A Look Back
2007 was a great year for everyone involved in the LSU ground game.
Obviously, no one needs to be reminded of the departure of Mr. Reliable, Jacob Hester. He averaged 4.9 yards per carry for 1,118 yards last fall on his way to a national title and a future with the San Diego Chargers. The Shreveport native was an all-time Tiger great and will be a fan favorite forever, but he didn’t exactly leave the cupboard bare.
Sophomores Keiland Williams, Charles Scott and Trindon Holliday, and redshirt freshman Richard Murphy had plenty of their own success in 2007, running roughshod over the opposition and averaging 7.2 yards a carry.
Williams has finished as the Tigers’ second-leading rusher each of the past two seasons, and built on his 456 yards in 2006 with 513 yards and 6 touchdowns in 2007. Williams alerted the nation to his blend of power and breakaway speed just two weeks into the season, with his stiff-arming, defender-hurtling, field-reversing option score against Virginia Tech.
Charles Scott also improved on a solid sophomore season with 330 yards and 5 touchdowns on just 45 carries, a whopping 7.2 average. With a similar running style to local hero Deuce McAllister, Scott delighted LSU fans with aggressive, hard-hitting touchdowns in which he often carried defenders with him into the end zone, or left them lying in his wake. When Scott touched the ball, it seemed as though he always fell forward for that extra yard.
As a freshman, Murphy got the least of the work. The new guy definitely showed his chops though, as he amassed 240 yards and two touchdowns. Murphy possesses a nice blend of speed and slashing ability, but the coaching staff chose mostly to use his quickness to the corner against opponents. It seemed as the season went along that Gary Crowton was dialing up more swing passes and toss sweeps to the redshirt freshman, with good success. Murphy got a chance to show off his shoulder-dropping side in the spring, but more on that later.
And then there is Trindon Holliday. College football’s fastest man scored just two touchdowns from the backfield last fall, but actually outgained Scott and Murphy with 381 yards on 53 carries. Holliday was perhaps the most exciting man on the team last season, as entire stadiums full of people held their breath literally every time he touched the ball. He brought new opportunities to the offense with his speed and diminutive stature, being used as a halfback, kick returner, receiver, and at one point even hiding behind the offensive line.
With four established and more than capable backs returning for 2008, it’s no surprise that the running backs took the spring a little easier than others.
Williams’ attendance was sporadic during the spring’s workouts, due to ankle problems. He missed several practices, perhaps not so much due to the injury but just out of caution, but still got enough work in to start for the White team in the final outing of the spring, the Purple and Gold Game. Williams looked impressive at first, tearing off long runs on his first two carries. Unfortunately though, his spring ended on a sour note as he was benched following a goal line fumble.
Williams’ fumble set the stage for Murphy to announce his intentions. The Rayville native impressed me at practices throughout the spring. Murphy is taller but has far less weight to throw around than either Williams or Scott, and yet every time TSD saw him at practice he was scrapping and holding his own with the likes of Kelvin Sheppard and Darry Beckwith.
Murphy also got extensive looks as an option back alongside Andrew Hatch. As everyone saw he let both his speed and power come out in April, running for 145 yards and two scores on just 11 carries, and taking a short pass another 53 yards for a third scores. The crowd went nuts when he blew around the corner and never looked back for a 70-yard score, but the highlight of his afternoon may have been when he barreled over Stefan Francois at the goal line.
Scott was available for the majority of spring practice but the fans haven’t had much of a chance to see him in action since the national championship game. In his limited work at practice, Scott was back to his old habits of knocking ‘backers and safeties on their tail. Unfortunately, he nicked his ankle in the Tigers’ final scrimmage before the spring game, and was held out as a precaution.
Trindon Holliday missed most of the spring as well, but for entirely different reasons. As the nation’s fastest back, Holliday took up his spot on LSU’s top-ranked track team. He managed to make it to a small number of practices, but #8 never made it to a scrimmage or the spring game due to track and Olympic training.
With fall camp upon us, it seems that finally all four parts of the equation will be along for the ride.
Scott and Williams are back to 100 percent after minor problems in the spring, and Murphy is ready to take the next step toward more playing time. Although it is unfortunate that Holliday won’t be representing the U.S. in Beijing, it is a comfort to know that he has all of fall camp to work off the rust and that he will not miss any games.
Les Miles already stated at SEC Media Days that he will not vary from the committee style of ground game that has marked his tenure at LSU.
However, Jacob Hester averaged more carries per game in 2007 than Williams, Scott, Murphy, and Holliday combined.
So who is going to emerge as Mr. Reliable? And how are LSU coaches and fans going to cope with a starting back that just might fumble more than twice in a season, let alone a career? All four are certainly going to be a part of the game plan, but who is going to up his number of carries the most?
It is going to be an interesting four weeks leading up to August 30.
In addition, Miles also revealed at Media Days that he will be opening the punt returner job up to Holliday this fall. If he can grab that job and hold onto it like he has as a kick returner, watch out.
With Arkansas backs Darren McFadden and Felix Jones off to the NFL, LSU’s backfield is the envy of the SEC. We’ve all seen what these guys can do, and behind the likes of Herman Johnson and Ciron Black, they’re going to scare the pants off of every defensive coordinator that has to face them if they can overcome the mental lapses that has plagued them early on.
Instead of the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame lore, think of these guys as the Carousel of Death. We’re talking about four different backs that would start at a large number of other schools, constantly rotating in and out with each other in formations from the I-Form to the Pistol. It’s going to be scary and it’s going to be fun.
From 2006 to 2007, Jacob Hester more than doubled his number of carries. Following a performance like Hester’s senior season, I have to believe that Williams, Scott, and Murphy will be running through walls to prove to Miles that they are the man he can count on in 2008. Should all three of them show up motivated and determined to be LSU’s next 1,000 yard back, I don’t think there is a defense in the nation that can contain them.
Nobody expects Holliday to be a feature back in the meat grinder that is the SEC. That being said, he only touched the ball 75 times last year and he accounted for 882 yards and three touchdowns. Every time this kid touched the ball, he gained roughly 12 yards. Those numbers are far too good to limit to 5.76 touches per game.
Along with returning punts, provided he has learned to catch them and hold on to them, he should be worked into every conceivable formation as a back, a slot receiver, or even a decoy. I’m not saying make the little guy your workhorse but 12-15 touches a game would be a nightmare for defensive coordinators to deal with.
But pound for pound, player for player, I don’t think anyone can compete with LSU and what I will henceforth be referring to as the Carousel of Death. These guys are the safety net for Andrew Hatch and Jarrett Lee, and whatever games or trophies the Tigers win in 2008 are going to have largely to do with how they perform.