Leonard Fournette leaped from the 2-yard line, intent on breaking the plane of the end zone.
The success rate on this play is high and has been throughout the LSU running back’s career. After all, Fournette’s 230-pound frame hurtling through the air isn’t something easy to stop.
As Fournette left his feet, so did Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland. The two met about 3 yards above the 1-yard line stripe, a crushing collision.
Strength vs. strength. Power vs. power. Man vs. man.
The victor: Ragland.
In a microcosm of LSU’s 30-16 loss to the Crimson Tide on Saturday night, a play — a scheme, a plan — that had worked so well all season failed.
“Administration of the offense, in terms of snap count and procedure, suffered a little bit today as well,” LSU coach Les Miles said in a crowded postgame interview room in the bowels of Bryant-Denny Stadium. “I think the offensive line faced a talented and capable defensive line. They were tested.”
Did they pass? Miles suggested they did not during a 10-minute session with reporters.
Alabama held Fournette, LSU’s Heisman Trophy frontrunner, to 31 yards on 19 carries. That’s 160 yards below his average. He gained 1.6 yards per carry — 6 yards below his average entering the game — and that number was heavily bolstered by an 18-yard dash in the fourth quarter.
Without that run, Fournette ran for 13 yards on 18 carries — head-shaking numbers that leave LSU fans asking at least one question: How in the world did Bama do it?
Players, and even Miles, indicated the Tide stacked the line of scrimmage on many plays. The coach suggested the offensive line didn’t create much room for Fournette. Others only said Bama was bent on stopping Fournette, stuffing him at the line of scrimmage on nearly every single carry. Thirteen of Fournette’s 19 attempts gained less than 2 yards.
Fournette did not speak to reporters after the game, but he posted a message Sunday on Twitter.
“That one game don’t define who my team or me is,” it said.
Alabama coach Nick Saban had the most in-depth explanation for his team’s success in stopping the run. Saban knew early: Fournette’s first three runs totaled a loss of 2 yards.
“I always get a good feeling in a game when (the other team) runs that first zone extra (run play) and they don’t get anything,” he said. “That’s when the nose (guard) flatheads the center, and the (defensive end) knocks the (tackle) back and the linebacker fills (the hole).
“That’s (LSU’s) bread and butter, so to be able to control that with our front seven was really good, and those guys did a great job,” he said.
LSU right tackle Vadal Alexander had several answers for the running woes. He pointed the finger at his line, tight ends and the fullback but also said the Tigers blocked “clean up front” and suggested the miscues happened beyond the line of scrimmage.
“A lot of times blocking, it felt good, felt like the right call,” he said. “Felt like there was going to be many yards gained. At the end of the play, there wasn’t many yards gained.
“We blocked the majority in the run game pretty clean up front,” he said in reply to another question. “I just don’t know exactly what happened when the ball got to the next level or the ball got past the defensive line. Not really sure. Felt clean from my part. Can answer better after I watch film.”
That comes Monday, when the Tigers (7-1, 4-1 Southeastern) push the loss to the Tide (8-1, 5-1) to the side and focus on streaking Arkansas. The Razorbacks (5-4, 3-2) have won three straight and four of five, winning at Tennessee and claiming overtime victories against Auburn and Saturday at Ole Miss.
They were the last team to stop Fournette before Bama’s bashing Saturday, a result that dropped LSU from No. 4 to No. 9 in the AP poll. Fournette had 9 yards on just five carries in a 17-0 loss at Arkansas last season — a low point to his rookie season and LSU’s 2014.
The running back began his streak of nine straight 100-yard rushing performances following that game in the bitter cold of Fayetteville. That run ended in shocking fashion Saturday, but it doesn’t mean his Heisman Trophy hopes have ended.
It did, however, affect the auction of his signed, game-worn jersey. In a 17-hour span — starting at kickoff Saturday and ending at noon Sunday — there was not a new bid on the jersey. As of noon Sunday, the highest bid was $35,250 for the jersey, worn by Fournette during the win over South Carolina. Proceeds will go to benefit victims of South Carolina flooding.
The Heisman remains in reach for the New Orleans native.
Still the nation’s rushing leader by 152 yards, Fournette’s 31-yard outing would be the third-lowest among Heisman-winning running backs since 1961. Georgia’s Herschel Walker had 20 yards in a game against Clemson on the way to his 1982 win, and Mark Ingram of Alabama had 30 in the final regular-season game against Auburn in 2009.
Ten more running backs had at least one game of 55 rushing yards or less during their Heisman marches.
“There’s a lot of football left to play, and it’s a team,” Miles said. “It’s not Leonard’s fault. It’s all of us. He’ll have an opportunity to continue to carry the ball and be blocked for. We have some games left to play.”
That starts this weekend, when Fournette tries to rebound against a squad that took him down a year ago.
“He’s going to be hungry,” safety Jamal Adams said. “This whole team is going to be hungry. Don’t count us out.”
Leonard Fournette’s 31 yards against Alabama would be the third-lowest among single-game lows that a running back had during his Heisman Trophy-winning season:
Herschel Walker, Georgia (1982): 20 yards vs. Clemson (Game 1)
Mark Ingram, Alabama (2009): 30 yards at Auburn (Game 12)
Leonard Fournette, LSU (2015): 31 yards at Alabama (Game 8)
Enrie Davis, Syracuse (1961): 35 yards vs. West Virginia (Game 2)
Billy Sims, Oklahoma (1978): 36 yards vs. West Virginia (Game 3)
Charles White, Southern Cal (1979): 39 yards at Texas Tech (Game 1)
Mike Garrett, Southern Cal (1965): 43 yards at Kansas State (Game 3)
Archie Griffin, Ohio State (1975): 46 yards at Michigan (Game 11)
Bo Jackson, Auburn (1985): 48 yards Florida (Game 8)
Reggie Bush, Southern Cal (2005): 51 yards at Washington (Game 7)
*Bolded: has not won Heisman