Column: Leonard Fournette's Heisman hopes dashed by Alabama's defense
That door that’s been slammed shut on the Heisman Trophy race for the past nine weeks? Alabama’s defense just kicked it right in.
It’s been a long time since we’ve had a Heisman candidate like Leonard Fournette so dominate a college football season. The big LSU running back had gained 150 yards or more in every start this season, leading the Tigers to a 7-0 record and a No. 2 ranking in the first College Football Playoff poll. He had already posted 20 runs of 15 yards or more this year.
Then along comes Alabama, and that ferocious front seven. And just like that, Fournette went from runaway front-runner to sitting on the outside looking in. That’s saying a lot in 60 minutes, but then again, Alabama’s defense was that good.
And it cost Fournette big time.
From a team perspective, Alabama’s 30-16 win was hugely important both on a conference and national scale. Thanks to Ole Miss’ loss earlier in the day, Alabama now controls its own destiny in getting back to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game. And they sure made the playoff selection committee look good in the rout. Alabama, even with a loss, was the No. 4 seed in the first weekly poll and they are sure to move up to one of the top two spots now.
And the Heisman race? Well, it’s Derrick Henry’s to win now.
Yes, one game really can make that much difference.
Mind you, Henry was already pretty good before Saturday night. He already was over 1,000 yards and had 14 touchdowns. Saturday night he added another 210 against a good LSU defense, scoring three more touchdowns.
And Fournette? Well, when you start measuring stats by inches per carry instead of yards per carry, you know you have a problem.
He had only 31 yards on 19 carries and had only one decent gain all night, an 18-yard run with 11 minutes to go in the fourth quarter. At the time, he was averaging 31 inches per carry. On his first 15 carries, he had only 13 yards. He lost yardage four times, never gained more than 4 yards on any carry and gained only 7 yards on five first-and-10 runs. On 14 of his 19 runs, he gained 2 yards or less.
It was complete annihilation by the Crimson Tide defense. Everyone knew it, everyone saw it.
“We didn’t play perfectly but I thought it was really important that we could control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, and we did a really good job of that,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said.
Control is such an understatement. For the fifth straight time, Alabama won this game the way it always does. They take away what you do best and in LSU’s case, the Tigers simply didn’t have a counter-punch. It’s teams like Ole Miss – one that can throw the ball all over the yard with a bunch of dangerous receivers – that can give the Tide trouble.
But when you just want to put on another chin strap and run right at them, well, forget it. You’re playing right into their hands.
And look, Fournette is a great back. I’m not going to take that away from him. But two things took precedence in this game. One, LSU’s offensive line was no match for Alabama. Not even close. But just as importantly, Fournette can only hurt you in so many ways. If he’s not going to make hay inside the tackles, then his only chance was to try to kick outside. Alabama’s linebackers – and defensive backs when necessary – made sure that wasn’t going to happen. The defensive ends did a great job of reading and reacting all night, too. There was nowhere for Fournette to go.
And Fournette isn’t going to hurt you as a receiver, at least not at this point in his career. He was targeted a few times, but had no catches.
As for Henry, he proved he can be the workhorse in a big game. He had 38 carries and ran the ball 10 times in a final drive that took the final nine minutes off the clock. Alabama had nearly 40 minutes of possession time to LSU’s 20.
You can’t score if you don’t have the ball. But with Alabama’s defense points were going to be hard to come by anyway.
Leonard Fournette, sadly, now knows that all too well.
— Ross Dellenger (@DellengerAdv) November 8, 2015