Devin White recalls the blow as if it happened last week.
There he was, then a true freshman and rotating linebacker for LSU, thrust into the game of all games — against top-ranked Alabama.
So there he was, out there with the Crimson Tide penned inside its 1-yard line. And there he went, bursting through a small seam in Bama’s offensive line, eluding the block of Tide lineman Ross Pierschbacher and smashing into ball-toting running back Josh Jacobs — like White, a true freshman.
White smacked Jacobs near the goal line and drove him deep into Tiger Stadium’s south end zone as purple-and-gold clad fans roared their approval — an unforgettable moment for the 18-year-old who did the hitting.
White must re-enact that scene from last year’s Bama-LSU clash this Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, if the No. 19 Tigers (6-2, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) are to pull the upset of the No. 1 Tide (8-0, 5-0).
They must slow that smashmouth running game Nick Saban’s squad routinely fields. They must stuff the Tide’s inside rushing, burying Bama’s hefty running backs before they rumble down field for swaths of yardage.
“For us, it’s about stopping the run first,” defensive end Christian LaCouture said, “and getting knockbacks as a defensive line.”
That’s been a problem in the past.
In its six consecutive wins over LSU, Alabama has averaged 180 yards rushing per game and 4.5 yards per carry. Bama backs have run wild.
Derrick Henry in 2015 went for 210 in a game in which he stole the stage from then-Heisman Trophy favorite Leonard Fournette. T.J. Yeldon eclipsed the 100-yard mark in 2013. Trent Richardson ran for 96 yards in that 21-0 national championship win that started the Tigers’ skid, and Eddie Lacy averaged 7.5 yards per carry in the Tide’s 2012 comeback victory in Tiger Stadium.
And last year? It wasn’t a running back at all.
Quarterback Jalen Hurts carried for 114 yards and a 5.7-yard average.
“The perfect quote about him is, he’s a running back who can pass the ball,” cornerback Donte Jackson said. “He’s strong, doesn’t go down that easy. We haven’t really faced anything like him this year. He’s like a more athletic version of (Mississippi State quarterback) Nick Fitzgerald.”
Fitzgerald ran for 88 yards in State’s 37-7 win in September. Those are unsettling numbers for a squad that’s preparing for another round of Hurts, a sophomore who has raced for 572 yards already this year.
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Hurts is averaging 6.8 yards per carry, which seems like a lot until you see Alabama leading rusher Damien Harris has gained yards a pop: 8.6. His backup is 6-foor-2, 235-pound wrecking ball Bo Scarbrough.
“Alabama wants to run the ball and eventually play-action pass,” LaCouture said. “Their first thing is run. The offensive line wants to knock you off the ball for Damien or Bo Scarborough. They have so many backs back there, it’s crazy. Jalen Hurts can run as well.”
Hurts might be White’s problem. In several games this season, White has been responsible for the quarterback, spying from his linebacker perch guys like Fitzgerald, Syracuse's Eric Dungey and Ole Miss’ Shea Patterson.
This game provides a sort-of center stage for a somewhat underappreciated player who snubbed Saban and the Tide during the recruiting process.
White leads the SEC in tackles with 80, a whopping eight beyond the next-best player, but he was left off a slew of midseason All-America teams a couple of weeks ago.
He and defensive end Rashard Lawrence are key figures for a defense that’s had its highs and lows. The Tigers are 47th nationally in run defense, allowing 147 yards per game.
They face their most run-heavy team of the season Saturday.
Enough with these up-tempo, spread teams with scatbacks, White and defenders say, it’s time for some old-school football.
“We’ve been playing smaller backs,” White said. “So it’s kind of harder to tackle. It’s fun with big backs.”
“That’s what I like. I’ll be in the trenches with them. They run downhill and I’m a downhill linebacker,” White said. “I also can run sideline to sideline. I’ve been trying to make plays. It’s fun, but I’d rather be in between the tackles. Rashard stops the (lineman) block in front of me and I’m filling the gap. That’s fun.”
White has a vested interest in this one more than most.
Saban heavily recruited the Springhill native, even visiting White’s north Louisiana home and then showing off his championship rings in the coach’s plush office in Tuscaloosa during White’s official campus visit.
“I am not going to lie," White said, "Coach Saban was like, 'If you go there, we are just going to have to beat you every year.' So I'm like, 'Wow, he really said that about me?’ ”
White chose to stay in the state, “home,” as he calls it.
“A lot of people play for different reasons,” he said. “For me, I’m playing for the state of Louisiana.”
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ON THE GROUND
LSU has struggled to stop the Tide on the ground during this six-game losing streak, allowing Alabama to average 180 yards rushing in those six games. The Tide gains 4.5 yards per carry.
Yards a carry