ATLANTA — LSU defensive back Ron Brooks called out to Kenny Hilliard when he noticed his teammate enter the locker room after Saturday’s 42-10 rout of Georgia in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game.
“What’s up, Hilltop?” he said.
The moniker seemed appropriate given the freshman running back’s performance in the second half.
Moving into the role of feature back as LSU went on a 35-0 spurt, Hilliard finished with 72 yards rushing on only eight carries and scored three of the four offensive touchdowns.
Hilliard scored on runs from 15 and 4 yards out, but his biggest highlight may have been a tackle-breaking 8-yard reception from Jordan Jefferson that resulted in a 28-10 lead.
“Kenny’s a tremendous runner,” LSU offensive guard Will Blackwell said. “He’s going to be the next real deal here at LSU.”
While getting his feet wet, Hilliard spent the early part of his rookie season hitting holes as a backup fullback.
He made his first major contribution in the running game Oct. 8 against Florida, pounding his way to 65 yards and two scores as Spencer Ware served a one-game suspension. He was back at it against Arkansas to close the regular season, rushing for a season-best 102 yards and a touchdown to earn SEC freshman of the week recognition.
Over the past three games, Hilliard has rushed for 233 yards and four touchdowns on 36 carries.
For the season, he has 320 yards on 57 carries and eight rushing scores.
Georgia defenders felt his wrath Saturday as Hilliard, the state of Louisiana’s all-time high-school rushing leader, led a punishing ground attack that churned out 202 yards in the second half.
Alfred Blue, who came on late as well, had 94 yards on eight carries with a 48-yard score.
“I just ran the ball,” Hilliard said.
“I ran just like I did against Arkansas and Auburn. I just played ball.”
Hilliard carried only once for one yard in the first half. LSU went to intermission with five yards rushing on 13 carries and nary a first down.
“Kenny made a couple of key cuts and some very key runs in that game,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “It really looked like he had a hot hand, and we didn’t want to go away from him He makes great cuts, and he’s physical. And that was kind of the game.”
Hilliard said he looks forward to picking up where Saturday left off when the Tigers arrive in New Orleans next month to play for a national title.
As freshman seasons go, he said it couldn’t get any better.
“I’ve already played in the SEC championship,” he said. “Now, I’m about to play in a national championship.”