In today’s edition of “Six Graphs,” the TSD staff shares its takes on which player has been the most valuable to LSU offensively during the team’s recent three-game winning streak.
Ben Love: There’s a certain level of cop-out to this answer, but I’m going with the offensive line. All five of ‘em collectively. And here’s why: Multiple running backs have enjoyed success over the last three games – Leonard Fournette throughout and foremost, Terrence Magee during the Kentucky and Ole Miss games, and Kenny Hilliard late in Saturday night’s ballgame to close out the Rebels – even when the Wildcats, Gators and Hotty Toddy knew exactly what was coming.
So for all the limitations on LSU’s passing game, the Tigers have still managed to persevere through the program’s worst loss under Les Miles (41-7 at Auburn) to win three straight and do it old school. La’el Collins has been perhaps the most individually brilliant, particularly with his performance against Ole Miss, but Vadal Alexander has been the most improved from where he was at the beginning of the season, even garnering SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week honors for his play at Florida. The damage on the ground in LSU’s recent three-game winning streak: 195 yards and three touchdowns in the Swamp; 303 yards and three touchdowns versus Kentucky; and 264 yards versus Ole Miss. That’s doing work, and the Tigers’ quintet up front is finally living up to its preseason billing as arguably the strength of the 2014 team.
As for a runner-up selection you’d be hard-pressed to get far before mentioning Mr. Fournette’s name. The freshman was spectacular in Gainesville, toting the rock 27 times for 140 yards and two house calls. He slowed down a bit in the Kentucky game, while Magee heated up, but Fournette again went over the century mark this past weekend, notching 113 yards on 23 carries. The offensive line coming to life has given this offense a long-awaited identity, but someone had to execute with the ball in his hands. By and large Fournette has been that guy.
Hunter Paniagua: You can point to the Florida game as the start of the resurgence of LSU’s offense, and I’ll pick the player who had his breakout moment in The Swamp. Leonard Fournette personifies the Tigers’ early struggles on that side of the ball. He came in with certain expectations bestowed upon him, and he understandably failed to live up to them through the first few weeks of the season. But something clicked that night in Gainesville, and the rest of the offensive attack — at least on the ground — came with it.
Fournette ran with a different attitude against the Gators. He was mowing down tacklers, hitting holes with authority and most importantly — not going down on first contact. He finally looked like the No. 1 overall recruit, the “second coming of Adrian Peterson” as some called him in high school. He showed in that game he can be counted on to get the ball more than 20 times in a game and eclipse the 100-yard mark against legitimate defenses.
Now I could just as easily name Terrence Magee as the resurgent MVP. He’s actually been the more consistent back in these last three games, considering Fournette only racked up 40 yards against Kentucky. But everyone knew coming into this season that Fournette would have to be “the guy” for this LSU team to have a chance. He showed that again last weekend against Ole Miss, running so hard that his facemask was literally ripped off. LSU is going to rely on its run game the rest of the way, and Fournette is the bell cow. So long as he keeps it up, this team will have much more confidence in its ability to move the ball.