BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) – Publicly, LSU running back Leonard Fournette has been largely silent about the perceived score he and the No. 15 Tigers have to settle with top-ranked Alabama.
The Tigers’ powerful and explosive star running back – who scored three touchdowns of 59 yards or longer in his previous game – was nowhere to be seen during designated times for media interviews this week. But when the cameras and microphones were gone, Fournette apparently had plenty to say to his teammates about facing a Crimson Tide squad that last year held him to a mere 31 yards on 19 carries while defeating the Tigers for a fifth-straight time .
“He’s probably the most motivated guy on the team,” LSU interim coach Ed Orgeron said this week. “He has spoken to the team and will speak to the team again. His want-to to have success against Alabama is as high as any other player I’ve seen.”
The Tigers’ confidence is surging as they aim to end their skid against their century-old nemesis from two states away on Saturday night in Death Valley. LSU (5-2, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) has won three straight – each by 17 or more points – since Orgeron took over for Les Miles in late September.
“This is obviously one of the biggest games of the year – always is,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said, adding the LSU is “probably as good a team as we’ve played all year, especially the way they’re playing now.”
Regardless of how the Crimson Tide (8-0, 5-0) ruined Fournette’s Heisman Trophy candidacy by bottling him up in Tuscaloosa last year, Saban asserted that LSU’s 6-foot-1, 235-pound junior is “probably one of the most dynamic running backs that has played in college football for a while – and is playing extremely well right now.”
That’s one reason why Tigers tight end Colin Jeter foreshadows the latest edition of Alabama-LSU this way: “It’s going to be a juggernaut battle and basically a street-fight game.”
Here are some of the main story lines heading to the 81st meeting of the Crimson Tide and Tigers since 1895:
Alabama’s defense is ranked fourth nationally in yards allowed (274.5 per game). The Tide has forced 16 turnovers in eight games – eight fumble recoveries and eight interceptions – and made 64 tackles for losses with 32 sacks.
Orgeron said Alabama fields “obviously the best defense we’ve seen – might be one of the best defenses in college football history.”
LSU allowed just eight TDs this season, and no more than two in a single game. Saban expressed admiration for how first-year LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda has harnessed his talent.
“Everybody doing their job and being sound and disciplined in what they do is what makes then really good, because they have really good players,” Saban said. LSU “is a really, really quality defensive team.”
HURTS ON ROAD: Tide freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts has had some mistakes in previous road games but bounced back strong. Now, he enters earth-trembling-loud Death Valley for the first time. Hurts has accounted for eight touchdowns rushing and passing in three SEC road games, while topping 100 rushing yards twice.
FORMIDABLE FOURNETTE: Because of a nagging left ankle injury, Fournette has played only once since Orgeron took over. That was in LSU previous game two weeks ago against Ole Miss, when Fournette vaulted himself back into Heisman consideration by setting and LSU single-game rushing record with 284 yards. He did so on just 16 carries, averaging 17.8 yards per carry.
“He’s just a genetic freak and certainly great to have him on your team,” Jeter said. “He brings that power to the game and brings confidence to all of us.”
REPLACING JACKSON: This is Alabama’s first game since safety/punt returner Eddie Jackson was lost for the season to a broken leg. Cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick has been working at the safety spot, though Saban hasn’t publicly declared him the fill-in starter. Xavian Marks has returned a punt for a touchdown while freshman Trevon Diggs and Calvin Ridley have both taken turns fielding punts. Jackson had already scored on two punt returns and an interception return.
SABAN’S RETURN: Having won a national title at LSU in the 2003 season, Saban’s return to Baton Rouge as a rival coach has become a major component to this rivalry. Since leaving the NFL for ‘Bama in 2007, Saban is 7-3 vs. LSU, with the Tigers winning in 2007, 2010 and 2011.
AP college football website: collegefootball.ap.org
AP Sports Writer John Zenor in Tuscaloosa, Alabama contributed to this report.
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