By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
It’ll go down in the history books as just another 60-yard punt return for a touchdown, but don’t be fooled.
Tre’Davious White isn’t sure exactly how far he ran, but he knows he covered a heck of a lot more ground than that.
“Probably like 90,” White estimated, asked to hazard a guess. “I was tired after that.”
Nope, it was more.
LSU’s fearless punt return ace fielded a high, booming kick at his own 40-yard line with the clock ticking inside the final minute of the first half and decided to make something happen. White appeared wrapped up for a minimal gain, but managed to slip out of the tackle and began retreating.
Turns out he was just getting started.
White raced back inside his own 20-yard line — a good 20 yards backward from where he started the return — before peeling left toward the Jacksonville State sideline, shaking a handful of would-be tacklers in pursuit.
There was a wall of blockers waiting for him once he did. The return was originally designed to go that way, White explained after the game, and once he turned the corner he had only punter Dean Kelly to beat on his way to the end zone with an entourage in tow.
You know what they say: the final 81 yards are the easiest.
“Nine times out of 10, you get caught running backward and you lose yards,” tailback Derrius Guice said incredulously. “You know, for Tre, it was a magnificent play and worked well in his favor and I’m proud of that guy.”
Most of LSU’s offense quickly joined the return team in a group celebration in front of LSU’s student section. The impromptu party brought out a 15-yard flag, but more importantly, it capped a 27-point second-quarter explosion sparked by backup quarterback Danny Etling as LSU (1-1) bounced back from a sluggish start to hammer FCS foe Jacksonville State 34-13 on Saturday night at Tiger Stadium.
“I don’t know man, I just wanted to make a play,” White said. “I just had it in my head that either I was going to go for a touchdown or Coach Miles was going to be mad at me.”
For White, LSU’s senior All-SEC cornerback, that makes two touchdowns in as many games to kick off the 2016 season.
White’s pick six of Wisconsin quarterback Bart Houston gave LSU its first points in last week’s season-opener against Wisconsin. His fumble recovery on the ensuing possession set up a go-ahead touchdown, though it proved to not be enough in a 16-14 Badger victory.
“When I saw that sideline free, I knew it was over and I knew he was going to score,” defensive end Lewis Neal said. “When they didn’t contain the outside, I knew he was going to score. Nobody was there.”
Wearing the No. 18 jersey means a lot within the LSU football program. It’s typically bestowed to a veteran with a knack for making game-changing plays, and White certainly fits that description.
“He’s wearing that number for a reason,” Neal said. “Big plays after big plays.”
Saturday marks the third time White has taken a punt return to the house. His first came at home against Kentucky during the 2014 season. Then again on the road at Syracuse last year.
This one, though, dwarfed its predecessors in terms of pure electricity. Watching White retreat felt reminiscent to the Tyrann Mathieu’s long zig-zagging punt return touchdowns from the 2011 season finale against Arkansas and SEC Championship in the Georgia Dome.
White has some Mathieu in him, whether it’s his knack for playmaking when LSU needs it most or his aversion to ever calling for a fair catch.
It’s the kind of gutsy play that probably had Les Miles or special team’s coordinator Bradley Dale Peveto seeing red in the face right up until White turned the corner toward paydirt.
Like the Honey Badger, there’s no telling what can happen when No. 18 in purple-and-gold drops back deep to return. You just know you can’t take your eyes off it.
But here’s the $1 million question: would he ever try running backward again?
“I would say so,” White smiled. “I’m one-for-one on it, so it’s worth another try.”