Remember the LSU-Ole Miss series, when the game meant the world to college football and to the careers of the coaches who battled in it?
Remember Tiger Stadium, when it was filled to the brim and simmered with passion?
Remember Leonard Fournette, maybe the best running back ever to don the purple and gold?
Many LSU fans probably came to Tiger Stadium on Saturday night with a question: How healthy …
It all came together on a movie-backdrop-perfect Saturday night awash with drama and storylines, yet another unforgettable chapter in the history of one of the Deep South’s greatest rivalries.
They honored Bert Jones on the field during the first quarter, LSU’s only All-America quarterback and its latest inductee to the College Football Hall of Fame. Afterward, he took a seat in a suite high above what Willie Morris, one of those legions of great Mississippi authors, once described as that terrain of old tumult, and marveled at another LSU great at work.
Jones wore No. 7, just like Fournette.
“He wears it well,” Jones said, smiling.
Once upon a time, Jones led LSU on an epic 80-yard drive from Tiger Stadium’s north end to the south, culminating with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Brad Davis in a 17-16 win. Jones attempted two passes in the game’s last four seconds, seconds that Ole Miss has been trying to recover for the past 44 years.
LSU needed no such last-gasp heroics this time. Fournette did the “more powerful than a locomotive” stuff up front. He got bottled up a few times but was superhuman often enough, rushing for a single-game school record 284 yards on just 16 carries with touchdown runs of 59, 76 and 78 yards.
To massage a line from “The Empire Strikes Back,” every time Fournette touched the ball, it was a dark time for the rebellion. That old sinking feeling crystallized on a 23-yard stampede at the end of the first quarter, when Forurnette left tread on Ole Miss defensive back Deontay Anderson.
His chances at the Heisman Trophy may have long since evaporated after he missed three games with that nagging high ankle sprain from the summer, but Fournette showed why he’s still Heisman worthy.
“I’ve never been part of a player like Leonard,” LSU interim coach Ed Orgeron said. “He’s dynamic. I believe he’s the best player in the country.”
For a time, the game looked like a heavyweight bout between two great offensive talents: Fournette and Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly. The Rebels were just 3-3, but two of their losses were to Florida State and Alabama, the latter a game in which Ole Miss hung 43 points on the Crimson Tide’s vaunted defense.