Dig Baton Rouge

Panning Out

By Trey Mongrue

Five for Five, everybody remember that?

Way back in January, which seems like a lifetime ago, during the Under Armour All-America High School Football Game, a plethora of blue chip athletes were set to announce where they would be going to college. LSU was finalist for five players – receiver Speedy Noil, safety Jamal Adams, cornerback Tony Brown, defensive end Gerald Willis III and running back Leonard Fournette.

It was supposed to be a night of celebration for LSU, but it was dampened by ridiculously high expectations that weren’t met.

Only Adams and Fournette pledged to play for the Tigers.

As an aside, the fact that I typed out “only” in regards to Adams and Fournette looks hilariously wrong on so many levels. But that was the narrative at the time – LSU only got two when they were supposed to get all five.

Three of those five players from that Under Armour game took the field last Thursday in LSU’s 23-17 win over Texas A&M, and they all showed why they were worth the hype back in January.

Let’s start with Noil for the Aggies.

The kid is the real deal and will be a thorn in LSU’s side over the next couple of years. The way he positioned himself for that fourth quarter touchdown catch was pure athleticism and instinct.

Had LSU been able to keep the Edna Karr product in Louisiana, they would have a nice receiving foundation in Noil, Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn for the future.

Even though Noil spurned LSU back in January, it looks like LSU still made out like bandits with the two players they grabbed that night to bolster one of the better recruiting classes put together by Les Miles.

What LSU lost in seeing Noil go out of state to Texas A&M, the Tigers evened the scale with Adams – a Carrollton, Texas native – coming in. Consider Noil’s ball instincts on offense; Adams possesses those on defense.

With every play, it seemed like the No. 33 jersey was flying around the field to be the first or second LSU player to land a hit. He led the Tigers with 8 tackles and finished the season second behind only linebacker Kwon Alexander with 31 solo tackles. That’s impressive considering Adams wasn’t a regular in the LSU secondary until the third game of the season.

And then of course there is Fournette, who provided the signature play of the 2014 season when he flicked the “truck stick” on his PlayStation controller to level Texas A&M senior safety Howard Matthews on his touchdown run.

It was play the encompassed a little bit of everything that put Fournette at the top of every college’s wish list when he was at St. Augustine.

There was the way he exploded through the initial hole that was opened up for him at the line of scrimmage, followed by the raw power that came with his hit on Matthews at the 10-yard line. Finally, there was the finishing speed that makes him a complete running back, even as a freshman.

By the time Matthews was able to peel his body – and dignity – off of the Kyle Field turf, Fournette was celebrating in the end zone.

In more ways than one, it was a career night for Fournette. Not only was he drawing comparisons to Herschel Walker, he turned in a career-high 146 rushing yards to bring his season total up to 891.

Should he run for at least 109 yards in the bowl game, he will become the first true-freshman at LSU to eclipse 1,000 rushing yards since Justin Vincent did it 2003.

So what does this all mean in the long run?

Since the start of this millennium, LSU has always been expected to compete for championships. Considering that they’ve only won two since 2000, it’s burden more than anything at this point.

Take this season for example. LSU was ridiculously young at many key positions, and it cost them a few games this year. But looking past the win-loss record, there should be some solace that many young players matured over the season and are poised for bigger things in 2015 and beyond.

Look no further than the progress of Adams and Fournette.

Going back to that January night in Tampa, LSU may not have gone five-for-five, but two-for-two has worked out just nicely.

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