TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Nobody involved in the leadup to Saturday’s LSU-Alabama game had any illusions about how tough running the ball between the tackles was going to be for both teams.
What might’ve been a surprise, though, was how well the Tigers and Crimson Tide both carved out yards on the edges of the opposing defense.
Maybe that wasn’t so surprising with Trent Richardson, who showed why he’s a leading Heisman Trophy candidate, racking up 98 yards on his first 20 carries. He finished with 89 on the ground and caught five passes for 80 yards.
Meanwhile, Michael Ford was the poster child for that surprise element for LSU.
For the most part, the Tigers’ speedy sophomore was mentioned only in passing by most of the national media during the weeks before the game, especially once it became clear that Spencer Ware was returning to action after serving a one-game suspension for allegedly failing a drug test.
Safe bet that Ford won’t fly under the radar any more this season.
|LSU's Michael Ford gave LSU a different gear on the option play|
With the middle clogged up by Alabama’s brick-wall defense, the LSU offensive coaches switched gears and dialed up several option plays with quarterback Jordan Jefferson and Ford generating bursts of energy and positive yards after muddling through most of the first half.
“Michael Ford, his eyes get wide and he likes to play in these games,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “We pitched him a couple of balls and we could see it and we went back to him. He ran hard and played ball security and it went right.
“We knew that that defense was a big strong group and felt like making them run sideline to sideline would give us an advantage at some point. Ford catches a pitch and takes that perimeter very, very well. Felt like it was a good piece to mix.”
Ford didn’t carry the ball until the second quarter, but when he got involved, he made a huge impact.
When the Tide finally grabbed a lead on Jeremy Shelley’s 34-yard field goal late in the second quarter, Ford trotted onto the field when the Tigers got the ball.
Option left for 14 yards. Option right for 9 yards. And just like that, LSU’s offense was on its way to its best offensive drive of the day that culminated with a tying field goal on the final snap of the first half.
“When the coaches called my number I just went out and did the best I can,” said Ford, who finished with 72 rushing yards to lead the Tigers.
“I’m definitely an eager beaver. You just have to be patient and keep fighting.”
Ford’s biggest run of the night came in overtime when he took an option pitch on second-and-7 from the 22-yard-line. He dodged a tackle for a loss, stepped back from another defender and found a crease on the left sideline for a 15-yard run.
In that situation, after Alabama went scoreless on its overtime possession, it seemed likely LSU would stay as conservative as possible, run the ball inside and give kicker Drew Alleman a chance to win the game with a field goal.
Instead, the Tigers went back to Ford and he delivered big time.
“We came out and said they missed the field goal and we’re going to go to it,” Ford said.
As valuable as his runs on the edges were, Ford also ran between the tackles a handful of times and was effective there on a day when Ware never really got untracked and wound up with only 29 yards on 16 carries. None of Ware’s totes were longer than 6 yards and he was limited to 2 yards or fewer on nine attempts.
|LSU's Will Blackwell: 'That's what big-time players do in big games.'|
Running inside has never really been Ford’s MO and his willingness to stick his nose in the middle and effectiveness when he did wasn’t unnoticed.
“He did hit holes a little harder, ran a little harder,” LSU guard Will Blackwell said. “That’s what big-time players do in big games. We’re fortunate he was there to do that (Saturday).”