|LSU finds rare diversity in its running game|
|Written by Admin|
|Saturday, 05 January 2008 12:10|
Any of seven players of varying size, running style and speed could carry the ball on any given play.
Matt Flynn has his share of designed quarterback runs. Change-of-pace backup QB Ryan Perrilloux loves the option.
Then there are the five running backs who all expect to see action when LSU lines up against Ohio State in the BCS national championship game on Monday night.
``You very seldom see a team that has five tailbacks,'' Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said.
LSU's ``stable of running backs,'' as they're sometimes called, includes senior Jacob Hester; sophomores Charles Scott, Keiland Williams and Trindon Holliday; and freshman Richard Murphy.
Hester, a tough and heady runner who always follows his blocks and never seems to go down on the first hit, was the leader statistically this season, gaining 1,017 yards and 12 touchdowns, 11 on rushes.
Williams, who had some of his best runs going wide on options or pitchouts, was second in yards rushing with 458 on 69 carries.
At 5-foot-5, 160 pounds, Holliday looks too small to play with these guys, but during track he ran the 100 meters in a school record 10.02 seconds and might be the fastest player in college football. LSU likes to give Holliday carries when opposing defenses appear winded and he's responded with 351 yards on 50 carries.
Scott is both fast and strong. He also is a good blocker, particularly on quarterback runs. He gained 318 yards on 43 carries, an average of 7.4 yards per run.
Murphy, the least experienced, also had the fewest carries, 33, for 197 yards this season. Still, that's an average of 6 yards per carry.
Combined with Flynn' 207 rushing yards and Perrilloux's 203 - not to mention runs by receivers on reverses and end-arounds - LSU had 2,846 rushing yards, an average of 218.9 yards per game.
``They have a lot of talented running backs and it presents a huge challenge to this defense and something we have to prepare for,'' Ohio State linebacker Marcus Freeman said.
It's one thing to spread the running game among so many players throughout a season. This time, however, LSU had five weeks to plan for one winner-take-all game. There will only be so many carries to go around.
``You always have a plan for Jacob Hester. You always have a plan for Trindon Holliday,'' LSU offensive coordinator Gary Crowton said. ``You're always going to play those other three guys.
``Then, as the plan develops in the game, based on how the defense performs, it can kind of grow or diminish based on who has the hot hand.''
Scott, who arrived at LSU after being named Louisiana's Mr. Football during his senior year of high school, said he has no complaints about being one of those ``other three guys.''
``It definitely has helped us stay fresh and not get worn down,'' Scott said. ``We have a long season. Even with four or five guys at the end of the season we're tired and worn down, so I personally couldn't imagine a season where I was the only guy carrying the ball.''
Of course, there are no guarantees he'll ever get back to a national title game, so he'll be eager to get on the field against the Buckeyes. Again, he showed little concern about that.
``In a game like this, it's let all your guns loose,'' Scott said. ``We're all going to get time and we're all going to perform to the best of our abilities. It's not a game where it's going to be just one guy.''
When LSU won the Sugar Bowl a year ago, the focal point on offense was quarterback JaMarcus Russell and his top two receivers, Dwayne Bowe and Craig Davis. All three were picked in the first round of last spring's NFL draft.
LSU passes effectively, with Flynn throwing to explosive receivers like Early Doucet and Demetrius Byrd. These days, though, the Tigers pick their spots in the passing game, having thrown 415 times compared to 563 rushes.
``I kind of like the system we have, not really focused on one guy, because not only does it help us, but it makes other teams really prepare for so many different looks and so many aspects of the game,'' Hester said. ``If you throw five, six, seven guys out there at different positions, it just makes the defensive coordinator want to pull his hair out.''
As has been the case, Hester expects to figure prominently in the Tigers' attack, but not at the expense of another back who may be performing better as the game progresses.
``We're all five going to get carries in this game at one point or another, and if one guy's kind of feeling it and he's having a great game, then why not hand it to him as many times as you can?'' Hester said. ``This is a shot of a lifetime. It's one game. You've got to do everything you can to win it.''
Still, it is nice to have an option. Or several of them.