Derrius Guice had some mighty big shoes to fill Saturday night.
Guice, LSU’s sophomore tailback, came through with flying colors in his first collegiate start when he was asked to step in for Heisman Trophy candidate Leonard Fournette.
With Fournette sidelined by a lower left leg injury that he suffered in a season-opening loss to Wisconsin, the compactly-built 5-foot-11, 212-pound Guice -- a mini-version of Fournette -- filled in admirably.
Guice just missed his career-high with 155 rushing yards on 19 carries and teamed with backup quarterback Danny Etling to give LSU’s sputtering offense the lift it needed in a 34-13 victory over Jacksonville State in Tiger Stadium.
Guice said he didn’t know he was going to start, literally, until the opening kickoff.
“They told me at kickoff … I had no idea until kickoff,” he said. “(The coaches) did a pretty good job getting me and Darrel (Williams) and Nick (Brossette) ready this week.”
Etling entered the game on the third possession after an ineffective Brandon Harris struggled for the second week in a row and produced a six-play, 70-yard touchdown drive while Guice sat out the series in favor of Darrel Williams.
But Guice, a former Catholic High star, delivered when LSU’s defense got the ball back after the Tigers took a 6-3 lead on Etling’s 46-yard TD pass to a wide-open DeSean Smith early in the second quarter.
LSU didn’t need Leonard Fournette.
While LSU’s first touchdown of the night and a stop by the defense got the nervous crowd going, Guice really got them into it when he started the next drive with a 32-yard burst to the Jacksonville State 47.
Five plays later, Guice had a 10-yard run to the JSU 4 and powered his way into the end zone on the next play to push the Tigers’ lead to 13-3.
Guice was also instrumental in LSU’s next two offensive touchdowns.
Guice had a 44-yard run on the second play of a drive after Jacksonville State struck for a quick touchdown that cut LSU’s lead to 13-10 and later caught an 18-yard screen pass from Etling to set up a 2-yard TD run by fullback Bry’Kiethon Mouton.
Guice, who had 93 yards on 10 attempts at halftime, was far from finished.
After a Donte Jackson interception and 40-yard return set the Tigers up at the Gamecocks 45, Guice had a 29-yard burst to the 16 that set up Etling’s 2-yard scoring run.
Those two touchdowns were sandwiched around a 60-yard punt return for a score by Tre’Davious White just before halftime that gave LSU a 27-10 lead going to the locker room.
Guice made up for a fumble he lost in LSU’s 16-14 loss to Wisconsin, which led to the Badgers’ first field goal of the game, and wound up with just two carries for 3 yards.
He had to be more involved Saturday night with Fournette not dressing for the game. Fournette came out for early warm-ups, but went back to the locker room during a 55-minute weather delay prior to kickoff.
When LSU came back out after lightning cleared the area, Fournette, who was dressed in a purple warm-up suit, could only watch from the sideline.
He obviously liked what he saw in Guice, who last year rushed for 436 yards and averaged 8.5 yards per attempt in making the Southeastern Conference All-Freshman team.
Guice established his career high of 161 yards on 16 carries in a 45-24 victory over South Carolina last Oct. 10 when he actually out-rushed Fournette by three yards.
“To be honest, after Leonard moved around (in the early warm-ups), I don’t think it was something he wanted to do,” LSU coach Les Miles said after his team rushed for 244 yards and averaged 6.6 yards per carry in Fournette’s absence. “Fortunately, we have some talented guys back there.
“I like Guice,” he added. “He came in and showed that he’s a pretty special back.”