Herschel Walker's SEC rush record in jeopardy again, this time by Fournette
Herschel Walker’s 1981 campaign has gone down in SEC lore as one of the greatest single seasons by a running back in conference history.
Walker bulldozed his way to runner-up in the Heisman voting that year thanks to an SEC-record 1,891 yards on the ground, and 18 touchdowns. The superhuman effort stood for more than three decades before Alabama running back Derrick Henry came along this season and drop-kicked the 34-year-old record.
Henry is in the midst of putting his own indelible stamp on the SEC single-season rushing mark, courtesy of 1,986 yards and 23 touchdowns with at least one game left to play. The nation’s leader in rushing yards and touchdowns will be among the three candidates in New York for this year’s Heisman Awards.
And while Henry and his monster campaign garners the spotlight – and rightfully so – Walker’s former record is quietly in jeopardy of falling twice in the same year, to arguably an equally impressive effort from LSU running back Leonard Fournette.
The case can be made that Fournette belongs in New York for Saturday’s Heisman Trophy festivities, along with Henry, Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey and Deshaun Watson of Clemson. When you have a season that could potentially top Herschel Walker, it’s probably a little more deserving of more respect on the national level.
Henry has a chance to really blow away the rushing and touchdown records because he potentially has two more games to go i the playoffs. He’s played in the 12 regular season games plus the SEC title game. He could play 15 games total.
Fournette, who has 1,741 yards so far, hasn’t been as lucky. LSU’s Week 1 contest against McNeese State was cancelled because of inclement weather and, of course, the Tigers missed out on the SEC crown. Fournette and the Tigers have a bowl game left – Dec. 29’s Texas Bowl against Texas Tech – but that means Fournette will only play 12 games all year.
That’s the same number of games as Walker, who also played 12 games in 1981. His SEC single-season rushing record 1,891 yards doesn’t take into account his 84 yards on 25 carries in the Bulldogs’ 24-20 loss to Dan Marino and Pittsburgh in the Sugar Bowl. Walker essentially finished the 1981 campaign with 1,975 yards and 20 touchdowns for an average of 4.8 YPC, down from his 4.9 YPC average in the regular season.
Henry, by comparison, enters the postseason an entire yard higher than Walker with a 5.9 YPC average.
But it’s Fournette who trumps them all with a 6.4 YPC average. In fact, the LSU sophomore enters the Tigers’ bowl game needing “just” 150 yards to (technically) tie Walker’s record at 1,891 yards and one touchdown to surpass Walker’s 18 rushing scores from that season. It’s Fournette at 158.3 yards per game this season (which many argue is the true rushing crown) that’s tops in the nation, ahead of Henry’s 152.8 YPG.
Fournette has reached 150 yards eight times this season. If we’re aiming at Walker’s 1,975-yard mark, Fournette’s ante gets upped to 234 yards needed to catch the former USFL and NFL super star’s record. That might sound like an unfathomable number to 99 percent of the running backs in the country, but not for Fournette, who has flirted with that number three times this season rushing for single-game totals of 228, 233 and 244 yards.
Adding to the intrigue, the college football deities served up Texas Tech as the sacrificial lamb to a Fournette who is looking to atone for his late-year swoon that witnessed 31- and 91 yard-efforts in season-defining games against Alabama and Arkansas, respectively. The Red Raiders, to be kind, can’t stop anyone on the ground. Only Idaho and Eastern Michigan give up more rushing yards than the Texas Tech defense, who relent 271.8 YPG to opponents.
It was those underwhelming efforts that cost Fournette the Heisman, especially head-to-head against Henry, who torched a sturdy LSU run defense — which currently ranks No. 24 in the nation and No. 4 in the SEC against the run — for 210 yards and three touchdowns. No one was catching Henry from then on as the junior closed out the regular season with 732 yards and six touchdowns in his final four games to etch his name atop the SEC single-season record books.
And Henry’s season isn’t over. He could potentially end up with as much as 400 yards more than Walker’s former record.
The question is whether or not Fournette’s 2015 campaign also trumps Walker’s legendary ’81 season.
The most telling stat between Fournette and Walker is the number of carries the two have had in their respective great years. Walker amassed his record 1,891 yards on 385 carries, and needed 410 attempts to reach 1,975 yards, if you count the bowl game. If Fournette hits his 25-carry per game average against Texas Tech, the New Orleans native has a real chance to duplicate Walker’s 1,975 yard – and do so somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 carries, about 100 fewer than the Georgia superstar.
By comparison, Walker set his record in fewer games, but Henry also broke the mark in fewer carries, needing 323 to surpass the former Bulldog. The record is conceded to Henry. When the junior peels off his cleats for the last time this season, he’ll have a set a new single-season rushing mark that might not be challenged for another 34 years, such as Walker’s.
Then again, you never know. Barring anything unforeseen, while Henry is likely testing his mettle in the NFL, Fournette returns to Death Valley next fall.