By: Andrew Alexander
LSU freshman running back Leonard Fournette made his collegiate debut in the Tigers’ season opener against Wisconsin in the Advocare Texas Kickoff last Saturday. Needless to say, the former five-star recruit’s Heisman Trophy campaign will not be starting anytime soon after recording just 18 yards on eight carries.
But maybe that’s a good thing.
Fournette’s not the only Tiger cub to experience a shaky debut in his first game as a Tiger. Highly touted quarterback Brandon Harris saw the field for three snaps and did not attempt a pass. Wide receiver Trey Quinn, who set the national high school receiving yardage record during his prep days at Barbe High School in Lake Charles, recorded only one reception for 11 yards. Highly touted five-star receiver Malachi Dupre was forced to watch the Tigers’ season opener from Baton Rouge because of an ankle injury.
On defense, Jamal Adams, Ed Paris, Davon Godchaux and Deondre Clark saw snaps as well.
It is human nature to be intrigued by the anything new in life: a car, video game, restaurant or even a football recruit. With high school recruiting coverage at an all-time high, even casual fans of LSU football knew about the historically fabulous freshmen that set foot on campus this fall. In the mind of most fans, when the season started Harris would be starting under center, handing off to Fournette and throwing primarily to Quinn and Dupre.
Saturday night in Houston’s NRG Stadium, a different narrative unfolded, as several veterans donning the purple and gold played with the poise and made timely plays under pressure.
Sophomore Anthony Jennings shook off a pedestrian first half to rally his team to a 28-24 victory, passing for 239 yards and two touchdowns in the process. Jennings’ primary target was redshirt sophomore Travin Dural. He scorched the Wisconsin secondary for 151 yards and a touchdown, reassuring Tiger fans everywhere that there is life after former LSU receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry.
On the defensive side of the ball, junior linebacker Kwon Alexander led the Tigers with eight tackles. Junior Jalen Mills and senior Ronald Martin had decisive fourth quarter interceptions.
The most important veteran performance came from a man who was once a highly touted incoming freshman himself. Senior running back Kenny Hilliard came alive in the fourth quarter, racking up 93 of his team-leading 110 rushing yards. The former four-star recruit from Patterson High School scored the game-winning touchdown, reminding everyone that experience is still a desirable trait.
Tiger fans should not be too hasty when anointing the next great savior of LSU football. Fournette and company may not be college football’s version of Michigan’s “Fab Five.” Instead, the young Tigers bare a passing resemblance to Kentucky’s strong 2013 freshmen class: talented but raw. The young Wildcats endured tribulations throughout their inaugural campaign, including a loss to LSU during last winter’s “Snowmageddon,” but eventually navigated their way to the national title game.
Resiliency defined the Wildcats, and in time could possibly define Fournette, Harris, Adams, Quinn and the rest of the freshmen Tigers. As witnessed Saturday night against Wisconsin, resiliency already runs through the veins of several veteran Tigers.
The freshmen Tigers may have underperformed in the eyes of many a Bayou Bengal fan Saturday night because of their lack of eye-popping statistics, but perhaps many moons from now in January of 2016 or 2017, everyone will look back at that cool August night in Houston, when the foundation for a future LSU national championship was laid.