Six games into his first year as the Tigers’ go-to back, Ware has carved a bruising niche as a back who goes looking for contact instead of veering away from it.
“He’s very physical and we love that out of our running backs,” LSU guard Will Blackwell said. “We want a guy who thrives on contact, and that’s how Spencer plays. He doesn’t try to run around you if he can run over you.”
Which leads to Ware’s shortcoming.
Unlike his prep career as quarterback at Princeton High in Cincinnati, when the 5-foot-11, 225-pounder needed to avoid contact to stay on the field, Ware has developed a nasty habit of throwing caution to the wind.
“One play in the Mississippi State game, I think all 11 guys hit him and it took the 11th guy to take him down,” LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee said. “That was pretty impressive.”
And pretty standard for Ware as he has grinded out 432 yards on 105 carries, missing most of two games.
If there’s a tackler to attack, Ware will find him. When there’s not a hole, Ware either creates of finds one – usually behind fullback James Stampley.
“You’ve just got to trust blocking scheme and trust that we’re better than the defense, stay on the fullback’s hip and eventually find daylight,” Ware said.
“I’m bringing the defensive opponent’s true colors out. If you put it in their minds, you will break a tackle.”
Problem is, you also inflict some self-damage.
Ware said learning how to recover from a day at the office is an ongoing process.
In the four games when he has been healthy and needed, Ware has carried the ball 26, 22, 23 and 24 times – a lot of wear and tear no matter how tough Ware is.
“As a quarterback, you come in and get your shoulder iced,” Ware said. “Running back it’s shoulders, arms, fingers, shins, knees. The first couple of weeks I wasn’t doing a good job at resting and letting myself heal and now am.”
For LSU’s massive right side of the offensive line, it’s conceivable both could’ve wound up on the other side of the field this week when No. 1-ranked LSU tangles with Tennessee.
Left guard Josh Williford grew up a Volunteers’ fan with family roots in the state and a father who went to school at UT.
Likewise, Alex Hurst grew up in the Memphis suburbs and was courted by former Voles coach Phillip Fulmer.
Had their hearts or heritage been the only factors involved, the 6-foot-7, 324-pound Williford and 6-6, 340-pound Hurst might be trying to figure out how to make holes against the Tigers on Saturday.
Williford is quick to admit he was a fan of the Big Orange growing up in Dothan, Ala., where his father located the family after graduating from Tennessee.
In fact, Williford has been to several Volunteers games – most of them against Alabama, including the memorable 51-43 five-overtime UT victory at Bryant-Denny Stadium in 2003.
“When I was little I knew every word to Rocky Top,” Williford said with a smile. “I still know it.
“In high school, everybody assumed I was going to go to Tennessee because I grew up a huge Tennessee fan. It’s a beautiful stadium and a beautiful place, but when I went there, God sort of directed me. When I went there to visit, I just knew it wasn’t the place foe me as soon as I stepped foot in (Neyland Stadium). It didn’t feel right and this place did.”
Hurst felt the same way, and his pull to Knoxville wasn’t nearly as strong.
Though he spent most of his life in Bartlett, Tenn., Hurst was more of a Notre Dame fan than Tennessee.
“Orange was not anything that big in my house,” Hurst said.
That didn’t stop Fulmer from courting the Class 5A all-state tackle.
Former Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron was the first to step up with a scholarship offer and UT was a close second.
“I obviously thought about it because it’s my state school,” Hurst said.
Like Williford, though, once Hurst got a taste of the LSU program, his mind was made up.
Now for the first and only time in his career, Hurst will trot onto the field at mammoth Neyland Stadium with a bunch of friends and family on hand – he insists he’s gobbled every ticket he could get his hands on.
“I think it’s going to be fun a game,” he said. “It’s always fun to go back to your home state and play in front of your home-state fans.”
What’s in a name?
When it rolls off your lounge, the name of Tigers defensive end Barkevious Mingo sounds like something proud and heroic.
But the origin is really something very much down-to-earth.
Mingo said his mom, Barbara Johnson, got tired of his father naming sons with some form of his name – Hugh. Mingo’s two older brothers are Hugh Mingo III and Hughtavious Mingo.
So when son No. 3 came along, mom got her way. She merged her name with Kevious, which is her favorite name.
“I usually just start spelling it when people ask me my name,” Mingo said with a smile.
Somewhere along the way, though, Barbara simplified matters a bit, creating the derivative KeKe.
That helped when LSU coach Les Miles met Mingo and “slaughtered my name,” Mingo said.
“So he heard my mom call me KeKe and he sticks with that now.”
Big-play potential realized
Nobody is going to confuse LSU’s passing game for Arkansas or Tennessee. After all, the Tigers enter the weekend ranked eighth in the SEC with 183.3 passing yards a game.
But Lee, Jordan Jefferson and the rest of the offense have shown a knack for delivering big plays this season with 16 passes covering 22 yards or more.
Of those 16 long plays, Lee has connected on 13 for 473 of his 974 yards. Wide receiver Rueben Randle has snared eight of those throws from Lee for 266 of his 446 receiving yards.
Most of the Lee-to-Randle hookups have come on play-action passes, which have become as big a staple of the Tigers’ offense as off-tackle runs and the quick toss plays designed to allow the back to find a hole quickly and decisively.
“We’ve gotten real comfortable with it and we run the ball so well it makes the safeties bite pretty hard and that opens things up,” Randle said.
Randle has played a key role, too, running sharper and more explosive routes than he has in the past.
And he was quick to credit Lee for two perfect throws against Florida last week that turned into gains of 46 yards and a touchdown and 57 yards – LSU’s longest play from scrimmage in 2011.
“Two perfect passes,” Randle said. “I caught the first one right on stride. The second one I slowed down a little bit and it was kind of my fault, but he threw it right on the money.”
Crunchin’ the numbers
--- Tennessee’s rankings in the SEC: Scoring offense 5th (32.6 points per game), rushing offense 12th (84.8 yards per game; also 12th with 2.5 yards per carry), passing offense 2nd (327.2 ypg), total offense 4th (412 ypg), scoring defense 8th (20.4 ppg), rushing defense 6th (139.6 ypg), passing defense 10th (200.8 ypg), total defense 7th (343.8 ypg)
--- LSU’s rankings in the SEC: Scoring offense 2nd (38.5 ppg), rushing offense 6th (183.5 ypg), passing offense 8th (183.3 ypg), total offense 9th (366.8 ypg), scoring defense 2nd (12.5 ppg), rushing defense 2nd (69.2 ypg), passing defense 5th (184.8 ypg), total defense 2nd (254 ypg)
--- The Vols have just one interceptions in 145 opponent pass attempts. Tennessee has also recorded only seven sacks, tied for 10th in the SEC.
--- LSU and UT rank 1-2 in the league in time of possession. The Tigers are running 33:40 a game while the Vols have held onto the ball for 33:17 a contest.
--- Losing Tyler Bray means UT will play without the SEC leader in passing yards per game (315.8), passing touchdowns (14) pass efficiency (165.2) and total yards (1,519).
--- Vols receiver Da’Rick Rogers has been a bright spot with 32 receptions for 513 yards (both 2nd in the SEC).He also hauled in six touchdown passes, which is tied for tops in the league.
Moving the chains
--- LSU is seeking a three-game sweep of East Division opponents for the second straight year, which would be a program first. The Tigers current three-game win streak vs. Tennessee marks the first time LSU has won consecutive game against the Volunteers.
--- The Tigers are playing a third consecutive game as the No. 1 team in the Associated Press poll for the first time since 1959 when they began the season in the top spot and held it for eight weeks … until a 14-13 loss at Tennessee.
--- That Volunteers’ victory over a No. 1 team was one of only two in their history against eight losses. That was the first time UT had ever played a top-ranked foe.
--- Ball security has been a big key for LSU this season, with only three giveaways in six games. The Tigers’ last turnover came in the fourth quarter against Mississippi State on Lee’s only pick this season. That was 38 possessions, 208 snaps and nearly 106 minutes of game action ago.
--- Miles’ 3-1 record against Tennessee makes him the only LSU coach to beat the Vols three times.
--- Fifteen true freshmen have played for UT this season and the Volunteers are the only team in the country that starts three first-year players on defense. Freshmen linebackers Curt Maggitt and A.J. Johnson each have 21 tackles, tied for third on the team.
--- Tennessee has scored points on 22 of 24 chances in the red zone this season, third in the SEC behind the Tigers (28 of 29) and Arkansas (25 of 26).
--- LSU’s 16-14 triumph last season represented the lowest winning point total in Miles’ seven-year tenure. The last time the Tigers won with fewer points was a 14-13 decision against Ole Miss in 2002.