to come to and you could just tell when he walked into Tiger Stadium, he’s a cat, he’s a Tiger, we’re glad to have him,” Orgeron said. “He’s quick-twitch, long levers. We expect him to play next year and we expect him to work very hard this spring and this summer to be ready.”
Tyron Johnson: Wide receiver was not a huge position of need in this class, but of course LSU still wanted Johnson. ESPN rated the New Orleans native as the top player in Louisiana as well as the No. 30 overall prospect and No. 3 wideout.
“His signing sends a message to the state and to the rest of our young guys that if you’re best, you need to come to LSU, because frankly, we'll play you,” Miles said.
Cornerbacks: LSU has playing time available in the secondary following the departures of safety Ronald Martin and cornerbacks Jalen Collins and Rashard Robinson. A newcomer might not jump straight into the starting lineup, but it seems likely that at least one of them will see regular action. The question is which member of the group -- one of the nation’s best collections of defensive back signees -- will make the cut?
Kevin Toliver II, ESPN’s No. 10 overall prospect and only five-star signee in LSU’s class, seems like the safest bet since he is already enrolled and will participate in spring practice. But Donte Jackson also has star potential, and Miles said that the speedster might contribute as a return man and on offense.
Don’t forget about Xavier Lewis and Jeremy Cutrer, either. Cutrer was committed to LSU in 2013 but had to spend the last two years at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College when he failed to qualify. He’s exceptionally athletic, which could help him become an immediate contributor if he makes the grade and enrolls at LSU later this year.
“It’s a standard of excellence we look for at that position group,” LSU recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson said. “The guys that we went after fit the bill. We feel that they can come in and contribute very early. Patrick Peterson charged us with that problem in 2010 with a young Tharold Simon, Tyrann Mathieu, Eric Reid, and we’ve tried to hold that standard in recruiting at that position group.”
Running backs: Also the Tigers’ running backs coach, Wilson filled a major need by adding three players to his position group. LSU did not have a scholarship fullback on the roster after losing Connor Neighbors and Melvin Jones, so getting the versatile David Ducre (another early enrollee) was a coup.
Wilson also lost veterans Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee, leaving Fournette and Darrel Williams as his only scholarship tailbacks prior to signing day. In signing Derrius Guice and Nick Brossette, LSU added two of the state’s top prospects -- both of whom seem likely to help right away because of LSU’s tendency to rotate backs.
“We didn’t have any scholarship fullbacks, so we needed to address that need at that position group,” Wilson said. “And then we have two sophomores and bring in two freshmen [at tailback]. It gives us some leeway some next year where it’s not a position of demand in next year’s class.
“But we like where we’re at in that, only because it gives you quality depth and it’s not stacked. At times we’ve been as high as six, so four is a good number for us because the rotation becomes realistic.”
Leonard Fournette did not live up to preseason Heisman Trophy buzz last fall, but he still set LSU’s freshman rushing record with 1,034 yards. Now, with seniors Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard working to earn NFL roster spots, Fournette is in position to become the Tigers’ feature back as a sophomore.
“I talked to Leonard and his mindset is very strong right now,” offensive lineman Vadal Alexander said on Jan. 16 after announcing his decision to return for his senior season. “He’s ready to go back to work. I talked to him actually today walking from class and he’s ready to go. We’re ready to make this offense explosive. Along with him and the whole offense, we’re ready to do big things.”
During his freshman season, Fournette displayed glimpses of the potential that made him ESPN’s top overall prospect in the 2014 recruiting class. His 264 all-purpose yards (including 143 rushing yards and a 100-yard kickoff return touchdown) in a bowl loss to Notre Dame made for one of the most dynamic performances in LSU postseason history, and his power running was the driving force in key SEC wins against Florida and Texas A&M.
If he and fellow sophomore Darrel Williams take a step forward like their former teammates expect, LSU’s running game should remain in good shape.
“But I know once Kenny and Terrence leave, Darrel’s role is going to expand. He’s a hell of a back just like Leonard is. He just has to wait his turn. It’s hard when your classmate is the same age and gets a little more playing time. I know how that feels. But once he steps up, it’s going to be great.”
Williams was the less-heralded prospect out of LSU’s 2014 running back signees but became a valuable reserve, particularly in short-yardage situations. Magee agreed with Neighbors’ assessment that Williams’ role should expand, partially because of LSU’s traditional philosophy of spreading around the carries and partially because of Williams’ ability to avoid fumbling.
“It’s always running back by committee here,” Magee said. “Since he’s been here, the biggest thing that I’ve seen about him, he does a great job of taking care of the ball. Since he’s been here, I can only remember him fumbling the ball twice. That plays a big part in playing running back -- you’ve got to take care of the ball. He does a great job in pass protection, so I think he’s going to find his way on the field very easily next year on third downs as well as first and second down.”
The biggest question surrounding the group will be depth. Neighbors and Melvin Jones are out of the picture, leaving John David Moore as the Tigers’ only player with game experience at fullback. And with Magee and Hilliard completing their eligibility, Fournette and Williams will be entrusted with helping verbal commits Derrius Guice and Nick Brossette get ready to play as freshmen.
“I know they’re going to bring in two great young freshmen and hopefully they can learn from Darrel and Leonard and be able to contribute to the team next year,” Magee said.
It helps that David Ducre, who can play fullback and tailback, is already on campus as an early enrollee. Perhaps he wasn’t as high-profile a prospect as LSU’s tailback commits, but LSU believes it got a steal in Ducre, whose versatility could make him an immediate weapon.
The most important figure will be Fournette, though. He should be the centerpiece of LSU’s offense in 2015, and based on his performances when LSU continuously fed him the ball in 2014, that should be a good thing for the Tigers.
Returning players: TB: Leonard Fournette (187 carries, 1,034 yards, 10 TDs; 7 receptions, 127 yards; 1,786 all-purpose yards), Darrel Williams (64-302, 3 TDs; 6-63 receiving). FB: John David Moore (No carries).
Departed players: TB: Terrence Magee (112-571, 3 TDs; 17-171 receiving), Kenny Hilliard (90-447, 6 TDs; 4-35 receiving). FB: Connor Neighbors (No carries, 4-27 receiving), Melvin Jones (4-12; 5-22 receiving, TD).
Committed prospects: TB: Derrius Guice (No. 8 RB, No. 96 overall on ESPN 300, four stars), Nick Brossette (No. 12 RB, No. 121 overall, four stars). FB: David Ducre (No. 35 RB, four stars, early enrollee). ESPN lists Fournette's younger brother Lanard, who committed to LSU over the weekend, as a running back (No. 100 at the position, three stars), but it's possible that he will play receiver in college.
Outlook: This will be a young bunch with seniors Magee, Hilliard and Neighbors completing their eligibility. Fournette’s presence obviously solidifies the position, but the Tigers will enter the season with very little experience at fullback and only Fournette and Williams with on-field work at tailback. Ducre will get a leg up by participating in spring practice and tailback commits Guice and Brossette should have a chance to contribute as freshmen should they sign with the Tigers next month.
S Jamal Adams
What he did: Adams totaled four tackles on Saturday against Arkansas.
What it means: A week after making his first start, Adams came off the bench against Arkansas. He still played plenty and should be in line for extensive playing time in the finale against Texas A&M.
WR Malachi Dupre
What he did: Dupre caught one pass for 6 yards against Arkansas.
What it means: Only two Tigers (Travin Dural and Terrence Magee) caught more than once pass, so that's not a big deal as it relates to Dupre. It's not a particularly positive sign about the Tigers' passing game, however.
RB Leonard Fournette
What he did: Fournette started at tailback and ran five times for 9 yards against Arkansas. He did not catch a pass or return a kickoff.
What it means: LSU coach Les Miles said after the game that Fournette was not injured, but that the plays they might have called for the star freshman tailback were not working. The Tigers struggled with their typical play-calling patterns since starting offensive linemen Vadal Alexander and Elliott Porter were out for all or most of the game.
DT Davon Godchaux
What he did: Godchaux started for the seventh straight game at defensive tackle and registered five tackles and two quarterback hurries.
What it means: Godchaux and LSU's defense were fine against the Razorbacks. Arkansas ran 38 times for just 95 yards (2.5 yards per carry) and totaled just 264 yards of total offense. It was an OK performance by the Tigers' defense, but the offense was so anemic that it wasn't nearly enough to win the game.
RB Darrel Williams
What he did: Williams ran six times for 16 yards on Saturday. He also returned a kickoff for a 21-yard gain.
What it means: With senior Kenny Hilliard out of the lineup, Williams played a more active role in the offense. It didn't matter much since the Tigers were unable to generate much on the ground -- Williams' 16 rushing yards were second on the team behind Magee's 24 -- but Williams will probably play an active role against Texas A&M if Hilliard remains out.
Here are four key storylines to watch as kickoff approaches:
Snow Tigers: The weather could become a major storyline in this game, and it will be interesting to see whether it impacts the style of play in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
As of Thursday afternoon, the weather forecast for Saturday’s game called for temperatures in the 20s at kickoff along with a 10 percent chance of snow.
If that prediction comes through, it would be the coldest game in Les Miles’ tenure as the Tigers’ coach. To date, the coldest temperature at kickoff since Miles arrived at LSU in 2005 was 43 degrees for a 2005 game at Ole Miss. The Tigers have played just three games under Miles in which the temperature was 50 degrees or cooler at kickoff (the others were 47 degrees for a 2012 game at Arkansas and 50 degrees for a 2008 home game against Troy).
It could also be the coldest LSU game from at least the last 40 years. According to LSU’s online archive of box scores, the coldest temperature at kickoff since 1974 was 31 degrees for the 1992 LSU-Arkansas game in Fayetteville. The Tigers played 28 games in that timespan when the temperature was 50 degrees or cooler at kickoff and just seven when it was 40 or cooler.
Run and run some more: If it does snow, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see two run-heavy teams rely even more heavily on the ground game.
ESPN Stats & Information reports that LSU has run the ball an SEC-high 67 percent of the time this season, and its rushing success seems to have a correlation to its wins and losses. The Tigers are 5-0 when they rush for at least 200 yards and 2-3 when they do not.
Likewise, Arkansas has run for more than 200 yards in all four of its wins, but it has broken the 200-yard mark just once in its five losses (in an overtime loss to Texas A&M).
So if Arkansas’ backfield duo of Jonathan Williams (137 carries, 877 yards, 10 TDs) and Alex Collins (134-840, 10 TDs) enjoys more success moving the ball on the ground than LSU’s Leonard Fournette (152-736, 7 TDs) and Terrence Magee (81-447, 3 TDs), the Razorbacks are likely the favorite to win. LSU senior Kenny Hilliard (87-431, 6 TDs) is questionable to play after injuring his shoulder against Alabama last Saturday.
Loading the box: The worse the weather, the more likely it will be that the two defenses crowd the line of scrimmage to defend the run. That would be nothing new for the three top running backs in this game.
Fournette (67) has the most carries of any SEC back against defenses with eight or more defenders in the box. Williams (59) and Collins (56) are next in line behind the Tigers’ star freshman.
ESPN Stats & Information reports that Fournette is averaging 4.1 yards per carry against defenses with eight or more men in the box and 5.4 yards per carry against seven or fewer defenders.
LSU defense trending upward: It didn’t seem like it at the time, but the Tigers’ 41-7 loss to Auburn was a turning point in their season – particularly for their run defense.
In LSU’s first three games against Power 5 opponents (Wisconsin, Mississippi State and Auburn), the Tigers surrendered 289.3 rushing yards per game. In the last four games (Florida, Kentucky, Ole Miss and Alabama), LSU gave up 109.3 rushing yards per game.
They have done an excellent job of shutting down drives in a hurry, too. Overall, LSU has forced 46 three-and-outs this season, which is tied for third in the FBS. Of those 46 three-and-outs, 18 came in the last four games – seven of which were by Alabama last week.
Defensive end Danielle Hunter (24 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss) was a key figure in that four-game stretch, as were weakside linebacker Kwon Alexander (31 tackles, 5 TFLs), middle linebacker Kendell Beckwith (30 tackles, 2 TFLs) and defensive end Jermauria Rasco (28 tackles, 2 TFLs).
In the last three games, LSU’s defense has allowed just two touchdowns in regulation: passes by Ole Miss and Alabama. The Tigers haven’t surrendered a rushing touchdown since the first quarter of the Florida game on Oct. 11.
Here is a recap of their performances against the Crimson Tide:
S Jamal Adams
What he did: With LSU opening in a nickel defense, Adams earned his first career start. He had a relatively quiet night, finishing with two tackles.
What it means: Regardless, Adams is already one of LSU’s most valuable special-teams players and is quickly developing into a defensive star. He was already playing a bigger role on defense prior to cornerback Rashard Robinson’s indefinite suspension, which LSU announced prior to kickoff. If Robinson remains sidelined, that might mean even more playing time for Adams.
WR Malachi Dupre
What he did: Dupre ended a two-game drought without a catch by hauling in a one-handed touchdown catch in the first quarter. The 14-yard grab was Dupre’s only catch of the night, although he was also the intended receiver on Anthony Jennings’ fourth-down incomplete pass in overtime.
What it means: The touchdown catch was one of LSU’s top offensive highlights, but Dupre and fellow freshman Trey Quinn also had some crucial drops on third down. Those missed opportunities came back to bite the Tigers when Alabama rallied to tie and then win in overtime.
RB Leonard Fournette
What he did: Fournette came off the bench for the first time in four games, but still finished as the Tigers’ leading rusher. He ran 21 times for 79 tough yards and also returned a pair of kickoffs for a total of 45 yards.
What it means: Fournette is up to 736 rushing yards for the season, so he should have an opportunity to crack the 1,000-yard mark as a true freshman. He has been the Tigers’ leading rusher in eight of the past nine games and has clearly established himself as the top option in the backfield.
DT Davon Godchaux
What he did: Godchaux started at defensive tackle for the sixth straight game and finished with three tackles and half a tackle for loss.
What it means: He was particularly effective in LSU’s dominant third quarter, when he and Kwon Alexander once combined to stop T.J. Yeldon for a short gain and later when he and Danielle Hunter stopped Yeldon for a 2-yard loss later in the quarter. On the same series, Godchaux pressured Alabama quarterback Blake Sims into an incomplete pass.
RB Darrel Williams
What he did: With Kenny Hilliard sidelined by a shoulder injury, Williams emerged as a third option out of the backfield during the second half. He ran five times for 14 yards and also caught a pass for an 8-yard gain.
What it means: Williams doesn’t get a ton of touches, but he frequently makes good things happen when the Tigers put the ball in his hands. He spelled Fournette and Terrence Magee nicely in the second half and kept a fourth-quarter drive alive by converting a third-and-short with a 5-yard run.
The Tigers once again got major contributions from a host of true freshmen in the contest. Here is a recap of what those freshmen accomplished:
S Jamal Adams
What he did: Adams tied with safety Ronald Martin for the most tackles out of the LSU secondary with five. He also tied cornerback Jalen Collins for the team lead with three pass breakups.
What it means: Adams continues to stand out at safety in the Tigers’ nickel and dime defensive packages and also on special teams. He also attempted another of his famous flops when Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace drove a shoulder into Adams’ chest along the Rebels’ sideline. As when Adams flopped after a nudge from Florida’s Andre Debose two weeks ago, Wallace’s shoulder bump earned him a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.
WR Malachi Dupre
What he did: Dupre came off the bench at wideout and played extensively but did not record a catch against Ole Miss.
What it means: This was the second straight game Dupre failed to notch a single reception. He hasn’t had more than one catch in a game since a three-reception outing against New Mexico State Sept. 27. He’s still second on the team with 257 receiving yards, but throwing the ball to Dupre is clearly not LSU’s top priority these days.
RB Leonard Fournette
What he did: Fournette posted his third 100-yard game of the season, rushing 23 times for 113 yards against the Rebels. He also caught two passes for 41 yards and returned two kickoffs for 57 yards. On the negative side, Fournette lost a fumble for the first time this season.
What it means: Fournette started for the third straight game and teamed with Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard to give the Tigers a three-pronged rushing attack Saturday. LSU’s offensive line continued its strong play of late, and the backfield trio -- with Fournette in the lead role -- had an outstanding night.
DT Davon Godchaux
What he did: Godchaux started at defensive tackle for the fifth straight game and finished with three tackles and half a tackle for a loss before getting ejected in the fourth quarter after drawing his second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
What it means: Godchaux continues to play an important role along the defensive line, but that ejection could have been more costly than it turned out to be. Ole Miss got the ball back for one final possession after he left the playing field and could have won with a touchdown or kicked a field goal to tie the game and force overtime. It didn’t help the Tigers’ cause that one of their starters was watching from the locker room at that point.
WR Trey Quinn
What he did: Quinn started at receiver for the third straight game and finished with two catches for 42 yards. That was his second-best yardage total of the season, trailing only a 46-yard performance against New Mexico State.
What it means: Nobody on the team caught more than two passes Saturday, as LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings completed just eight throws all evening. Jennings looked Quinn’s way several times, but Ole Miss’ secondary is one of the best in the nation and didn’t allow the Tigers to accomplish much through the air.
Here is a recap of some of their performances:
S Jamal Adams
What he did: Statistics don’t adequately explain the ways Adams impacts a game, but he had his best statistical performance against Kentucky. He finished with eight tackles, one sack and 1.5 tackles for loss and also starred on special teams – particularly with a bone-crushing block on Tre’Davious White’s 67-yard punt return for a touchdown.
What it means: Adams continues to play a valuable role when the Tigers bring extra defensive backs onto the field and is developing into an exciting playmaker. Coach Les Miles described him as "electric" after the game. He still hasn’t started a game yet, but it seems clear that he’s a future star for the LSU defense.
RB Leonard Fournette
What he did: Fournette ran nine times for 31 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter alone, but took off most of the second half with the game well in hand and Terrence Magee (9-127, 2 TDs) running the ball effectively. Fournette finished with 15 carries for 40 yards.
What it means: After he ran 27 times last week against Florida, LSU seemed prepared to hand Fournette another heavy workload on Saturday. Once the Tigers easily took command in the second quarter, it became unnecessary to feed Fournette, and the Tigers were able to save their star freshman for next week’s showdown with Ole Miss.
DT Davon Godchaux
What he did: Godchaux started for the fourth straight game -- and fifth time in six games -- and posted two tackles.
What it means: Another freshman whose stat line isn’t a great indicator of his value, Godchaux continues to progress as an interior lineman. There is a correlation between his improvement and the Tigers’ effectiveness up the middle. Let’s see what happens against Ole Miss, though, before we declare the Tigers’ problems solved.
QB Brandon Harris
What he did: Harris entered the game with a little more than 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter and LSU up 41-3. On his first drive, Harris floated a pass to John Diarse that Marcus McWilson intercepted in the end zone, and the Tigers ran repeatedly to milk the remaining time on the clock on his second drive. The interception was Harris’ only pass attempt, and he ran once for an 8-yard gain.
What it means: Harris didn’t play last week against Florida and only entered the Kentucky game once it was well in hand. It’s obvious which way LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has been leaning since Harris’ disastrous starting debut against Auburn. Anthony Jennings has not been particularly effective as the starting quarterback, but it’s obviously his job for now.
RB Darrel Williams
What he did: Williams got most of his playing time in the fourth quarter and ran 10 times for 61 yards as the Tigers worked to run the remaining time off the clock in their blowout win.
What it means: Prior to the fourth quarter, Williams had only one carry for 5 yards. He did a nice job with his garbage-time carries, running nine times in the fourth quarter for 56 yards, but he’s obviously on the lower end of the tailback pecking order.
Here’s a recap of some of the key contributors’ performances:
WR Malachi Dupre
What he did: Dupre came off the bench to catch just one pass for an 8-yard gain against Florida, although he played an active role in the receiver rotation. It was the first time since he was held without a catch by Louisiana-Monroe that Dupre failed to have at least 52 receiving yards in a game.
What it means: LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings completed just 10 passes, so we shouldn’t read much into Dupre’s lack of productivity against the Gators. Nobody had a breakout night in the passing game
RB Leonard Fournette
What he did: Fournette started for the first time against Florida and received far and away the most touches of his young college career. He led the Tigers with 27 carries for 140 yards and scored touchdowns of 12 and 2 yards. He also returned four kickoffs for 85 yards.
What it means: Fournette has led LSU in rushing each week after a quiet opener, but this was the first time that he got a heavy workload. Obviously it paid off pretty well. But does this mean LSU will move away from its four-man backfield timeshare so that Fournette is the feature back? It’s too early to say.
DT Davon Godchaux
What he did: Godchaux also started, but that is becoming a common thing. This was the fourth time in five games that he was in LSU’s starting lineup. He tied with senior defensive end Jermauria Rasco for third on the team with five tackles against Florida.
What it means: LSU desperately needs someone aside from Christian LaCouture to establish himself at defensive tackle. Godchaux continues to rank as one of the Tigers’ top options at the position -- a sign that the coaches believe he can be that guy.
WR Trey Quinn
What he did: LSU’s third true freshman starter, Quinn was second on the team with three catches and 31 receiving yards with a long of 13 yards. He has caught at least one pass in every game this season.
What it means: As with Dupre, we can’t read much into Quinn’s stats from Saturday. For the most part, this wasn’t a stats game for receivers. Both freshman wideouts are still among LSU’s top options at their position.
RB Darrel Williams
What he did: Williams carried the ball twice for a total of 4 yards against Florida -- tying for his fewest touches since he failed to play in the opener against Wisconsin. Saturday’s game also ended a three-game stretch where he caught at least one pass.
What it means: LSU had split carries more evenly between its backs prior to the Florida game, but nobody got many carries except Fournette. Terrence Magee ran six times for 50 yards and fellow senior Kenny Hilliard got four carries for 15 yards and a touchdown. Williams is still in the rotation, but this might have been Fournette’s coming-out party.
S Jamal Adams
What he did: Adams didn’t start Saturday, but he played plenty in place of injured utility man Dwayne Thomas, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last week against New Mexico State. Adams made a career-high seven tackles against Auburn, which tied for third on the team.
What it means: With Thomas out of the picture, expect to see Adams contribute in his old rushing and coverage roles in LSU’s nickel and dime packages. He was one of LSU’s most coveted defensive signees in this class and should get lots of playing time down the stretch.
WR Malachi Dupre
What he did: Dupre started at receiver and made one catch for 52 yards late in the first quarter to set up LSU’s only touchdown of the night. He led the Tigers in receiving yardage against Auburn thanks to that single grab.
What it means: Saturday’s game marked Dupre’s second straight start at wideout, so he is obviously one of the Tigers’ top options at the position now. The passing game never got on track against Auburn, but expect to see plenty more of Dupre moving forward.
RB Leonard Fournette
What he did: Fournette didn’t get his first carry until late in the first quarter, but he led the Tigers with 41 rushing yards on 10 carries. He also returned a pair of kickoffs for a total of 44 yards. LSU hoped it had turned a corner in the ground game with a productive outing against New Mexico State last week, but Fournette and the Tigers generated just 138 rushing yards on 36 attempts (3.8 ypc) on Saturday.
What it means: It doesn’t mean a lot, but Fournette quietly led LSU in rushing for the fourth straight game. The Tigers have a long way to go to become a good rushing team, but Fournette has done fine on the occasions where he has had room to run.
QB Brandon Harris
What he did: Harris’ starting debut couldn’t have gone much worse. He was 3-for-14 for 58 yards and directed LSU’s offense to one of the least competitive performances in Les Miles’ decade as the Tigers’ coach. Harris left Jordan-Hare Stadium with his right foot in a walking boot after injuring his ankle late in the second quarter.
What it means: Assuming Harris’ ankle is healthy enough to play, it will be interesting to see whether LSU’s coaches let him start again Saturday in yet another difficult road venue: Florida’s Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The Gators aren’t nearly the team that Auburn is, but putting together a productive outing against Florida’s defense in The Swamp would be another tall order for Harris.
RB Darrel Williams
What he did: Williams actually carried the ball before fellow freshman Fournette on Saturday but finished with just four rushing attempts for 19 yards -- 14 of which came on one carry. He also caught two passes for 6 yards.
What it means: It was a bit of a surprise to see him carry the ball ahead of Fournette, but Williams’ role seems largely unchanged. He remains part of LSU’s backfield rotation alongside Fournette and seniors Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard, but is not playing a leading role.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- This will become a familiar scenario for No. 15 LSU (4-1, 0-1 SEC) for at least the foreseeable future. Entering Saturday's game against No. 5 Auburn (4-0, 1-0), LSU probably can't afford another division loss if it wants to remain in contention in the SEC West -- much less a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff.
That's a tall order this weekend, considering Auburn hasn't lost at Jordan-Hare Stadium since Gus Malzahn became coach last season (11-0) and LSU will have a true freshman quarterback, Brandon Harris, making his first career start.
LSU has won six of the past seven games in this series, but getting a win Saturday will be a major challenge. Let's look at three key factors as kickoff approaches, with some help from ESPN's Stats & Information group:
Who can run and who can stop it
Both starting quarterbacks -- Harris and Auburn's Nick Marshall -- are understandably getting plenty of attention ahead of this game. But it's the teams' respective running games -- and whether the defenses can slow them -- that might be the most important factors.
Auburn ranks 17th nationally with 260.5 rushing yards per game and boasts two of the SEC's most productive runners in Cameron Artis-Payne (86 carries, 468 yards, 5 touchdowns, fourth in the SEC with 97.2 YPG) and Marshall (42 carries, 273 yards, 2 touchdowns).
Meanwhile, LSU has struggled against the run, ranking 12th in the SEC and 70th nationally by allowing 161.6 rushing YPG. Coordinator John Chavis' defense is thin at defensive tackle, and its problems there were evident against Mississippi State, which rushed for 302 yards against LSU two weeks ago. Wisconsin also rushed for more than 250 yards against LSU.
Auburn is 13-0 when it runs for at least 250 yards under Malzahn and 3-2 when it does not.
On the other side, LSU's struggling run game got a boost last week when it picked up 363 yards on 54 attempts against New Mexico State. LSU is sixth in the SEC with 226.2 rushing YPG, but Auburn has been stingy against the run (third in the SEC with 90.8 YPG). If coordinator Ellis Johnson's defense is able to shut down Leonard Fournette (LSU's leading rusher with 322 yards on 56 attempts, 64.4 YPG), Kenny Hilliard (57 carries, 298 yards, 59.6 YPG), Darrel Williams (33 carries, 165 yards, 41.2 YPG) and Terrence Magee (34 carries, 144 yards, 28.8 YPG), that will place even more pressure on Harris' shoulders.
Defending the zone read/QB run
Let's dig a little deeper into the running game. To have any chance on Saturday, LSU must contain Marshall and Auburn's option runs.
Auburn has been one of the nation's most effective teams at using the zone-read run since the start of last season. It is averaging 144.39 rushing yards and 6.8 yards per carry in those games.
It's worth noting, however, that Kansas State kept itself in the game against Auburn two weeks ago by slowing Marshall and the zone-read runs. The Wildcats held the Tigers to just 62 yards and 3.1 yards per carry off the zone-read, holding them below 200 total rushing yards for only the second time in Malzhn's tenure as Auburn's coach.
LSU was atrocious against the zone-read in its 34-29 loss to Mississippi State two weeks ago. The Bulldogs ran 20 times for 192 yards from that look, averaging 9.1 yards per carry and breaking five runs of at least 10 yards.
The key element here is slowing Marshall, but LSU has struggled to do that against mobile quarterbacks. LSU has allowed the sixth-most rushing yards to opposing quarterbacks (56 carries for 260 yards) of all FBS programs this season. That includes a 79-yard touchdown last week against New Mexico State and a 56-yard run by Mississippi State's Dak Prescott.
Marshall has 1,341 rushing yards since the start of last season, which ranks third among active FBS quarterbacks.
Harris vs. Auburn pass defense
This subject has been beaten to death all week, but Harris is in rare air for an LSU quarterback. He's the first LSU true freshman to start at the position since Jordan Jefferson in 2008 and the first since Jamie Howard in 1992 to start by Game 6.
He clearly outplayed Anthony Jennings against Mississippi State and New Mexico State, but both of those outings were off the bench. Making his first road start against a better-than-average Auburn defense -- Johnson's defense is fourth in the SEC in total defense (313.2 ypg) and sixth in scoring defense (16.2 ppg) -- won't be easy.
However, Auburn has yet to face a prolific passing team. Its opponents thus far rank 107th nationally (Arkansas, 167.8 ypg), 62nd (San Jose State, 243.0), 59th (Kansas State, 246.3) and 55th (Louisiana Tech, 248.4) in passing offense and yet Auburn still ranks seventh in the SEC in pass defense at 222.5 ypg.
We'll see whether Harris can settle his nerves enough to exploit it, but Auburn is vulnerable against the pass -- especially if veteran safety Jermaine Whitehead remains on suspension for a third straight game.
The young quarterback led the Tigers’ offense to touchdown in all seven of his possessions after replacing a slumping Anthony Jennings. At this point, it will be a major upset if Harris doesn’t make his first career start next Saturday at Auburn.
S Jamal Adams
What he did: Adams played significant minutes off the bench at safety and tied for fourth on the team with five tackles. He also made a nice pass breakup on a second-and-2 pass near midfield in the first quarter.
What it means: Adams already seemed to be gaining his coaches’ confidence in recent weeks. If defensive back Dwayne Thomas is out for any extensive length of time -- he left Saturday’s game with a right knee injury -- Adams’ role might grow even more.
WR Malachi Dupre
What he did: Dupre made his first career start and led the team with 54 receiving yards on three catches. He caught a 27-yard touchdown pass from Harris in the second quarter.
What it means: Dupre’s role in the offense continues to grow. He and Harris clearly have developed a rapport -- Saturday’s touchdown was already their fourth scoring connection -- and that should give the Tigers a strong second option alongside leading receiver Travin Dural.
RB Leonard Fournette
What he did: Fournette ran 18 times for 122 yards and two touchdowns, setting new career highs in all three categories. He scored on a 17-yard run and plowed into the end zone for a 5-yard score in the second quarter. He also went 33 yards on his lone reception.
What it means: This was the fourth straight game that Fournette has led the Tigers in rushing, although this was his first 100-yard game. With 322 yards on 56 carries, Fournette is quietly emerging as the Tigers’ top tailback.
DT Davon Godchaux
What he did: Godchaux started for the second time in the last three games and recorded four tackles. His biggest play of the night came when he jarred the ball loose from New Mexico State’s Marquette Washington at the end of a second-quarter run. LSU safety Jalen Mills recovered Washington’s fumble and returned it 36 yards to the NMSU 3. The Tigers scored on the next play to go up 42-7.
What it means: With Quentin Thomas out of the lineup for the time being, Godchaux’s role is playing an important role on the interior of the Tigers’ defensive line. That bunch got shoved around by Mississippi State last week and will face a huge challenge next Saturday from Auburn. LSU needs Godchaux and Christian LaCouture to hold up in the middle of the line in order to have a shot at a road upset.
QB Brandon Harris
What he did: Harris likely settled the questions over who should start at quarterback on Saturday. Jennings had turned the ball over three times and the Tigers led 14-0 when Harris took over in the second quarter. They were up 63-7 when he left the game in the fourth quarter. Harris finished 11-for-14 for 178 yards and three touchdowns, plus he ran five times for 36 yards and two scores.
What it means: Although it seemingly took forever for LSU’s coaches to make the move -- as LSU’s booing fans clearly noticed -- Harris provided an instant spark when he entered the game. The level of difficulty is about to increase exponentially, but he is an obvious choice to start next week even if LSU coach Les Miles made no such public declaration after the game.
RB Darrel Williams
What he did: Williams continues to produce when he gets the ball. He was second on the team behind Fournette with 10 carries and finished with 59 rushing yards. He also caught a pass for an 11-yard gain.
What it means: Everybody got their yards from the Tigers’ backfield on Saturday -- seniors Kenny Hilliard (seven carries, 53 yards) and Terrence Magee (8-62, TD) were also productive -- and we can expect to see Williams remain as a regular contributor in LSU’s backfield timeshare.
On his Wednesday night call-in show, Tigers coach Les Miles gleefully recalled tight ends coach Steve Ensminger's reaction -- perhaps overdramatizing the situation just a tad -- when his 36-year-old record was finally eclipsed.
"I looked around and I saw Steve Ensminger and he was going through a real tough time -- tears in his eyes, very emotional," Miles said. "I said, ‘Steve, what's wrong?' I thought something had happened. Somebody ran over his foot or something. He said, ‘Nothing. I'm hanging in there.' And I didn't really know what had gone on until I found out later that he held a record since ."
Ensminger connected with Carlos Carson on an 82-yard passing touchdown against Georgia in 1978, a program record that stood all those years until Jennings-to-Dural last Saturday. So what did Miles do after the game to his assistant, whom he described as "a great coach and a great guy and loves his Tigers?"
He humorously twisted the knife even deeper, with an assist from the record-breaking quarterback and receiver.
"We gave what was the game ball to Anthony Jennings and Travin Dural to give to, then, Steve Ensminger," Miles said. "Here's what the ball said: the ball said: ‘Records were meant to be broken. The new record holders,' and then they signed their names and then listed what they had accomplished and they handed it to Steve."
NFL Tigers: The NFL announced on Wednesday that LSU had more active players on league rosters for opening weekend than any other college program. The Tigers' total of 38 was one better than USC, two better than Alabama and four up on Georgia.
LSU's total will increase to 40 this week with receiver Dwayne Bowe's return from a one-game suspension to open the season and linebacker Kelvin Sheppard's signing with the Miami Dolphins.
"Really I brought that to my team. I said, ‘OK, how many do you think are in this room?' And honestly there are a number. There may be as many as 38 yet again, right in that room," Miles said. "And I said, ‘But the balance is how do you work, how do you learn and how do you improve?' And if they do that, we may have another group that way. We have talent, we just need to play best."
Freshman DT practicing: Freshman Trey Lealaimatafao has recovered from a summertime arm injury and returned to the practice field this week, Miles said.
Lealaimatafao could get "into some live work here pretty quick. It's probably next week," Miles said, confirming that the freshman defensive tackle has been fully cleared to practice.
He's obviously off to a late start since the injury forced the former U.S. Army All-American to miss all of preseason camp and the first two weeks of the season, but Miles wouldn't guarantee that Lealaimatafao will redshirt this season.
"It's too early to tell," Miles said. "When he gets involved in the practices, should he be further ahead than we might guess, he might step in front of some guys. But it's likely that it'll take some time to evaluate him and see how he goes. I can tell you I think he learns [fast] and we expected him to be in the mix right now if he had not sustained injury."
Magee's workload: Two separate callers chastised Miles for not getting senior tailback Terrence Magee enough carries in the first two games.
Magee has carried the ball 12 times for 35 yards (2.9 yards per carry) compared to 14 carries for 65 yards (4.6 ypc) by freshman Darrel Williams, 21 for 110 (5.2 ypc) by freshman Leonard Fournette and 29 for 165 (5.7 ypc) by senior Kenny Hilliard. Fournette and Hilliard have also caught two passes apiece compared to none for Magee and Williams.
However, Miles insisted that Magee has not been demoted as one caller alleged.
"We want to give him a number of opportunities," Miles said, "and we will do so as we go forward and I am sensitive to the fact that he hasn't gotten enough carries and want to make that happen."
It was definitely LSU freshman Leonard Fournette’s first touchdown of his career. There’s no question about that. But Fournette’s striking the Heisman pose after the 4-yard run against Sam Houston State on Saturday might have made him the first player in college football history to raise his knee and throw the legendary stiffarm pose after his inaugural score.
“I think it’s little premature to launch a Heisman candidacy,” LSU coach Les Miles said after the Tigers’ 56-0 win. “I think that he needs to realize, too, that this is his team and it’s not to do with personal liberty. There were a lot of guys blocking for that run and a lot of effort and energy to help that man score that touchdown."
SEC Network announcer Brent Musberger saying afterwards, “A little early for that pose, young man, but I got your excitement.”
Whatever Miles said to the freshman running back afterward, it was apparently not as forgiving. He was caught on TV giving Fournette an earful immediately after he returned to the sideline following the play.
“I looked at Coach,” quarterback Anthony Jennings said. “He was coming onto the field and I already knew what was going to happen.”
Fournette finished with 92 rushing yards on 13 carries, plus 32 receiving yards on two leaping catches. It was an outstanding Tiger Stadium debut -- even if he might have jumped the gun a bit with his Heisman moment.
“He definitely has the potential to be a Heisman Trophy winner, but as of now I believe he needs to stay humble and keep running the ball like he is,” right tackle Jerald Hawkins chuckled.
The touchdown run itself was nothing special -- a 4-yard burst up the middle against an FCS defense that barely got a fingertip on Fournette before he entered the end zone. But the play immediately before that was more like what Tigers fans expected to see from the nation’s top overall prospect when he signed with LSU in February.
On second-and-10 at the SHSU 44, Fournette took a handoff left and then cut back toward a huge hole in the middle of the line. He cut right at the 41 to dodge safety Michael Wade, then followed receiver John Diarse’s block on cornerback Mikell Everette at the 29. A Bearkats defender didn’t get to Fournette until he ran through safety Eric Agbaroji’s tackle at the 21 and then dragged cornerback Ernest Payton from the 13 to the 4, where he finally went down.
The highlight-reel 40-yard run set up Fournette’s touchdown burst on the next play.
There were plenty of firsts to go around on Saturday for members of LSU’s vaunted 2014 recruiting class. In his first substantial playing time, quarterback Brandon Harris also contributed a couple of highlights -- including a 46-yard touchdown run that was much more worthy of the Heisman pose.
With the Tigers already up 27-0 in the second quarter, Harris faked a handoff to Terrence Magee and instead ran up the middle. He first spun through a tackle attempt by linebacker Lance Duran and then backed into cornerback Darion Flowers, who was unable to bring Harris down before he spun toward the LSU sideline and broke into the open field. Then it became a footrace and Harris barely avoided Everette’s diving tackle attempt at the 9 and followed Diarse’s block on Trenier Orr as he bolted into the end zone for his first career score.
Harris put an exclamation point on the night when he and freshman receiver Malachi Dupre combined for two more firsts -- Harris’ first touchdown pass and Dupre’s first scoring catch -- early in the fourth quarter.
On second-and-goal from the 8, Harris lobbed a pass to the back right corner of the end zone, where a diving Dupre brought it down just beyond cornerback Tevin Creeks’ coverage. It was yet another example of what LSU fans envisioned when Dupre, the nation’s top wideout prospect, and No. 2 dual-threat quarterback Harris joined the Tigers earlier this year.
The Tigers are 9-0 all-time against FCS teams, including 6-0 since Les Miles became LSU’s coach in 2005, and winning by an average score of 38-10 under Miles.
Even if the Tigers win comfortably, there is still plenty to watch on Saturday night. Here are five storylines that LSU fans should keep in mind as kickoff approaches.
1. New Tiger Stadium: Saturday will offer many LSU fans their first glimpse at new and improved Tiger Stadium, which underwent an $85 million renovation during the offseason. With the addition of a new club level to enclose the south end zone, the 90-year-old venue will now seat 102,321 fans -- making it the fifth-largest on-campus stadium in the country.
“[The players] have always played in front of a stadium that was full and loud. They would not recognize Tiger Stadium any other way,” Miles said. “We’re spoiled, we’re expectant, we play to the expectations of our fans. We’re very much on the same page with them. … I would certainly say that christening the stadium is something that both the team and certainly the fans and the faithful should understand should be a loud and very enthusiastic crowd.”
But the main difference will be the increased decibel level that comes along with adding nearly 10,000 new seats to the old venue.
“I can imagine that there will be a little difference in wind. I’m certain it will be louder,” Miles said. “It looks, to me, beautiful, so if you like grand venues to play in, I think it should be just what you want.”
2. Quarterback reps: Sophomore Anthony Jennings won the right to start last week against Wisconsin, and he played all but one offensive series against the Badgers. But don’t be surprised if we see a lot more of freshman Brandon Harris under center this week.
Jennings is 2-0 as a starter, with those wins coming against Big Ten squads Iowa and Wisconsin, but he hasn’t exactly set the world on fire in either game. He was 9-for-21 for 239 yards and two touchdowns against Wisconsin, but the Tigers’ offense struggled mightily for most of the game before rallying from a 24-7 deficit for a 28-24 win. To his credit, Jennings was 4-for-6 for 119 yards and a touchdown in the second half, aiding the Tigers in their comeback bid.
Nonetheless, the Tigers need for Harris to show he can handle an increased workload against opponents like Sam Houston State and Louisiana-Monroe if he is to help them during SEC play. The next two weeks will be huge for the freshman to prove himself. Otherwise, we’re going to see a lot of Jennings down the stretch.
3. Defending against tempo: With games against high-speed offenses like Auburn’s and Texas A&M’s ahead, Saturday’s game offers a nice warmup for those SEC showdowns.
Granted, Sam Houston State is an FCS program, but the Bearkats have former FBS players like running back Jalen Overstreet (Texas) and receiver LaDarius Brown (TCU) on the roster, as well as a dual-threat quarterback, Jared Johnson, who is averaging 351.5 passing yards per game.
The Bearkats ran 105 plays for 685 yards in last week’s 51-20 win over Alabama State so it’s clear that they want to maintain a quick tempo just like the SEC offensive juggernauts the Tigers will face down the road.
“Chief [defensive coordinator John Chavis] has us really doing a lot of up-tempo stuff right now because that’s the type of offense they are,” safety Jalen Mills said. “So as soon as the play is over, less celebrating and more looking to the sideline and getting the play and lining up.”
4. Debuts continue: Should LSU take a comfortable lead by halftime, we might see several members of the Tigers’ impressive 2014 recruiting class -- plus a number of redshirt freshmen -- make their college debuts on Saturday.
Nine true freshmen played against Wisconsin, and we could see several more over the next two weekends. Among the youngsters we’re intrigued to see are receivers Malachi Dupre and D.J. Chark, running back Darrel Williams and defensive linemen Frank Herron, Greg Gilmore and Maquedius Bain.
Keep an eye on the positional rotations in the second half and see which inexperienced players have earned the chance for a trial by fire. That could tell you who the coaches hope might be able to help them later in the season.
5. Fournette’s follow-up: Speaking of freshmen, tailback Leonard Fournette made a quiet debut last week with 18 rushing yards on eight carries and an average of 23.4 yards on five kickoff returns.
The Tigers mostly rode senior Kenny Hilliard in the fourth quarter against Wisconsin, but Fournette and Terrence Magee should get much more of an opportunity to break some runs against SHSU.
As with Harris, it would be beneficial for Fournette to build some confidence in out-of-conference play before the Tigers host Mississippi State in a key SEC West game on Sept. 20. Our bet is that the Fournette shows off more of the skillset that made him the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect for 2014 over the next two weekends.
Haskins, McElwain Shine At IMG Regional
TBD Bowling Green Tennessee TBD Wisconsin Alabama TBD UTEP Arkansas TBD Louisville Auburn TBD New Mexico State Florida TBD Louisiana-Monroe Georgia TBD Louisiana-Lafayette Kentucky TBD McNeese State LSU TBD Southeast Missouri State Missouri TBD Tennessee-Martin Ole Miss TBD Mississippi State Southern Miss TBD Arizona State Texas A&M TBD Western Kentucky Vanderbilt