By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
It’s not every day you hear a football coach compare one of his players to Warren Sapp and Reggie Bush in the same sentence.
One is a Hall-of-Fame defensive tackle and the other an electric Heisman-winning tailback. Well Ed Orgeron saw both up close during assistant coaching stints at Miami and USC, respectively, and explained why he sees flashes of both greats in LSU tailback Derrius Guice.
“He’s tough as nails. He runs like Warren Sapp played defense,” Orgeron said at his press luncheon Monday. “He makes some Reggie Bush like cuts. He’s bigger and stronger than Reggie, but not quite as fast.”
High praise indeed. Guice appreciated it.
“I grew up watching Reggie Bush,” Guice said, asked about his coach’s comments. “I was a big fan of his and I looked up to him when I was in elementary school and middle school. To hear that, me watching his film payed off.”
Now the Warren Sapp comparison? He played a bit before Guice’s time, and the shifty runner doesn’t quite see the resemblance for himself.
“He is huge, I’m not that big!” Guice exclaimed. “I’m familiar with (Sapp) a little bit, but I’m not too familiar with him … I would have been better with Ray Lewis or somebody like that.”
The dynamic sophomore tailback played a starring role in LSU’s 42-7 rout of Missouri on Saturday night, rushing 17 times for 163 yards and three touchdowns. The performance netter him SEC Player of the Week honors. He, Darrel Williams and Nick Brossette ran wild on the visiting Tigers for a total of 366 yards on 43 carries.
And with Leonard Fournette’s status remaining up in the air due to a lingering ankle injury, Guice may be called on to lead the ground game again as LSU heads to the Swamp this weekend to take on Florida.
Orgeron referred to Fournette’s status as “day by day” when asked at the luncheon, adding he wasn’t sure if the All-American tailback would participate in practice on Monday or Tuesday. Those practices will be open to the media for the second consecutive week.
“I don’t know if he’s going to play,” the coach said of Fournette. “I think he’s going to be day-by-day, that’s the honest thing.”
Even if Fournette returns, Orgeron hinted that Guice would play a larger role in the offense moving forward. When asked if he’d like to see Fournette and Guice together in the backfield at the same time, the fiery coach exclaimed “I’d love to.”
Orgeron added that such a decision would be left to running backs coach Jabbar Juluke, who manages the backfield rotation. He credited the job Juluke did keeping all of his runners fresh through the fourth quarter Saturday night.
Still, given Guice’s success — he leads the team with 402 yards and four touchdowns while averaging a gaudy 8.7 yards per carry — Juluke would be hard pressed to take the Catholic High product off the field for too long at a time.
Guice, listed at 5-foot-11 and 212 pounds, doesn’t possess the raw power of Fournette. Frankly, few backs this side of Adrian Peterson do.
But the men who block for him — and Guice made sure to credit the offensive line and receivers blocking downfield to allow lane for those cutback lanes — marvel at his violent running style.
“Unless you’re grabbing his feet, they’re always going to be churning,” fullback J.D. Moore said. “Even if he goes out of bounds. He had a play where he got pushed out and he kept running for 30 yards just in case. You never know.”
Everyone from Orgeron down through his players stated they hope to have Fournette back as soon as possible. Keeping him engaged remains a priority, Orgeron said, and Guice raved about the junior’s assistance on the sideline as a critic, teacher and motivator for the other backs.
“We all know he’s disappointed when he isn’t playing,” Guice said, “but whenever I come on the sideline, we’re hugging, we’re doing out little handshake or he’s giving me some advice. Telling me how I did on the previous play or drive. To me, he’s supportive on the sideline.”
In the meantime, having a tailback who cuts like Reggie Bush with the violent streak of Warren Sapp has the LSU backfield feeling nice heading into a showdown with a stout Florida defense.