Leonard Fournette’s season has gone much like LSU’s.
The sophomore running back became a national celebrity and the unquestioned frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy during the team’s 7-0 start that propelled it to No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings. Since then, Fournette and the Tigers have disappeared from the Heisman and national championship conversation.
He averaged only 76.7 yards in LSU’s three straight double-digit losses, with his worst outing of the year coming in a 31-yard performance at Alabama. D
espite the recent slide, Fournette can still solidify his place in the program record books when the Tigers take on Texas A&M at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in Tiger Stadium.
The 230-pound running back needs only 105 yards to break the LSU single-season rushing record of 1,686 yards held by Charles Alexander (1977). He stands two touchdowns away from tying the single-season touchdown record, a mark LaBrandon Toefield set by scoring 19 in 2001.
Though Fournette is now tied for third in Bovada’s latest Heisman odds, LSU coach Les Miles believes he should still be in the running.
“He would be the kind of guy that would represent any national award extremely well,” Miles said Monday during his weekly press luncheon. “He’s good off the field, he’s a great teammate, he’s unselfish. When you give him his opportunities, whether it’s a block or whether it’s a run, it is run full. I mean, it’s full speed. You had best be prepared.
“I would like to say that those people in New York need to consider inviting him.”
Fournette has experienced a swift decline, but he still leads the nation with 158.2 rushing yards per game, 10 more than the closest running back. His numbers have decreased in the absence of two crucial blockers, senior tight end Dillon Gordon and sophomore fullback JD Moore, who both suffered season-ending injuries.
The offensive line has struggled in the last three games, and Miles has said the Tigers (7-3, 4-3 Southeastern) need to get Fournette “loose” more often. All things considered, sophomore receiver Malachi Dupre called Fournette’s dip in the Heisman race “foolish.”
“For him to have one bad game against Alabama and be counted out really didn’t make any sense to me,” Dupre said last week. “...Leonard is still the best player in college football. I’m not just saying that because he’s my teammate.”
Fournette will have one more chance to surge back into serious Heisman contention this Saturday, and such a performance would likely result in him securing the program records. It’s a favorable matchup for the sophomore — the Aggies (8-3, 4-3 SEC) sport the second-worst rushing defense in the league, giving up 202.5 yards per game.
Right place, right time
Move on over, Fournette. LSU has another Heisman contender.
Redshirt freshman offensive guard Will Clapp was bombarded with joking text messages saying as much after he recovered a fumble for a touchdown during LSU’s 38-17 loss to Ole Miss last Saturday.
Fournette fumbled while trying to cross the goal line on third-and-goal, and Clapp fell on the ball in the end zone to cut the Tigers’ deficit to 24-17 early in the third quarter.
“Just being in the right place at the right time. I was just lucky enough to fall on it,” Clapp said. “...We’re just taught that if you see a ball on the ground, you fall on it. I guess I was just lucky enough that time that I fell on it and it was a touchdown.”
Clapp said he thought Fournette scored, but he was able to pounce on the loose ball for the second touchdown of his football career. He fell on a fumble in the end zone during his park ball days.
The sophomore said radio announcers mistakenly credited the fumble recovery and touchdown to his father Tommy, an LSU defensive lineman from 1984-1987. Clapp got a laugh out of scoring his first collegiate touchdown — but not for long.
After squandering a 24-0 lead, the Rebels answered Clapp’s touchdown with two scoring drives of their own to go ahead 38-17. The Tigers’ offense sputtered after that with a punt, an interception and three turnovers on downs.
“All my buddies were texting me saying, ‘Will Clapp for Heisman,’” Clapp said. “It’s funny stuff, but I would have much rather gotten the victory than scored a touchdown.”