HOUSTON — Kenny Hilliard knows what it’s like to be thrown into the fire in LSU’s offense.
In the summer of 2011, the Patterson native arrived in Baton Rouge as a four-star recruit who had set the state high school record for career rushing yards. All eyes were on him the second he stepped on campus.
Little did he know that his presence wouldn’t be felt until later on: Hilliard only had two carries for 3 yards in the 2011 season opener against Oregon in Arlington, Texas. It wasn’t until seven weeks later against Auburn that he would post more than 50 rushing yards.
So when Hilliard stood with his teammates on the sideline and watched freshman Leonard Fournette struggle to find open space Saturday against Wisconsin, he knew what he had to say to reach the Class of 2014’s top recruit.
“You’ve just got to stay humble with everything,” Hilliard said after LSU’s 28-24 victory. “Just stay praying, and just work.”
LSU coach Les Miles certainly gave Fournette opportunities at NRG Stadium, but the St. Augustine product was consistently stuffed at the line of scrimmage. When the final whistle blew, he finished with eight carries for 18 yards — not including a failed pitch that resulted in a loss of 11 yards.
It wasn’t the superstar debut most LSU fans were hoping for, but with veterans like Hilliard and Terrence Magee in the backfield, Saturday’s performance likely will be used as a teaching tool.
“That’s how it was for us when we were coming in,” Hilliard said. “Guys like Alfred Blue, Spencer Ware and Michael Ford were able to take us underneath their wings and show us the way. That’s what we’re here for. We’re here to help lift each other up and stay positive.”
Jennings not fazed
Outside of one play — an 80-yard heave to receiver Travin Dural — sophomore quarterback Anthony Jennings had a first half to forget against Wisconsin.
Jennings completed 5 of 15 passes for 120 yards before halftime. And with 4:21 left in the second quarter, freshman Brandon Harris made his first appearance as a Tiger on the squad’s eighth offensive possession.
Jennings said he was rooting for his teammate when Harris jogged into the huddle.
“That’s going to be the choice that they have,” Jennings said. “I have great confidence in him, and he’s done great things so far. He knows the offense very well, and with him being in there, it gives us a little change up.”
Like Fournette, Harris’ much-anticipated debut was a quiet outing. He lasted just one series, giving a handoff to fellow freshman Trey Quinn before being sacked on consecutive plays.
Miles went back to Jennings for the rest of the contest. Jennings said the freshman shouldn’t dwell on Saturday’s outing for long.
“You just have to calm it down and continue to work with the process,” he said. “It always works out.”
The past is in the past
Junior safety Jalen Mills is ready to move forward.
After an offseason of off-the-field trouble — most notably his May arrest for knocking a woman unconscious, which resulted in a suspension from team activities until August — the DeSoto, Texas, native wanted to be a starter for the squad’s season opener.
Miles gave Mills the nod, and he finished with four tackles (one for loss) and a critical interception in the fourth quarter. Mills said getting through that first game was vital.
“It was very important just getting back in the swing of things because I missed all summer,” Mills said. “I came into camp and had to hit my playbook and practice hard. I’m just trying to work for my team.”
Dural finished with three catches for 151 yards. All 10 of his career catches have resulted in a touchdown or a first down. ... Hilliard had his fourth 100-yard rushing effort of his career and his first since September 2012. ... Badgers defensive lineman Konrad Zagzebski, who was motionless and carted off the field after a first-quarter collision with Hilliard, was released from the hospital and traveled home with the team, the Wisconsin athletic department said. No details about his injury were released.