LSU halfback Leonard Fournette was out a month with an ankle injury – a setback he’s dealt with all season.
In the time away, he apparently didn’t forget how to play football. In fact, one may be able to argue that Fournette is better than ever.
In his return to action, Fournette was legendary, offering up a record-setting performance against Ole Miss.
Fournette rushed 16 times for a single-game school-record 284 yards with three touchdowns for LSU – an explosive of offense that allowed the Tigers to trump Ole Miss 38-21.
After the win, the halfback said he’s still not 100 percent – a frightening thought for opposing defenses.
But it’s a blessing for new head coach Ed Orgeron, who said he was excited and happy to have the thoroughbred back in the stable.
“I’ve never been a part of a player like Leonard,” Orgeron said with a laugh. “He’s dynamic. I believe he’s the best player in the country.”
On Saturday night, he was, and LSU’s offense was the beneficiary of the halfback’s dominance.
The Tigers started slow, going three-and-out on two-straight drives to open the game, while watching Ole Miss march down the field on consecutive scoring drives to take a 10-0 lead.
The first score came on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Rebels quarterback Chad Kelly to receiver Van Jefferson. The second was a 46-yard field goal from kicker Gary Wunderlich.
But then LSU got rolling, and Fournette showed that his ankle was 100 percent.
On the third play of LSU’s third drive, Fournette struck, breaking the line of scrimmage and running 59 yards for a score, which cut the lead to 10-7.
After a stop, LSU went 97 yards on seven plays to take the lead – a long trek capped on a bomb from Danny Etling to D.J. Chark, which put LSU up 14-10.
Then Fournette struck again.
After an Ole Miss field goal, the halfback powered through the Rebels defense a second time – a 76-yard strike, which put the Tigers on top 21-13.
LSU had a chance to add to its lead before halftime, but fumbled deep in its own territory, which allowed Ole Miss to tie it up on a 9-yard scoring drive capped by a Kelly run on the 2-point conversion play, which sent the game to halftime tied at 21-all.
“We didn’t like the way the first half ended,” Fournette said. “We felt like we gave them an opportunity, and we didn’t want to do that.”
LSU didn’t give the Rebels anything in the second half.
The Tigers dominated the final 30 minutes on both sides of the ball, using its defense to control the game.
Ole Miss gained 54 total yards in the second half, and many of those were in the final drive of the game with the outcome no longer in question.
The Tigers pressured Rebels quarterback Chad Kelly and forced him to throw the ball before receivers could get down the field.
Kelly completed 19-of-32 passes for 209 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in the game. He rushed 12 times for 56 yards.
“Dave Aranda is pretty sharp,” Orgeron said. “He makes adjustments when they come off the sideline; he fixes things and not necessarily changes the defense.”
“They really dominated this game in the second half,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze added.
With the defense stymying Ole Miss, LSU’s offense sealed the deal.
Fournette broke another long one – a 78-yard score early in the third quarter to put the Tigers on top for the rest of the game.
LSU added insurance in the middle of the third quarter when Colby Delahoussaye drilled a field goal to put the Tigers up 31-21.
Halfback Derrius Guice drove in the dagger in the fourth on a short touchdown run that brought the game to its final margin.
With the win, LSU is now 5-2 on the season and 3-0 under Orgeron.
The Tigers will now have a bye week before taking on Alabama on Nov. 5.
Orgeron said LSU will enjoy this win tonight, but will quickly shift their attention to the Crimson Tide, who have been the No. 1 team in the country all season.
“We’re going to be up for the challenge,” Orgeron said. “It’s going to be a physical football game. They have very good athletes. They are very well-coached, but guess what? So are we.”
Photo: LSU vs. Southern Miss by Sean Gasser.