The Ole Miss defense ranks last in the Southeastern Conference against the run, so it’s a good bet LSU will try to gash the Rebels on Saturday as the top-ranked Tigers look to remain unbeaten.
The question is, which LSU back will do most of the gashing?
Bruising sophomore Spencer Ware started strong and fast, but was suspended Oct. 22 against Auburn for violating team rules and hasn’t been much of a factor in the two games since then.
The speedy Michael Ford was the offensive star of LSU’s 9-6 triumph at Alabama, picking up 72 yards on 11 carries. Well-rounded reserve Alfred Blue sprung for a team-high 119 yards on only nine carries in last week’s rout of Western Kentucky.
True freshman Kenny Hilliard went for 65 yards and two scores subbing for Ware in the Auburn game.
“Any time you can put multiple guys in, it gives the other backs a chance to rest,” Ford said. “We’re wearing the defense down while we’re putting fresh legs in there every time. We rotate every guy. You might not know who’s going to get in the game week to week.”
Ware, who has started eight of the nine games in which he has played, picked up this season where he left off in a 10-carry, 102-yard breakout game against Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl.
Through seven games, he had 512 yards on 128 carries, including a 99-yard effort against Oregon and 100-yard performances against Mississippi State and Florida.
Since serving the one-game suspension, however, he has only 68 yards on 22 carries.
The Tigers have shifted their running game more toward a committee approach, dividing carries among a talented group of erstwhile four- and five-star recruits.
“It’s got to be tough not being able to play every play, but running backs are used to that,” offensive guard Will Blackwell said. “They don’t expect to play every play in a game. We recruit the best. Guys are very fortunate and take advantage of the carries that they do get.”
Hilliard had received only a handful of carries - all from the fullback position - before dotting the “I” and mauling the Auburn defense with Ware out of the lineup.
Two weeks later, when LSU faced Alabama’s top-ranked rush defense, Ford’s speed gave the Crimson Tide fits on the perimeter.
Last week, after going the entire first half without a carry, Blue got the call on LSU’s first possession of the third quarter and never looked back.
“We push each other to be the best we can,” Blue said. “Even at practice, we push each other. There’s a lot of competition in the room. I’m just being patient and waiting on my number to be called. Waiting to help out the team in any way I can.”
LSU ranks second in the SEC behind Trent Richardson-led Alabama in rushing offense, but the Tigers clearly have the conference’s most balanced and diverse attack.
Ware leads LSU with 580 rushing yards, followed by Ford with 575 and Blue with 371.
Quarterback Jordan Jefferson has rushed for 172 yards on 42 carries, good for a 4.1-yard average.
It all sets up for someone to have a big day Saturday at Ole Miss, where the Tigers will face a defense surrendering 209.9 rushing yards per game.
But with LSU’s multipronged attack, it’s always hard to tell who that someone might be.
“You’ve got to wait your turn,” Blue said. “You can’t be greedy and want to play. You just have to be humble and wait your turn. When your time comes, you seize the moment.”