With Derrius Guice missing the first three days of practice this week with a leg injury, Darrel Williams figured he would have a bigger hand in LSU’s offense.
Williams just didn’t know how much, especially after Guice returned to practice Thursday.
On Saturday night, Williams, a senior, was the backfield workhorse for No. 25 LSU in a 35-26 victory against Syracuse in Tiger Stadium.
Williams had 16 carries for 92 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown burst in the third quarter, and added three receptions — tying his career high — for a career-best 50 yards.
Williams came up big twice in the second half when Guice, who netted just 14 yards on eight carries with a long gain of 11, left the game for good with just under five minutes remaining in the second period.
“He’s fine,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said of Guice after the game.
A swarming Syracuse defense did a number on Guice, who averaged 100.0 rushing yards in the first three games of the season.
After he had a 1-yard touchdown run on LSU’s first offensive snap following an interception by cornerback Greedy Williams on Syracuse’s first play, Guice was held to no gain twice, a 1-yard loss and a 1-yard gain to total 1 yard on his first five carries.
“Their defensive line was penetrating and stunting and getting in the backfield,” Orgeron said of LSU’s early troubles running the ball. “We weren’t able to pick it up.”
Enter Williams, who seemed to spark the running game after the Tigers had minus-1 yard rushing in the opening quarter and 10 total yards on 10 snaps.
LSU, which entered the game averaging 217.0 yards per game and 4.9 yards per carry, was held to 151 yards and 4.0 yards per attempt Saturday night.
Still, the Tigers managed to build a 21-10 lead midway through the third quarter when Orgeron pulled starting quarterback Danny Etling and replaced him with true freshman Myles Brennan.
Brennan cranked up a drive with back-to-back 11-yard runs by Russell Gage and Williams, with Gage’s run coming on a jet sweep.
Three plays later, Brennan and Williams combined for a huge play that kept the drive going.
On third-and-4 from the LSU 37, Williams snuck out of the backfield and caught a swing pass that he carried down the right sideline for 43 yards with some nice downfield blocking from wide receiver Drake Davis.
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On the next play, Williams took a handoff and skirted the left side en route to a 20-yard scoring run that extended the Tigers’ lead to 28-10 with 5:22 to play in the third period.
Williams now has 251 yards and a 5.7 average on 44 carries this season.
“He had a great game,” F-back JD Moore said. “We’ve been knowing he’s a great back. Just to see him have a good game, his most explosive of the year, was fun to watch.”
Williams, who was not available for interviews after the game, lost 10 pounds in the offseason and became a more elusive back, a trait which came in handy Saturday night.
“He’s faster, more lean … he’s always been a powerful back,” Moore said. “He’s just able to move quicker, make faster reactions. You can obviously tell by the way he runs.”
LSU certainly needed that touchdown drive that ended with Williams' fifth scoring run of the season because Syracuse scored 16 unanswered points to cut the deficit to 28-26 with 5:40 left in the game.
At that point, Williams made his presence felt again in a big situation.
After Foster Moreau recovered an onside kick, Etling returned to the field, and Williams ripped off a 24-yard run on the second play of the possession.
That gave LSU a first down at the Syracuse 28 and DJ Chark scored on a 20-yard jet sweep five plays later to ice the victory with 1:52 left.
“Darrel played great,” LSU center Will Clapp said. “Darrel’s old reliable. … He’s always there for us. It’s nice to have great backs everywhere.
“His speed has definitely improved and he’s having a great season,” he added. “He’s one of the leaders of the offense.”