During the summer, LSU coach Les Miles mentioned Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan when talking about his freshman running back, Leonard Fournette.
Fournette was ranked the No. 1 recruit in the land, and there were rumblings out of fall camp of him making jaw-dropping plays.
So when he ran for just 18 yards on eight carries in the season opener, the reaction was expected: disappointment.
“Anybody that expected more from him than exactly how he played, they just basically have unrealistic expectations,” Miles said this week.
The coach defended his freshman star this week after Fournette’s less than stellar debut. Fournette found little running room on his eight carries, and, a few times, didn’t follow his lead blocks, instead bouncing the carry outside of the tackle where Wisconsin players met him.
Fournette dropped a pitch, too, and was gang-tackled during an option pitch play. He had two five-yard runs, his longest carries of the day.
The Badgers often celebrated after a tackle on the famed New Orleans product. They knew exactly who they were tackling.
“I think he did great. I think his first game is certainly not to be compared with his 30th game,” Miles said. “I think expectations are unrealistic. Can you imagine that somebody would comment how you made your first game as a true freshman? We needed for him to come in and contribute, which he did. He’ll contribute more and more and get better as we move forward.”
Fournette returned five kickoffs for an average of 23 yards, with a long of 33. He’ll continue to return kicks, according to LSU’s Week 2 depth chart. Receiver Trey Quinn is still competing at kickoff return and punt return, Miles said Wednesday.
Travin Dural said he wasn’t surprised to see teammate John Diarse, a high school quarterback, get physical with defenders like he did when he broke three tackles on his 36-yard touchdown catch against Wisconsin.
“I played against John when we were in high school, when he was a quarterback,” Dural said. “So the things he did Saturday, he did when I played him in high school. I saw it all (in) fall camp; he’s a guy that we know one guy can’t tackle him.
“He’s a bigger guy and probably weighs about 205. So he works hard and we know that one guy can’t tackle him. When he gets the ball, he just makes plays.”
Diarse has watched the play “1,000 times,” he said. Fans and friends have sent it to him through Twitter and Instagram.
He had a momentary blackout while breaking the tackles.
“I’m very shocked at what happened seeing that I really don’t recall doing all of that,” he said this week.
A different player
After a poor sophomore season, junior cornerback Jalen Collins has been on a mission to redeem himself, and he proved it in the opener with Wisconsin.
Cornerback Tre’Davious White said Collins was solid in filling in for a suspended Rashard Robinson against the Badgers after playing well in the spring and summer.
“He’s so focused. … it’s a different Jalen, a different player, a guy that has a different demeanor and I feel that going forward he’s going to have a great year for us,” White said. “I knew it from the spring and from how he was doing in fall camp, and I’m so happy for him.”
Collins is expected to start again against Sam Houston State, despite the possible return of Rashard Robinson.
Freshman Cameron Gamble had some booming kickoffs in Saturday’s game with three of his five kicks going for touchbacks, but he also drew a 5-yard delay of game penalty to start the second half.
Monday, an incredulous Miles said it was only the second time that’s happened to his team in 14 years as a head coach.
He said Gamble put the ball on the tee and waited for an official to give him a signal that they were ready for play when the play clock expired.
“He got out there and looked around, and said, ‘Are we ready?’” Miles said. “And about that time it cost me five yards. So the next time I told the official, I said, ‘Listen, he’s a freshman. Help him out, don’t let him cost me a 5-yard penalty again … and they giggled.’”
LSU ran its Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) record streak of non-conference regular season wins to 46 with last Saturday’s win over Wisconsin, putting more distance between itself and the former record of 39 straight set by Kansas State from 1993-2003.
The Tigers haven’t lost a non-conference game since their 2002 opener at Virginia Tech, longer still since their last non-conference home loss. That was a 13-10 decision against UAB in 2000, with LSU posting 40 straight wins since.
The Tigers are 36-0 in non-conference regular season games under Miles (41-2 including bowl games against non-SEC teams). LSU’s streak of consecutive weeks in The Associated Press Top 25 now stands at 83, the second-longest active streak behind only Alabama and the longest in school history.
First meeting, FCS success
LSU and Sam Houston State have never played in football, but the Tigers have never known anything but success against other Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) opponents.
The Tigers are 9-0 against FCS teams since 1991, 6-0 under Miles by a combined score of 232-64.
Nifty at 90
Tiger Stadium opens its 90th anniversary season (91st overall) Saturday. The facility seated only 12,000 for its inaugural game on Nov. 27, 1924 (a 13-0 loss to Tulane). Thanks to a south end zone addition of club seats, suites and an upper deck, Tiger Stadium now has a capacity of 102,321.
The addition of nearly 10,000 to Tiger Stadium’s capacity makes it the fifth-largest on-campus stadium behind only Michigan Stadium (109,901), Beaver Stadium at Penn State (106,572), Ohio State’s Ohio Stadium (104,944) and Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium (102,455).
The Wisconsin win pushed Miles’ career winning percentage at LSU back to .800 with a 96-24 record. This week he goes for his 125th career win. Including his 28-21 mark at Oklahoma State (2001-04), Miles is 124-45. LSU is 22-1 in September under Miles, its only loss in 2005 to Tennessee.