By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
OXFORD, Miss. — Derrius Guice says with a smile that he’s still not 100 percent back from the injuries that’ve hampered what was supposed to be his dream season.
He certainly could’ve fooled Ole Miss.
The junior tailback ran roughshod over the Rebel defense as LSU rolled to a 40-24 victory at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on Saturday night. Guice ran for 276 yards on 22 carries with a touchdown to set the tone on a night LSU racked up nearly 600 yards of total offense.
“He’s finally healthy,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. “We thought that we could run the football on them now that he’s healthy. We challenged our team to run the football because they were a team that could score at any time.”
Only five times in LSU history has a running back gone for more than 250 yards in a game. Guice now owns three such performances — Leonard Fournette and Alley Broussard hold the other two — which itself is a Southeastern Conference record.
“Derrius is a stud, obviously,” quarterback Danny Etling said. “It was great to see him out there making those long runs again.”
It’s been a frustrating year for the preseason All-American as he’s battled nagging ailments since the second week of the season. He came into the Ole Miss game averaging a pedestrian 4.3 yards per carry and hadn’t rushed for 100 yards in a game since UT-Chattanooga.
But Guice looked like his old self in making Swiss cheese out of Ole Miss in near record-setting fashion. Guice, just nine yards shy of his own single-game school rushing record, spent the game’s final drive watching from the sideline as Danny Etling kneeled out the clock.
His power and elusiveness were seemingly back after weeks of toughing it out without his best stuff. He ripped off seven runs of 10+ yards, including gallops of 59, 48, 33 and 26 yards — each longer than his season long coming into the game.
Still, the always-outspoken junior bristled at the idea of his nagging injuries were an excuse for anything that’d happened.
“There ain’t no old Derrius,” Guice said. “The way I’ve been playing this year, it’s me, injured or not. I don’t give excuses that I was hurt or not — it is what it is. We all came together as a team. I’m going to play hard no matter what. I’m going to give it my all no matter how I’m feeling.”
Guice wasn’t the only Tiger star to look like himself against Ole Miss. All of the sudden Arden Key resembles the player who set LSU’s single-season sack record in 2016.
Key’s sack of Jarett Stidham sealed the come-from-behind victory over Auburn a week ago. He came up with two more sacks and a forced fumble to keep Ole Miss quarterback Shea Patterson from getting comfortable all night.
The presumed first-round pick in next year’s NFL Draft has battled his weight and conditioning all season, but according to Orgeron, losing 20 pounds in four weeks has Key feeling like his old self.
“He’s a difference maker on our defensive line, man,” nose tackle Greg Gilmore said. “He’s either getting a sack or setting up other guys to get it. I’d say he’s 1000 percent. He’s playing the best ball of his life and having fun doing it.”
Without question LSU is at its best when Guice and Key are at theirs. They’re LSU’s two best players, and the Tigers need them if they’re going to have any hope of keeping their modest three-game winning streak alive against vaunted Alabama.
But their impact is bigger than their play alone. Key and Guice provided an emotional boost to their team simply by being their old selves on Saturday night.
“Big plays fuel emotion,” Orgeron said simply. And LSU doesn’t have two players more equipped to making them.