It only took one touchdown for Leonard Fournette to show off his future-seeing abilities. On his first collegiate touchdown, a short run up the middle against Sam Houston State, Fournette struck the pose — the Heisman pose to be exact. Most of us laughed at the true freshman for his brash cockiness, but while also laughing, some of us just mumbled under our breath, “Yup.”
Fournette, last year’s consensus No. 1 recruit after being named an All-American by USA Today in both 2012 and 2013, came into LSU with huge expectations. He was being touted as the next Adrian Peterson in an age of the extinct every-down running back, and rightfully so.
The first time I saw Fournette play, besides endlessly rewinding ridiculous YouTube highlight clips, was in the 2014 Under Armour All-America Game. Fournette’s stats didn’t jump off the box score, but he certainly didn’t disappoint. His last play as an uncommitted recruit was a 36-yard touchdown catch on a wheel route, dashing past the defense. When he took his helmet off and eventually put on an LSU hat to play his college ball in his home state, all I could give was one of those awkward eyebrows perched, jaw-dropped looks and say, “Whaaaaaaaaaaat?!?”
I understood the Peterson comparisons from watching him on the field. What confused me was how this 18-year-old high school senior looked older than Peterson. We’ve all heard the expression “a man amongst boys,” and it was clear that Fournette would be for his three years in Baton Rouge.
For Fournette’s first college game, an anticipated matchup against Wisconsin at Jerry World, I was hyped. I wanted nothing more than this 6-foot-1, 230-pound freshman to come in and dominate the college game from his first carry to his last. Then, I was disappointed. Fournette finished the game with only 18 yards on eight carries. I wasn’t even disappointed with him; I was with Les Miles. Eight carries? Really, Les? Eight carries?
The next game, the Heisman game, Fournette totaled 92 yards on 13 carries, averaging 7.1 yards per carry. Still not enough. Fournette is stallion who may start fourth out of the stable, but by the end of the race, he will be crossing the finish line first. And in sports, when you have a horse, you let him be the horse and feed the horse.
On three different occasions this year, Fournette had less than 10 carries in a game. Only three more times, he had at least 20 carries in a game. In those three games in which he had at least 20 carries, Fournette had 27 carries for 140 yards and two touchdowns in a 30-27 win over Florida, 23 carries for 113 yards in a 10-7 victory over Ole Miss, and 21 carries for 79 yards in a 20-13 overtime loss to Alabama. Oh, and he also had 19 carries for 146 yards and a touchdown in a 23-17 win against Texas A&M in his last regular-season game of his freshman campaign. Feed the beast!
The Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl had two schools with rich histories and disappointing seasons, and of course way too long of a name. Both LSU and Notre Dame had high hopes for the 2014 season. Both would finish a measly 8-5 on the campaign. Quickly, the game went from a Notre Dame quarterback controversy to the Leonard Fournette show.
First, an eight-yard plunge for a touchdown.
Next, a 100-yard kick return for a touchdown, which was the longest return for an LSU Tiger since 1981.
Finally, an 89-yard burst for a touchdown, the longest rushing touchdown in LSU bowl game history.
That last touchdown led me to officially name Fournette a sprinting, bulldozing Nostradamus. LSU went on to lose the game, 31-28 on a last-second field goal, but Fournette won the show. On his first 10 touches of the game, Fournette had 256 total yards and three touchdowns. He finished with 11 carries for 143 yards, 13 yards per carry, and two rushing touchdowns. Again, 11 carries, Les?!? LSU basically doesn’t have a quarterback, surprise surprise, and Les Miles gives his best player 11 carries and expects to win the game.
This is the problem: Fournette came into LSU with unrealistic expectations that only someone with his talents could succeed. Somehow, LSU seems to have a quarterback that had zero yards passing midway through the second quarter all too often. You don’t need to bash Founette’s brains in every game with 30 carries, but give your team a chance, Les. Either recruit quarterbacks you can develop into adequate passers or simply feed the beast.
On the season, Fournette finished with 1,034 yards on 187 carries, running for 5.5 yards per carry and 11 total touchdowns as a 19-year-old freshman. Why did I call Fournette a sprinting, bulldozing Nostradamus? Because while we laughed at his Heisman pose, we also agreed with it deep down, and Fournette has proved that his Heisman campaign for next year will be a show to watch every Saturday.
Les Miles might be the fun-loving Mad Hatter, but until he unleashes his beast, LSU will just continue to be a sad, scattered football team.
Dalton Johnson played baseball at a college you’ve probably never heard, but probably should. He graduated from Armstrong State University with a B.A. in English and concentration in journalism. Now a freelance sports journalist out of Petaluma, CA, in the Bay Area, even his keyboard talks too fast. Fittingly, all of his published work and blog posts can be seen at Life’s A Ball, daltonjsports.com.