Baton Rouge, La. – There’s no question LSU’s running game thrived under former coach Les Miles.

There’s no reason it shouldn’t continue to thrive as Ed Orgeron prepares for his first full season leading the program.

During Miles’ 11 full seasons in Baton Rouge, the Tigers averaged 2,455.2 yards and 28.5 touchdowns, including setting the program record for rushing touchdowns in a season with 37 in 2013.

Although most of the excitement surrounding new offensive coordinator Matt Canada centers on the passing attack, his system features plenty of wrinkles to add to the running game, too.

In spite of the changing leadership, the foundation of the Tigers’ rushing success remains: the outstanding stable of running backs.

While most programs would be hobbled by the loss of a running back of Leonard Fournette’s caliber, LSU just reloads with last year’s SEC rushing leader, Derrius Guice.

After all the seasons of one-dimensional offense, the Tigers’ rushing attack looks to finally receive some consistent support from the passing game.

Rushing yards per game (SEC rank): 238.09  (4)

Rushing TDs: 29 (3)

Yards/carry:  6.27 (1)


LSU’s running back rotation in 2017 will be quite simple: lots and lots of Guice.

After playing behind Fournette throughout his career, Guice will take command as the Tigers’ feature back to start a season for the first (and presumably only) time.

Last season, the LSU faithful got an early preview of the Baton Rouge native as Fournette struggled with an ankle injury throughout. In the five games Fournette missed, Guice accounted for 68 percent of the Tigers’ rushing yards, recording 903 yards and 18 touchdowns on 115 attempts.

With Guice set to handle the majority of the load, the only question mark for the Tigers’ backfield lies in whether a true No. 2 back will emerge or if senior Darrel Williams, junior Nick Brossette, sophomore Lanard Fournette and freshman Clyde Edwards-Helaire will embrace the back-up-by-committee approach.

Williams is the favorite to win the back-up job. The Louisiana native illustrated his ability to complement Guice during LSU’s 42-7 blowout win against Missouri last season, in which he tallied 130 yards on 21 carries with three touchdowns.

While Williams has flashed his potential as a No. 2 option, Brossette showcased his ability as a change-of-pace back. During his two seasons with the Tigers, Brossette has averaged 7.8 yards on 27 carries.  

For the first time at LSU, Lanard Fournette will take the field without his big brother around, giving him an opportunity to contribute as Canada looks to use every possible weapon. In Canada’s system, the speedy Fournette could emerge as a receiving threat out of the backfield.

Edwards-Helaire will be the wildcard in the competition as he adjusts to the speed of the college game and learns the complex schemes in Canada’s offense.

Chasing 1,000 yards 

After recording the fourth-highest single-season tally in program history with 1,387 rushing yards, Guice seems to be a lock to become the Tigers’ fifth multiple-season 1,000-yard rusher.

The Baton Rouge native looks to build on LSU’s storied running back legacy. 

Since 2005, LSU has produced six different single-season 1,000-yard rushers and 12 career 1,000-yard rushers — testaments to the productivity of the Tigers’ backfield during Miles’ tenure. 

If Guice were to miss time, the Tigers might opt for a running-back-by-committee model that could leave them without a 1,000-yard back. Otherwise, it seems a lock.


Despite the Tigers’ success on the ground since 2005, the lack of a complementary passing game and any sense of creative play-calling has limited LSU’s production against elite opponents.

Against Alabama, the top defense LSU faced last season, the Tigers struggled to establish their trademark run game, tallying just 33 rushing yards on 27 attempts. Despite going nowhere on the ground, the Tigers still ran on more than half their plays and wound up with 125 total yards.

Comparatively, Canada’s offense at Pittsburgh ran 33 times (46 pecent of the snaps) in 71 plays against the only top-10 defense the Panthers faced – national champion Clemson – during their 43-42 shootout win. The Panthers, who ran on 63 percent of their snaps overall in 2016, were able to adjust — putting up 308 passing yards and 464 total yards.

LSU hired Canada hoping he can create such a run-first-yet-balanced system in Baton Rouge.

To that end, Canada aims to use the Tigers’ arsenal of dynamic playmakers with a variety of formations, pulling wide receivers into the running game and running backs out wide to create coverage mismatches.

Canada will add another wrinkle to the Tigers’ running game by incorporating the jet sweep, using LSU’s speedy wide receivers, particularly senior D.J. Chark, to keep opponents off balance.

Greatest concern — unproven rotation

Despite proving themselves as consistent change-of-pace backs, Brossette, Williams and Fournette have yet to rise to the level of potential starters in the SEC, which bodes ill for the Tigers if something were to happen to Guice.

Williams enters the season as the only other LSU back with a start besides Guice. The Marrero, La., native started against Jacksonville State and Southern Mississippi in 2016, collecting nine carries for 34 yards.

Although he has limited starting experience, Williams has played in 35 games during his three seasons. Comparatively, Brossette and Fournette have combined to appear in 24 games.

One stat that must improve

Since beating Alabama in Tuscaloosa in the 2011 regular season, the Tigers have dropped six straight to the Crimson Tide, including the 2012 BCS National Championship Game, mostly due to their inability to establish a balanced attack.

In those six losses, the Tigers’ normally dominant rushing attack was anything but, averaging 2.27 yards per attempt and notching just three touchdowns.

For Canada to make a splash in his first season, LSU needs to be competitive against the best. And there’s no doubt Alabama remains the SEC’s gold standard

Better or worse

The Tigers’ ground game should improve in effectiveness this season as support from the passing game improves under Canada.

Guice’s spring focus on improving his receiving skills will create a dynamic threat coming out of the backfield, translating into matchup nightmares for opposing defensive coordinators.

For too long, LSU’s elite backs have battled nine- and 10-man fronts against premier defenses. The Tigers may finally start to play to their potential with a coach who understands the importance of balance while sticking to the team’s strengths.