GREEN BAY, Wis. — The first game of what could be Leonard Fournette’s final season at LSU didn’t go exactly the way he and the Tigers hoped — especially the ending.
Bottled up early at times by a hungry Wisconsin defense bent on making the Heisman Trophy hopeful work hard for everything he got, Fournette finished Saturday’s season opener on the sideline in sixth-ranked LSU’s 16-14 loss.
Fournette’s 23rd and final carry of the game resulted in a 15-yard run to the Wisconsin 30 with just under two minutes to play, seemingly putting kicker Colby Delahoussaye in range for a game-winning field-goal attempt.
Fournette limped off the field with an injured left ankle, the same one that forced him to miss a week of preseason practice last month, when he tried to hurdle Wisconsin free safety Leo Musso at the end of an explosive run up the middle.
Musso’s helmet appeared to hit Fournette directly on the ankle, causing him to take a hard tumble to the Lambeau Field turf. He hobbled off the field with the help of a teammate.
After left guard Will Clapp was whistled for a false-start penalty, pushing LSU back five yards, Brandon Harris was intercepted by strong safety D’Cota Dixon to clinch the win with 57 seconds to play.
Miles said after the game that Fournette, who briefly sat on the ground upon reaching the sideline and quickly popped up, “absolutely” would have been able to return to the game.
But that didn’t happen when Harris threw the pick.
Fournette wasn’t made available for interviews after the game, but Miles said he doesn’t believe his star tailback, who rushed for 138 yards and caught three passes for 38 yards, will have to miss time.
“I have to be honest, I didn’t see the injury,” Miles said. “I mean, I don’t think that it’s an injury that’s going to keep him from playing for some time.”
Miles also said he believed Fournette didn’t show any ill effects from the sprained ankle he suffered in a scrimmage, which forced him to wear a walking boot before returning to practice a little more than a week ago.
“Leonard was full speed in my mind,” Miles said. “I thought he had a number of carries … I thought he played hard.”
Fournette and the LSU offense had a rough first half when the Tigers had just 64 total yards — including 26 rushing — and trailed 6-0. LSU had the ball for just 21 plays in 8 minutes, 8 seconds (going 0-for-4 on third-down conversions).
Wisconsin’s defense came up particularly big against Fournette and the Tigers' struggling offensive line late in the first half.
On a third-and-1 at the LSU 45, Fournette was held to no gain on back-to-back runs, and Wisconsin turned it into Rafael Gaglianone’s second field goal of the game — a 48-yarder with 54 seconds to play in the half.
“On fourth down, he was going to make a play for us,” Miles said. “I felt like we had a call to get a first down and get some points before (halftime) and give us some nice momentum. We had a nice call … it didn’t work.”
After netting just 35 yards on 11 carries in the first two quarters, Fournette picked things up in the third quarter when the LSU defense forced two turnovers and turned a 13-0 deficit into a 14-13 lead.
Fournette, who early in the second quarter became only the fourth LSU player to rush for 3,000 career yards, broke loose for 62 yards on eight attempts in the third and had a 31-yard reception from Harris to set up the Tigers’ only offensive touchdown — a 10-yard catch by Travin Dural.
Of the four players with 3,000 yards, Fournette is the quickest to get there in needing only 26 games.
Fournette seemed to warm up in the second half as he produced a 30-yard run on LSU’s second drive of the third quarter and had a 19-yarder in the fourth period before going to the sideline after the 15-yard burst.
“A guy like Leonard, I feel like he’s always warm … he’s always ready to go,” center Ethan Pocic said. “He’s Leonard. It’s on us as an offensive line if everyone is locking and executing. We have to get back to work.”
The big four
With a 9-yard run early in the second quarter against Wisconsin on Saturday, Leonard Fournette became only the fourth player in LSU history to rush for 3,000 career yards.
Player Yards Games Years
Kevin Faulk 4,557 41 1995-98
Dalton Hilliard 4,050 44 1982-85
Charles Alexander 4,035 44 1975-78
Leonard Fournette 3,125 26 2014-16