First the jet flyover.
Then Leonard Fournette. Just as fast as Tiger Stadium’s fighter cover. Much more spectacular than daytime pyrotechnics.
Saturday’s game was played in the broiling September sun because CBS figured this would be quite the Southeastern Conference showdown between LSU and Auburn.
It wasn’t. LSU exposed Auburn as a championship pretender with a 45-21 rout. But it did turn out to be a showcase for one of the nation’s best players.
One play. That was all it took for Fournette to pour through a gaping hole in Auburn’s troubled defensive front on LSU’s simple staple, the dive play, and rumble 71 yards to the 4-yard line. From there, Brandon Harris scored on a 2-yard keeper.
It was breathtaking. But Fournette was far, far from done.
During the week, Auburn safety Rudy Ford did a silly thing when asked how much of a challenge tackling LSU’s No. 7 would be.
“Shouldn’t be difficult,” he said. “(Shouldn’t) be that much of a challenge.”
Hey, Auburn crushed LSU 41-7 last year, limiting Fournette to 42 yards on 10 carries. But this is a different year, Fournette is a different back and Ford’s folly was like lighting a fuse.
Fournette was looking for Ford on that first run. He never found him but took Ford’s team to task.
“Words are words,” Fournette said. “This game is about playing.”
This writer has been watching LSU football for a long time, back to the days of Charles Alexander, still LSU’s single-season rushing record holder with 1,686 yards. I’ve seen Dalton Hilliard at tailback, Kevin Faulk and the lost soul, Cecil Collins.
After what he called the best game he ever played — 19 carries for 228 yards and three touchdowns — it may be time to call Fournette the best tailback that’s ever put on the purple and gold.
“We’ve seen all the stuff he does in practice,” center Ethan Pocic said with a chuckle. “You guys just see the games. He’s a freak of nature.”
Someone asked Pocic whether there was a better running back out there.
“I don’t know,” he said, then paused. “Marshawn Lynch?”
The Seattle Seahawks mute tailback maestro would like to have a couple of runs like Fournette had later Saturday.
He scored on a 40-yard run, lowering a shoulder in to Auburn cornerback Blake Countess at the 15 and turning him into a patch on his path to the end zone. On a toss left in the third quarter, safety Tray Matthews went high to try to ride Fournette to the turf, but he shook him off. Then Fournette juked almost 90 degrees to his right around cornerback Carlton Davis, leaving him grasping air on Fournette’s 29-yard trek for another score.
“He did some things today, like throwing a tackler into another tackler,” Miles said of Matthews’ bucking bronco ride. “That’s a guy who lacked a little resolve tackling.”
It was the kind of run that dreams are made of. Heisman dreams. They reserve front-row seats in New York the second Saturday in December for guys who can do what Fournette does.
After he reached the end zone on the 29-yard run, CBS color analyst Gary Danielson told his viewers the play looked like Buck Belue tossing a pitch to Herschel Walker.
Yes, that’s where we are now. Not that Fournette is Walker, the greatest player in SEC history. But he’s doing a pretty good impression at times.
“It was fun,” Fournette said. “I did it in high school. Now it’s in college.”
Now consider this question: LSU should very well be 7-0 going into its Nov. 7 game at Alabama. Assuming Fournette stays healthy — he had a bit of a scare when a helmet hit his knee on his final 1-yard touchdown plunge, effectively ending his afternoon — can LSU ride its uber-talented back to championship glory? It’s at least worth talking about now.
“I told (tight end) Dillon Gordon, ‘We’re better than I thought,’” Fournette said. “But we have to continue to put the work in.”
Fournette isn’t better than anyone thought. He was the nation’s consensus No. 1 recruit coming out of St. Augustine in 2014. But he’s better than most — most who have ever played. And you can bet he’ll put in the work.
Words are words. The game is about playing. Watching someone like Fournette play is a privilege.