ENGSTER: Fournette Era to close with no triumph over Alabama

By JIM ENGSTER
President, Tiger Rag Magazine

Leonard Fournette’s memorable highlight reel through the SEC goes to slow motion when Alabama enters the picture. In three games against the prime rival of the Tigers, Fournette amassed 57 rushing attempts for 145 yards, averaging a puny 2.5 yards per carry with a long gain of 18 yards. Against everybody else on the schedule during his dash through college defenses, Fournette has accumulated 3,547 yards on 530 carries, averaging a robust 6.7 yards per carry.

Alabama’s 10-0 shutout Saturday at Tiger Stadium was another rare stumbling block for the gifted runner, who at 6’1, 235-pouinds has even more natural ability than his Superman predecessors at Death Valley, Billy Cannon and Charles Alexander. Just as LSU was the lone defense to contain Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M, Bama has been the immovable object for an otherwise invincible Fournette.

When Nick Saban sprinted off the turf at Tiger Stadium as a 65-year-old master of his universe, he shook his right fist at both the adoring and reviling masses. It was a rare gesture of supremacy from the Crimson Tide legend. Saban is relieved to be unblemished against LSU’s legend in the making. Barring injury, Fournette should collect more yards in the NFL than Saban’s Heisman Trophy winners Mark Ingram and Derrick Henry combined. But on the college field, No. 7 is another vanquished foe chewed up by the Alabama machine.

In their last 24 visits to Tiger Stadium, The Tide has lost only four times with two of the defeats coming to a fellow named Nick Saban, the only coach to simultaneously post a winning record against Alabama for LSU and a winning record against LSU for Alabama. Saban is now 12-4 in the series, 4-1 at LSU and 8-3 at Bama.

This was ballyhooed as the year for LSU to settle old scores with its former coach. Saban lost most of his starters and his defensive coordinator from last season’s national title team. LSU possessed the home field advantage with pre-season Heisman frontrunner Fournette full of fury after last season’s 19 carry, 31-yard debacle in Tuscaloosa.

The splendid back from New Orleans was primed to embarrass Alabama’s diminutive mentor on the road to the Heisman. Instead, Fournette produced just 35 yards on 17 carries as Saban’s defense limited LSU to six first downs, eclipsed by the five first downs recorded by the Tigers in the 21-0 BCS Championship Game loss to Alabama on Jan. 9, 2012.

Saban appears on his way to a sixth national title and has Alabama perched at a peak comparable to the stature of UCLA basketball under John Wooden from 1964-75. The Bruins took ten titles in 12 years before Wooden left his $35,000 per year job and retired to Encino. The Wizard of Westwood didn’t have the coin to live in his own neighborhood four decades ago. When Saban goes, he will be able to live in any style he wishes in any location he desires.

Saban resides in a mansion paid for by the University of Alabama and will soon surpass $10 million a year in annual compensation. His services come at a high cost, but he has been a bargain on campus since LSU Chancellor Mark Emmert paid him $1.2 million a season to bolt Michigan State 17 years ago this month. Enrollment at Alabama is approaching 40,000 students with 40 percent of the freshman class scoring 30 or better on the ACT. The president of the university, former LSU Provost Stuart Bell, credits Saban for the academic improvement of the student body. A dynasty in football has an impact beyond Bryant-Denny Stadium. As Saban can attest, a rising tide lifts all boats.

Next LSU Coach could be on field at Fayetteville

Ed Orgeron and Bret Bielema converge on the field Saturday night in the Ozarks with each man a prospect to be installed as the LSU coach next season. The 55-year-old Orgeron gets high marks for taking control of a chaotic situation and directing the Bengals to three wins in four starts. Bielema is doing as well as anybody can in Fayetteville. If he beats LSU for a third straight season, the former University of Iowa defensive lineman can make a case that he is capable of winning anywhere.

The University of Arkansas is nestled in one of the most beautiful and remote places in the nation, but not the most attractive destination for many outstanding African-American recruits reared in urban areas. At 46, Bielema will likely make at least one more move in his career, and the LSU job would provide a captivating opportunity for the corpulent coach.

Bielema was named head coach at Wisconsin when he was 36 and guided the Badgers to a pair of Big Ten championships with a 37-19 record in the conference over seven seasons. He is 9-20 in the SEC in four years. Yet Bielema has whipped the Tigers in two of his three seasons with the Razorbacks and boasts consecutive 17-point victories in 2014-15.

Arkansas has not come close to winning an SEC football title in 25 years of competition in the league, but has consistently been a pesky nemesis against LSU since the Hogs joined the conference in 1992. Considering that LSU has captured four SEC titles and two national crowns in the years that Arkansas has been in the league, it would seem likely the Tigers would dominate the series. LSU has won a modest 58 percent of its assignments against Arkansas in the last quarter century.

The Tigers have been paired annually against six SEC teams since divisional competition started in ’92. Here is the LSU record against annual SEC opponents since the inception of divisional play.

Opponent 1992-2016                      LSU Record Against

Mississippi State                                               23-2

Ole Miss                                                               15-10

Arkansas                                                              14-10

Auburn                                                                 13-12

Alabama                                                              11-15

Florida                                                                  10-14

Total                                                                      86-63

LSU is 63-61 against Ole Miss, Arkansas, Auburn, Alabama and Florida since 1992. The 23-2 (92 percent) record against Mississippi State is the reason for a 58 percent overall winning record against regular opponents in the last 25 seasons.

LSU-Arkansas 2006-2015

2006: LSU 31 Arkansas 26

2007: Arkansas 50 LSU 48 (3OT)

2008: LSU 31 Arkansas 30

2009: LSU 33 Arkansas 30 (OT)

2010: Arkansas 31 LSU 23

2011: LSU 41 Arkansas 17

2012: LSU 20 Arkansas 13

2013: LSU 31 Arkansas 27

2014: Arkansas 17 LSU 0

2015: Arkansas 31 LSU 14

Total: LSU 272 Arkansas 272

The last decade has been tight against Arkansas with two evenly matched teams prepping for a contest that is pivotal for a successful finish for LSU and is vital for Coach O in his quest become the permanent head man in TigerTown.

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