No matter where he’s gone or what he’s done almost every day for the past two months, Leonard Fournette has heard all the Heisman hype.
The personable LSU tailback really can’t escape it, not like he does when he eludes would-be tacklers — many of whom decide quickly that discretion is the better part of valor when the 6-foot-1, 230-pounder is bearing down on them with a full head of steam.
But for at least four hours on Saturday, any and all Heisman Trophy noise is replaced by a singular focus when Fournette pulls on his uniform, straps up his helmet and steps between the white lines — which is to help No. 4 LSU win and keep the Tigers on track for a national championship.
Nothing more. Nothing less.
That won’t change Saturday night when Fournette, the overwhelming favorite to win the Heisman Trophy that will be awarded five weeks from now, faces his toughest challenge to date against seventh-ranked Alabama in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
With a national prime-time audience looking on, Fournette could have the opportunity to all but make the voting a mere formality if he can do what he’s done all season against a stout Alabama run defense that ranks third in the nation in allowing 78.5 yards per game.
But those impressive numbers, or even the ones he may put up, mean little to Fournette.
“I view this game as another opponent in our way,” he said this week. “I’m not really worried about the Heisman. I’m not focused on me.
“I understand I’m in a position to win it or whatever, but my whole focus is on a (national) championship right now,” he added. “Alabama is another team in the way, not to mention that they’re a great team. We’re focused on them.”
That’s counter to what many are saying, that this is the big stage Fournette that can use to take another step toward the most prestigious individual award in all of college football.
Not even LSU coach Les Miles, who has turned Fournette loose for 1,352 yards, 15 touchdowns and a 7.7 yards per carry average, can ignore the Heisman talk.
At the same time, Miles knows it must be done within the context of the team’s ultimate goal each week: to win the game.
“Yeah, I would take all that off his plate and just talk about victory and do the things he needs to do to help his team win,” Miles said when asked if he would have any advice for Fournette this week. “Really, just run the plays we call and he’ll have every opportunity to achieve at the very highest level.
“Certainly, the greatest credential of a Heisman Trophy candidate is a very successful team.”
Obviously, Alabama will be doing its best to try and stop Fournette, who’ll be going after a school-record 10th consecutive 100-yard rushing game.
The Crimson Tide has allowed just 2.6 yards per rushing attempt this season, but at least two SEC teams — Georgia and Tennessee — fared much better.
Georgia and Nick Chubb, a bona fide Heisman candidate before suffering a season-ending knee injury last month, managed 189 rushing yards with Chubb racking up 146 of them on 20 carries.
In the Tide’s last outing two weeks ago, Tennessee picked up 132 yards to join Georgia as the only Alabama opponents to reach the century mark in rushing.
“I’d definitely say it’s a special defense,” LSU center Ethan Pocic said. “They have one of the best defenses out there, if not the best. That’s something we respect, and it’ll just make this game that much more fun.”
Like Fournette, Pocic said the Heisman talk stays in the background whenever the Tigers are at work preparing for the next game on the schedule.
“All those (awards) work themselves out,” he said. “We work more as a unit and then as a team, so we’re more worried about being 1-0 for this week.”
Guard Will Clapp said awards such as the Heisman Trophy are a byproduct of hard work by the entire offense, which requires each of the players on the field to take care of their own responsibilities.
“If we do that, everything else will follow,” he said. “Leonard’s a great player, and great players play great in big games. He’s been great all season and he has helped our offense out, so we just need to help him keep doing what he has been doing all year.”
With this game and three more regular-season games to follow, Fournette said it’s rather easy not to think about what’s going to happen when the Heisman is awarded Dec. 12 in New York.
“It’s very easy … if I win it, I win it,” he said. “My main focus is to win a championship, not just for us, but for Louisiana, period. I think we have the ability and the talent to do it.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter: @MicklesAdvocate.