Perhaps if Leonard Fournette — a player who carried the ball 300 times last season — wasn’t a generational-type talent, Derrius Guice might have received the Reggie Bush comparison sooner.
Or maybe if Fournette’s left ankle had been healthy since the start of the season, LSU coach Ed Orgeron may have stopped short of linking Guice with one of most electrifying players in college football history.
Yet, five games into the season, Guice leads LSU (3-2, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) in rushing and scoring, averaging more than 8 yards per carry. Fournette, sidelined for the second time this season, watched his understudy put up 163 yards and three touchdowns in a 42-7 win against Missouri on Saturday.
When Orgeron watched the Missouri tape, he couldn’t help but see the former Heisman Trophy-winning running back at Southern California.
“(Guice’s) ability to jump cut, run to the left and jump cut to the right is about one of the best I've seen,” Orgeron said. “He has some Reggie Bush-like cuts. He's bigger and stronger than Reggie was in college, maybe not quite as fast, but he has cuts like Reggie had.”
Offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger called more passes early and spread the defense out with unusual looks. With fewer men to block in the tackle box, the holes were wider than normal.
Danny Etling spent much of the past week learning new things.
Guice, the SEC Offensive Player of the Week, did the rest, running for gains of 42, 22, 37 and 21 yards. Two of those were touchdowns in the first half.
“Unless you're grabbing his feet, they are always going to be churning, even if he goes out of bounds,” fullback J.D. Moore said. “He had a play, I think, he went out of bounds, and he just kept running for 30 yards just in case. You never know."
Guice had 76 touches last year: 51 carries, five receptions and 20 kickoff returns. Those numbers are paltry compared to Fournette’s totals, but Guice didn’t lack for eye-popping plays.
The Catholic High product can be slippery, too, but his low center of gravity gives him an uncanny ability to stay upright while taking on contact. Look no further than his 75-yard kickoff return in the 2015 season finale against Texas A&M.
Even before Orgeron uttered Bush’s name when speaking about Guice, he thought about a defensive lineman he coached at Miami in the early 1990s.
“He's tough as nails,” Orgeron said. “He runs the ball like Warren Sapp played defense, and he has an energy about him, and he has an attitude when he strikes you that he's wanting to go through you.”
Not nearly as big as the 300-pound Sapp, the gregarious and candid LSU running back prefers a comparison to another defensive player, even if Orgeron was just referring to Guice’s mentality.
“I would have been better with someone like Ray Lewis or something like that," Guice said.
The first name out of LSU coach Ed Orgeron’s mouth when asked who running back Derrius Guice…
But those Bush-like jump cuts didn’t exactly develop in a vacuum, Guice acknowledges. He actually admired Bush growing up, even donning the No. 5 jersey in youth football.
Guice appreciates the compliment from Orgeron, he said, but he doesn’t want to take it any further than that.
“I'm Derrius at the end of the day,” Guice said. “So I'm going to stick with that.”
As for his relationship with Fournette, it hasn’t changed as his role as his increased, and Guice said Fournette is still supportive of him when No. 7 isn’t on the field.
“We all know he's disappointed he isn't playing,” Guice said. “But whenever I come on the sideline, we're hugging, we're doing our little handshake or he's just give me some advice, telling me how I did on the previous play or drive. To me, he's supportive on the sideline. All the 'He looks mad,' I don't know where that comes from.”
And when Fournette does return, even if isn't against Florida (4-1, 2-1) at 11 a.m. CT Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Orgeron isn’t opposed to having them both on the field at the same time.
“I would love to,” Orgeron said. “I believe putting the best players on the field and putting the ball in their hands, if that's something that can be a possibility in the near future, and it's something that we have done in the past.”