By CODY WORSHAM
Tiger Rag Editor
Buga is back.
Leonard Fournette shrugged off nagging ankle injuries and proceeded to set a school record for rushing yards in a single game, as LSU (5-2, 3-1 SEC) rolled to a 38-21 win over Ole Miss (3-4, 1-3 SEC) on Saturday night in Tiger Stadium.
Fournette was in full-on, scary-good mode. He broke Alley Broussard’s LSU mark of 250 yards, and he did it by carry number eight. He plowed over and ran past defenders with frightening ease. He looked faster and fresher than he has all season.
Scariest of all? He’s still hurt. And, in his own words, “out of shape.”
“I’ve got a bone bruise on my ankle, a high and low ankle sprain,” Fournette said. “I got it all. It’s hard.”
He made it look so easy, though. Fournette, who has missed three games in 2016 due to his injuries, finished with 284 yards and 3 touchdowns on 16 carries. His final tally was 34 yards better than Broussard’s previous record — set against Ole Miss in 2004 — and Fournette got there in 10 fewer carries.
“I didn’t know I had all those yards,” Fournette said.
Neither did his head coach.
“I just knew we were up by 17 points and we wanted to win the game,” said Ed Orgeron, who picked up a win over the school that fired him nine years ago. “That’s all I knew.”
It was yet another dominant display from LSU, the third running under Orgeron’s interim watch. LSU outgained Ole Miss 515 to 325 for the game and 229 to 104 in the second half, as Dave Aranda’s defense shut down the Rebel attack over the game’s final and decisive 30 minutes.
“Dave Aranda is pretty sharp,” Orgeron said. “He’s a cool cucumber up there now. He’s like a mad scientist. But the preparation that he does during the week to be able to do that and be able to get everybody on the same page, because obviously if there’s a bust, it could be a touchdown. So he does a tremendous job of preparation. He’s a very talented football coach.”
LSU trailed 10-0 early, as the Tigers’ offense sputtered out of the gate with a pair of three and outs. Meanwhile, Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly led a six-play, 77-yard scoring drive, keyed by a 50-yard completion to Damore’ea Stringfellow on a busted LSU coverage and capped off by a 15-yarder to Van Jefferson for the touchdown. Gary Wunderlich’s 46-yard field goal on the subsequent drive extended the lead to double-digits.
“We knew they were going to make plays,” said Orgeron. “We had to battle and came out in the first quarter, we had some mistakes. We missed some coverages but we hung tight together.”
Fournette responded. After Danny Etling (19-of-28, 204 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) found Travin Dural for 21 yards and the Tigers’ first first down of the night, Fournette broke free for a 59-yard touchdown, his longest run of the season — for a brief moment — pulling LSU within 10-7.
“We are best when we can hit the short throws, take deep shots, [get] the ball to the tight ends on crossing routes, protect the quarterback and give Leonard the ball,” said Orgeron.
The Tigers took the lead two drives later. Donte Jackson intercepted a Kelly deep ball at the LSU 3, and the Tigers subsequently marched 97 yards to pull ahead. DJ Chark (3 catches, 45 yards, 1 TD) atoned for a fumble on the preceding series by breaking free for a 40-yard touchdown pass from Etling, good for a 14-10 LSU lead with 11:13 left in the half. The Tiger defense then held the Rebels to a red zone field goal, Wunderlich’s 22-yard chip shot drawing the Rebels within a point.
Fournette responded, again. He took one handoff eight yards. The next went for 76 yards and six points, with Colby Delahoussaye’s extra point extending LSU’s lead to 21-13 with 6:11 to play.
“It was good to see 7 healthy and running again,” said tight end Colin Jeter. “He was out to prove some people wrong tonight. I was having a hard time chasing him on those long touchdown runs.”
“He looked faster than he usually [is] this game,” added sophomore defensive end Arden Key. “I’m trying to figure out what happened there.”
The Rebels didn’t go quietly. With just 1:10 left in the first half, Etling dropped back to pass inside his own 10, where Marquis Haynes met him, viciously. Etling fumbled, and Jaylon Jones recovered at the Tiger 9-yard line. Three plays later, Akeem Judd punched it in from two yards, and Kelly converted the two-point conversion with his legs to square things at 21 heading into the break.
Fournette responded, yet again. He brought LSU’s first offensive play of the second half 78 yards to the house for a 28-21 Tiger lead. The junior All-American took a toss sweep to the right, got the edge, and stiff-armed a defender at the Tiger 40, before outrunning the rest of the Rebels the remaining 60 yards to give LSU a lead it would not surrender.
“I’ve never been a part of a player like Leonard to be honest with you,” said Orgeron. “But yeah, he’s dynamic. I believe he’s the best player in the country.”
Delahoussaye nailed a 44-yarder on the next drive to make it 31-21 in favor of the home team. Meanwhile, LSU’s defense held strong, giving up just 37 yards in the third quarter and 67 in the fourth. Kelly, who finished the night 19-of-32 for 209 yards, completed just 8-of-12 passing for 57 yards, zero scores, and an interception over the final 30 minutes, as Ole Miss converted just 1-of-6 third downs.
“Coming in at halftime, Leonard and Jamal (Adams) said, ‘We know what’s at stake. We can’t lose anymore,'” said Key, who picked up his eighth sack of the year in the second half. “We were frustrated in the first half. They were doing a lot of different things. We got frustrated, but in the second half, Coach O told us to keep our head on straight and play how we play.”
They listened. Duke Riley’s first career interception late in the third quarter set up the Tiger offense in Rebel territory, and though Etling fired a third down interception into the hands of Derrick Jones to close the third quarter, it mattered little. Aranda’s men forced a punt, and Etling and co. marched 70 yards in 11 plays to score again. This one, good for a 38-21 advantage with 7:26 to play, came on a six-yard Derrius Guice score and milked 6:03 in the process. The Tigers ran out the clock from there for a critical win heading into a bye week before the annual rivalry match up with No. 1 and undefeated Alabama.
“We’re going to be very excited to play a very good football team,” said Orgeron. “We’re going to be up for the challenge. It’s going to be a physical football game. They have very good athletes. They are very well-coached, but so are we.”