After allowing an average of 259.5 rushing yards earlier this season against Florida and South Carolina, the Kentucky defense was determined not to let LSU freshman tailback Leonard Fournette beat them Saturday night.
OK, Fournette didn’t, but senior Terrence Magee did.
The Wildcats did a decent job of bottling up Fournette and dropping him in his tracks almost every time he touched the ball.
One week after shredding Florida for a career-high 140 yards, he gained just 40 yards and averaged 2.7 yards per carry even though he had a 1-yard touchdown blast on LSU’s first possession.
Enter Magee, who picked up the slack and produced the best all-around game of his four-year career in a 41-3 dismantling of the Wildcats in Tiger Stadium.
Magee beat Kentucky in a variety of ways, piling up a career-high 220 all-purpose yards — easily topping the 149 yards he picked up, all on the ground, in a win against Texas A&M last season.
“They were pretty much flowing to the ball very fast,” Fournette said. “I kept telling coach (Les Miles) that we had to try something different because they were (over-pursuing) to the ball.”
A halftime adjustment to their zone-blocking scheme benefitted Magee, who went on to pound the Wildcats for 127 rushing yards — averaging 14.1 yards per attempt — and two touchdowns on just nine carries.
He also caught three passes for 44 yards and got the Tigers off to a solid start with a 49-yard return of the opening kickoff. That return, along with a 15-yard facemask penalty, led to Fournette’s short scoring run and a quick 7-0 lead six plays later.
Magee, who went into Saturday night with just 217 rushing yards on 48 carries in the first seven outings, had 20 yards on four carries in the first half while Fournette desperately tried to elude the swarming Wildcats.
Later, Magee credited Fournette with helping him chalk up his first 100-yard rushing game of the season.
“A lot of times, a guy like Leonard gets in there and pounds some runs in between the tackles real well,” Magee said after the Tigers finished with 303 rushing yards. “When you can put a fresh back in the game when the defense is tired, it kind of wears them down.
“It happens like that sometimes,” he added. “It could have been anybody’s night tonight; it just happened to be me.”
After LSU turned a 17-3 lead into a 27-3 cushion with a touchdown and field goal in the final 44 seconds of the first half, Magee came on strong when the Tigers returned to the field for the second half. He took over and caught a 14-yard pass on third-and-7 to keep the Tigers’ first possession going and then ripped off a 38-yard run down the left sideline to set up his 9-yard touchdown run through a gaping hole in the defense on the next play.
“He’s not an easy tackle,” Miles said of Magee, a compact 5-foot-9, 217-pounder. “He’s going to find spaces and make the exact right cut … and he’s going to maximize it with his great speed. You don’t really want to tackle him, because he’s not going down.”
Two possessions later, it was more Magee magic.
After a 24-yard UK punt, Magee had a false start penalty to start the drive. But after an incompletion, he had a 35-yard run to the Kentucky 23 and then bolted up the middle for a 23-yard touchdown that gave LSU a 41-3 lead late in the third quarter.
After getting into the second level of the Kentucky defense, Magee capped his stellar performance by faking out Wildcats safety Marcus McWilson — first going right and then cutting back left — on his way to the end zone.
“They were pretty much penetrating everywhere we went,” Fournette said. “I knew in the second half we were going to fix it, and we got it together as you could see. I’m very excited and proud for Terrence for his first 100-yard game.”
“I didn’t expect that,” Magee said of his career night. “I just try to come out each week and try to give everything I have to the team … whatever is asked of me. I was blessed to have a great night. Like I said, I just do what I’m asked to do.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter: @MicklesAdvocate.