In many games this season, Leonard Fournette has thrown a sluggish, sloppy LSU team on his back.
The Heisman Trophy frontrunner has helped the Tigers overcome their struggling special teams, costly penalties and secondary coverage busts.
Apparently, a few other guys wanted to carry that heavy load Saturday.
Safety Jamal Adams forced a fumble and intercepted a pass, and quarterback Brandon Harris threw for a career-high 286 yards and three scores as No. 5 LSU beat Western Kentucky 48-20 on a rainy Saturday night in Tiger Stadium.
LSU scored 17 points in a brief third-quarter spurt — two of those after Adams’ two plays — to turn a 20-13 lead into a rout.
The No. 5 Tigers (7-0, 4-0 Southeastern) got a highlight real day from Harris and his receivers. Malachi Dupre caught a 55-yard touchdown in the first quarter, Travin Dural rolled up a team-leading 132 yards receiving and freshman Tyron Johnson hauled in an electric 61-yard touchdown.
“Each game, we keep getting better and better,” Dupre said. “Confidence is growing. In a game like this, where the weather wasn’t optimal, we still performed.”
And Fournette? He wasn’t bad either. The sophomore sensation finished with 150 rushing yards on 26 carries. His ninth straight 100-yard rushing performance ties the school’s record, and he had seven runs of at least 10 yards.
The Tigers defense stopped Western Kentucky on three fourth-down attempts and slowed the nation’s second-best passing offense, holding the Hilltoppers to 20 points — 17 below their season average. They did it while playing without two defensive starters — tackle Christian LaCouture and cornerback Tre’Davious White didn’t play.
Adams’ plays were key.
He stripped the ball from WKU returner Kylen Towner, and LSU recovered, setting up Fournette’s 1-yard touchdown plunge. He intercepted WKU quarterback Brandon Doughty on the next series to set up that 61-yard strike from Harris to Johnson, capping a 17-point outburst in a 4-minute, 36-second span.
“Huge,” center Ethan Pocic said of the sequence.
“Playmaker. I’m not surprised,” defensive tackle Davon Godchaux said of Adams. “He’s a playmaker. Made a great interception at the right time.”
LSU went from being on the ropes against a Western Kentucky team, their playoff hopes on the line, to taking a 34-13 lead late in the third quarter.
The Tigers extended their season-opening win streak to seven games as they head into a much-needed off week before hitting the final one-third of a back loaded schedule. It starts with a showdown against No. 8 Alabama (7-1, 4-1) on Nov. 7 in Tuscaloosa — a duel discussed at length in LSU’s postgame locker room.
“It’s a game everybody has marked on their calendar a year from when it’ll happen,” Dupre said.
First, LSU had to get past the Hilltoppers (6-2) on a sloppy, rainy night in Baton Rouge. The Tigers overcame seven penalties, two fumbles, at least three dropped passes, a host of secondary coverage busts and more struggles from their special teams, specifically the punting teams.
Harris, his receivers and Adams were there to step into the hero shoes usually worn by Fournette.
The running back struggled at times to find yards against a team bent on stopping him. Western Kentucky stacked the line of scrimmage.
What’d the Tigers do? Passed. LSU had three passes of more than 50 yards in the game. The Tigers had four of those in the first six games of the season.
“They’re grooving more,” Pocic said of the passing game. “We’ve had the talent. We’re just all getting on the same page. When they load up the box, we’ve got to throw it.”
Harris, Fournette and Adams were not made available to speak with reporters after the game.
Harris turned a 3-for-10 start into an 11-for-20 finish and he tied a career high with three touchdown passes.
Backup running back Derrius Guice ran for a late touchdown, sending the remaining water-logged fans to the exits.
It was a wet one.
About 30 minutes before kickoff, less than 20,000 people were in Tiger Stadium as cloudy skies dumped a steady rain on Baton Rouge. The hardest stuff came about an hour before kickoff when a torrential wave of rain storms rolled through Baton Rouge.
LSU players were drenched during warmups. Puddles formed on the field, and cheerleaders on the sideline stood in about six inches of water. Even some roads on campus were closed because of flooding.
“I forgot how hard it is to catch passes like that,” Dupre said. “In warmups, it’s very shaky, but it was a downpour when we were warming up. By game time, it slacked up a little bit.
“Before the game, I said, ‘Brandon, you going to be good?’ He said, ‘Yeah, that’s what I do. I throw the ball,’ ” Dupre said.
He certainly did that — a hero for a sometimes sluggish team that isn’t named Leonard Fournette. That’s a good thing with Alabama rolling around.
“We’re going to be facing a great defense in Alabama,” Dupre said. “Giving the ball to Leonard is a great thing. He makes plays a lot of times when there’s not a play to be made, but going into a game like that, you have to have balance. Without that, it’ll be very hard to beat a team like that.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter, @DellengerAdv.