Connor Neighbors is a torn man these days.
On one hand, the LSU fullback is a team player and wants to win football games. So he supports the Tigers’ most recent revelation on offense of sticking a running back at fullback.
And on the other hand?
“I mean,” Neighbors said, “obviously I want to get in.”
LSU dusted off an old scheme Saturday in the win over Louisiana-Monroe, inserting another threat in its backfield by replacing the run-blocking Neighbors with freshman running back Darrel Williams or senior Kenny Hilliard.
Seven times on Saturday a running back lined up at fullback, and six times that fullback received a handoff: all dive plays up the middle. From the fullback spot, Hilliard and Williams netted 36 yards, scored three touchdowns and picked up six first downs.
So it worked — at least against a Sun Belt team from north Louisiana.
A stiffer test arrives this Saturday when No. 8 LSU (3-0) hosts Mississippi State (3-0) in its Southeastern Conference opener.
Mississippi State coaches, like other SEC staffs, now have another play to analyze while scouting the Tigers: the running back at fullback.
The move gives LSU three running threats in the backfield: tailback Leonard Fournette or Terrence Magee, fullback Williams or Hilliard, and quarterback Anthony Jennings or Brandon Harris.
“It could be dangerous,” Neighbors said.
Hilliard and Williams are both listed at heavier weights than Neighbors. They’re all about 230 pounds.
“Anytime that you have a guy that can play both positions — run it and catch it and block it from that spot, and he’s a 230 (pound) tailback — there are some advantages,” LSU coach Les Miles said.
If Hilliard and Williams are LSU’s two short-yardage backs, why not move them closer to the yardage they’re attempting to gain? That’s exactly what LSU is doing.
All of the six handoffs to Hilliard and Magee from the fullback set Saturday came on second or third down. Two of them came with 1 yard to reach for a first down. The other four came with 2 yards to reach for a first down.
The play is simple, really, just a fullback dive between the tackles. It may be simple to execute — offensive linemen move bodies and the fullback plunges behind them — but it’s not easy to defend, defensive tackle Christian LaCouture said.
The dive play’s quick handoff is troubling for a big defensive tackle.
“It’s hard, definitely,” LaCouture said. “You really got to get into your guy and get off. You’ve got to read it so quickly, that’s probably why it’s so effective.”
It’s a play that was apparently kept hidden during fall camp. LaCouture said LSU didn’t practice Hilliard or Williams at fullback in August.
“They were probably saving that for the game,” he said.
Using multiple running backs in the backfield isn’t anything new to college football or LSU.
Steven Ridley and Spencer Ware both lined up at fullback, Neighbors said. Arkansas, a yearly opponent of LSU, put two tailbacks in the backfield with Felix Jones and Darren McFadden.
And does anyone remember the Power-I or the Wishbone? Both archaic formations included two running backs behind the quarterback.
LSU has been reserved so far with the set, but offensive coordinator Cam Cameron offered a window into its diversity against ULM. On the one play that wasn’t a dive, Harris faked the dive to Williams, faked a pitch to Fournette, then rolled the opposite direction on a bootleg.
Williams pass-blocked for him on that play, an incomplete pass.
On each of the six dive plays, the quarterback, after the handoff to the fullback, ran an option play with Fournette or Magee — another possible wrinkle with this dynamic set.
“It’s very explosive,” LaCouture said.
For the running backs, learning the fullback position isn’t difficult, Magee said. Similar steps are taken. Similar reads are made.
The differences come when the fullback has to block on a tailback run. Hilliard or Williams hasn’t done that yet.
“When it comes to the blocking, it’s totally different,” Magee said. “We leave that up to Connor.”
Neighbors is fine with that. He wouldn’t mind a carry every now and then either. He has three carries in his LSU career. Meanwhile, Hilliard and Williams had a combined six from his position last week.
“I’m all for it,” a smiling Neighbors said. “I think … maybe I can be in there too, but it is what it is.”