For a team with a Heisman Trophy candidate at running back, not many would have guessed that cornerback Tre’Davious White would lead LSU in scoring after two games.
But after an interception returned for a touchdown against Wisconsin, White’s second touchdown in as many weeks undoubtedly turned a few more heads. He traveled 137 yards, according to ESPN, on a risky but ultimately dazzling 60-yard punt return for a touchdown Saturday night.
The senior defensive back caught a punt from Jacksonville State's Dean Kelly at the 40-yard line and started upfield before breaking a tackle and backtracking 21 yards. As six Jacksonville State players pursued him, White looped around the coverage unit. Once he got in open space, a wall of LSU blockers had been set up on the right side of the field.
White, who now is one punt return for a touchdown shy of tying the school record, needed to make to make just one more man miss on his way to the end zone.
“Tre’Davious White, he went back 21 yards before he started to go forward on that return,” coach Les Miles said. “So he should get double credit for that running.”
Running back Derrius Guice, a kick returner who started in place of Leonard Fournette and turned in a 19-carry, 155-yard performance, said he had never thought about retreating on a return as White did.
“No, I don’t, because nine times out of 10 times you get cocked running backward and lose yards," he said. "For Tre, it was a magnificent play, and it worked well in his favor, and I’m proud of that guy. I really am.”
During preseason practice, White said he focused on trusting his blockers and ball security on punt returns, but he acknowledged the “risk/reward” of a play like Saturday's. It if works, it can be a game-changer.
White’s roommate, fellow cornerback Donte Jackson, nearly had his own special teams touchdown. Before quarterback Danny Etling’s first touchdown drive, Jackson’s 101-yard kickoff return early in the second quarter was called back because of a holding penalty.
Jackson later returned an interception 40 yards in the third quarter, setting up Etling’s 2-yard rushing touchdown on the ensuing possession. Jackson also forced a fumble in the season-opening loss to Wisconsin.
“We pride ourselves on making big plays," White said of Jackson. "We room together on the road. Last week, he was able to get a turnover for the team, and this week he was able to make some plays. His (return for a touchdown) didn’t stand, but he’s going to have plenty more opportunities.”
‘Hit a weak spot in my heart’
Before running back Nick Brossette became an LSU football player, he dealt with tragedy: the death of his brother in the spring of 2015. His mother had been fighting cancer since 2012, so LSU set up a fund to help the family with living expenses.
But then he tore his ACL against Ole Miss last season. After successful surgery, he got on the field Saturday for the first time this season and made it count: He carried five times for 40 yards in the fourth quarter.
“I’m so happy for Nick,” Guice said. “It’s crazy because you see the hard work he puts in all year. He had a devastating injury last year, and it’s one most people don’t come back from. I’m just really happy for the dude. He had to overcome a lot adversity. Just seeing him run hard like that, break tackles and just keep the ball moving, it hit a weak spot in my heart for him because I feel his pain that he’s been going through.”
Even before the injury, the former University High standout played sparingly behind Fournette, Guice and Darrel Williams. Last year, he carried the ball 12 times for 65 yards with a long of 10 yards.
He eclipsed all of his career highs against Jacksonville State, including an 18-yard gain on his first touch.
“It was just something that he really needed,” Guice said. “As a running back group, we've got to be there to support him. That’s what we do. He did a great job of doing what he was supposed to do when he was called upon.”
Eight freshmen and four redshirt freshmen made their college debuts Saturday.
After being suspended for the season opener, cornerback Saivion Smith and wide receiver Dee Anderson saw action for the first time. The six other true freshmen who played were nose tackle Ed Alexander; offensive lineman Donavaughn Campbell; safety Eric Monroe; linebackers Devin White and Sci Martin; and wide receivers Stephen Sullivan and Drake Davis. Davis had a 19-yard reception late in the fourth quarter.
Four redshirt freshmen — quarterback Justin McMillan, running back Lanard Fournette, wide receiver Derrick Dillon and guard Adrian Magee — also played. McMillan replaced Etling late in the fourth quarter and completed his only pass — that 19-yard reception by Davis.
Freshman punter Josh Growden averaged 40.8 yards on four attempts, bouncing back from a rough outing in the season opener. He averaged just 32.4 yards on seven punts against Wisconsin. … LSU’s Southeastern Conference opener Saturday against Mississippi State at Tiger Stadium will be televised on ESPN2. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. ... The Tigers moved up one spot to No. 20 in the Associated Press poll released Sunday.