LSU coach Les Miles has always loved a power running game, and sophomore Spencer Ware is putting the power in the Tigers’ running game this season.
Ware, 5-foot-11, 225 pounds, has quickly developed a reputation for inviting contact when he runs and forcing multiple defenders to try to bring him down. Ware is the workhorse in LSU’s deep backfield, leading the Tigers with 432 yards and 105 carries.
Miles said last week’s 41-11 victory against Florida in which Ware gained a career-high 109 yards and scored two touchdowns on 24 rushes, was vintage Ware.
“I felt that Spencer Ware came and played with a physicality and passion that he is becoming known for. It is his style of ball,” Miles said. “He ran hard on every play.”
Ware, who played quarterback in high school in Cincinnati, said he’s been a physical runner since he was 6 or 7 years old playing youth football.
“If you come as hard as you can full throttle with it on your mind that you can’t tackle me, you will break the tackle,” Ware said. “Every time you touch the football, you have to have the mentality that you want to score, not that, ?Oh there’s a defender in front of me, I might get tackled.’ It’s, ?I’ve got a defender in front of me, make him miss and go score.’”
Quarterback Jarrett Lee remembers one play on which Ware was especially difficult to bring down.
“I recall one play in the Mississippi State game,” Lee said. “I think all 11 guys hit Spencer, and it took the 11th guy to get him down. That was pretty impressive.”
Ware, who had just 24 carries as a true freshman last season, has averaged 24 carries in the Tigers’ four games against ranked opponents.
“As a quarterback, you would probably just come and get your shoulder iced (after a game),” Ware said. “But as a running back, it’s shoulders, arms, fingers, shins, knees and things like that..”
Zero tolerance for turnovers
Michael Ford was Ware’s primary backup during the first four games of the season, but he has had just 10 carries the past two games, including just one against Florida last week, one game after Ford fumbled against Kentucky, though the Tigers kept the ball.
The drop in carries after the dropped ball is not a coincidence.
“It is important to our team that the person that we entrust with the responsibility of the football, return it to the team,” Miles said. “In other words, irrespective of the gain or a loss, it is our ball. It is a basic responsibility. We work on it every day. It is not something that escapes us in any day, including game day.”
Alfred Blue has been Ware’s primary backup the past two games, getting three times as many carries as Ford.
“I had a mistake when I went in there and dropped the ball,” Ford said. “We’ve got a whole bunch of great running backs. Blue stepped in and he seized the moment and he’s doing a great job.”
LSU is plus-11 in turnover margin, having given the ball away just three times, zero in the past three games.
“That’s LSU’s identity,” Ford said. “You don’t even have to say it. You’re going to hold that ball with your dear life. You’ve just got to go back to practice every day and work hard. You can’t dwell on the past.”
Shepard waits for returns
Junior wide receiver Russell Shepard said fans might still get a chance to see him do something he hasn’t done as a Tiger: return kickoffs. Shepard was ineligible for the first three games and came up with a gimpy knee after catching a pass against Kentucky two weeks ago.
“I’m going to do it some time,” Shepard said. “I haven’t had too many opportunities to get back there. The time’s going to come when I’m able to get back there and return some. but (Morris Claiborne) is doing an amazing job with that. When you’ve got a hot hand, you want to keep riding your hot hand.”
Claiborne is averaging 29.1 yards per return and ran one back 99 yards for a touchdown against West Virginia.
“I’d love to see Russell get back there and return a couple, because I know what he can do in the open field when he gets the ball in his hands,” Claiborne said.