Leonard Fournette took the handoff from Brandon Harris, drove full speed into the crowded line of scrimmage and was met by an orange and blue Florida wall.
Then he was pushed back. And back. And back until Florida had shoved him down onto the turf, well after his forward progress had ended.
There was a whistle but no flag, the Southeastern Conference officiating crew apparently deciding that LSU’s bull isn’t made of china.
Fournette is certainly no lightweight. At 6-foot-1, 230 pounds, Fournette dishes out plenty of punishment to opposing defenders, who before the game is over often take the “Ole!” approach to trying to tackle him.
But that doesn’t mean he’s indestructible. Or shouldn’t be protected from the kind of hits and extracurriculars that have made his remarkable season a like a dance on a roulette wheel. It’s part of the reason many have called for him to sit out next season, to safeguard the physique that will eventually bring him NFL riches.
Fournette was also poked in the eye during the Florida game — he couldn’t say if it was intentional — at the bottom of a multiplayer pileup. He was hit in the nether regions last month at Syracuse game, a low blow more than likely to be intentional.
A football game is not a church service, and the field is populated by its share of sinners eager to take a pot shot at the man being touted as a generational player. And not every slight or foul can be caught by the officials. But they can do a better job of protecting one of college football’s most dynamic players than they do when a 250-pound defender lands on top of him well after his forward progress ends.
You know darned well if he were a quarterback there would have been a flag for the couple of overaggressive “back ends” of plays by Florida’s defense.
LSU coach Les Miles didn’t bang the podium in protest Monday at his weekly news conference, but he definitely sounded a yellow alert. He revealed that the first-half play in which Fournette was driven back and to the turf was one of several his staff sent to the SEC office.
“I want to protect my players,” Miles said. “The driving back and falling on them, I think there’s a point in time where that’s called a personal foul.
“When you have a back that’s fighting like heck for yards and he’s on his feet and you have stopped (his) forward progress, the whistle needs to be blown. And then when the whistle is blown, the defense is allowed to let go of them as opposed to continue to drive them 10 yards and throw them on the ground. Those kind of things need not to happen.”
Miles indicated Fournette knows how defenses may try to go over the top when they have a chance to tackle him.
“He (Fournette) has been a back of note for his career and understands that responsibility and certainly that a defense would see him and how important (he is) to us in our success,” he said. “Yeah, I’m concerned for his well-being. But again, to a point, it is football.”
And tackle football at that, not flag. But Miles is exactly right that the time comes for a flag to be thrown once the play goes on too long.
LSU’s season has reached the halfway point. To date, Fournette has 150 carries. It’s reasonable to assume he could pile up 150 more.
He’s an asset not just to LSU but the entire SEC. And to college football. It’s a rough game and Fournette is a tough man, but it shouldn’t be rougher for him just because he is bigger and better than most — if not all — the other running backs in the game.
Hopefully, LSU’s protests will be heeded by SEC officials before Fournette is needlessly injured on a play allowed to go on far too long.