Varsity Tailgate: How can Eastern Michigan stop Leonard Fournette?
Pray for the Eastern Michigan Eagles.
EMU travels to Baton Rouge this week to play the No. 9 LSU Tigers. But this is not your typical case of an SEC power playing a non-conference cupcake game. No, it’s worse. Far worse. Terrifyingly worse.
The Eagles have the worst rushing defense in college football, allowing an average of 373.3 yards per game. And LSU, as you may recall, is led by a one-man demolition crew in sophomore running back Leonard Fournette.
The Heisman frontrunner is averaging 8.6 yards per carry and 210.3 yards per game this season, and each of his three games have been against Power 5 programs. Eastern Michigan? If we're being fair, they have about as much of a chance as an actual emu fighting a tiger. (Sorry, that was unavoidable.)
Still, if EMU wants to get that $985,000 check for participating in this game, they have to show up—and they may as well give stopping Fournette the ol’ college try. Here is my gameplan for how the Eagles can look to slow the Heisman-favorite down, and pull off the upset by covering the 44.5-point spread.
- STACK THE BOX. Pulling up the linebackers and safeties tight to the line of scrimmage to help in run support is a common strategy against top-level backs. But EMU should specifically stack some large, heavy boxes outside of LSU’s locker room door before the start of the game, in hopes of trapping Fournette inside, unable to take the field.
- USE A SPY. Just as many teams have a linebacker shadow a multi-threat quarterback, the Eagles should assign one linebacker to watch the LSU superstar on every play. Also, it would be ideal if this player is ex-KGB and would be willing to drop something in Fournette’s water bottle that might leave him incapacitated for three hours.
- ENCOURAGE THE PASS. Maybe if EMU doesn’t put any defenders on the Tiger receivers, LSU quarterback Brandon Harris will audible to passing plays. The Eagles might have a better chance of chasing down wide open receivers than of stopping Fournette running directly at them.
- EMPLOY A 5-2 HYBRID DEFENSE. The 5-2 defense is effective in stopping the run. But even it likely wouldn’t be enough for EMU. So they should instead try the lesser-known 5-20 defense, which features five down linemen and 20 linebackers. While it is technically illegal, the Eagles can hope the referees will show mercy on them and allow them to use it in this game against Fournette.
- DON'T WATCH TOO MUCH FILM. The Eagles can’t overthink this matchup. They just need to play instinctively: read and react. And you know what? Let’s change this from “Don’t watch too much film” to “Don’t watch any film.” I mean, have you seen Leonard Fournette?
Yikes. Watching that over and over will just cause an opponent to cower in the locker room in fear, unwilling to take the field. And then there’s no six-figure check. Don't watch film, Eastern Michigan. DO NOT WATCH FILM.
- SET CLEAR GOALS. The Eagles aren’t going to completely stop Fournette. They need to be realistic. They can hope to limit him. Keeping Fournette short of the college football single-game rushing record of 427 yards? Before halftime? That’s a more realistic goal.
- GET HELP FROM THE OFFENSE. Long, time-consuming scoring drives by the EMU offense would keep Fournette off the field; if the Eagles build a big lead, LSU might be forced to throw the ball more. But that’s a big ask for a heavy underdog. So if dominating time of possession isn’t possible, the Eagles should consider kneeling down four times every time they get the ball on the 20 after a Fournette touchdown. That will give LSU the ball inside the 20 all the time, meaning Fournette will never rip off a long run.
And then, of course, there’s the power of prayer.
Game of the Week
No. 6 Notre Dame at No. 12 Clemson, 8 p.m. ET on ABC
This will be Notre Dame's first true test of the year—their previous four opponents have a combine record of 4-11—and DeShone Kizer's first-ever start on the road. It won't be easy. But when you pit a team that has the "luck of the Irish" against a team that inspired the term "Clemsoning," it's not hard to predict who will pull out this game in the end.
Another Game of the Week
No. 13 Alabama at No. 8 Georgia, 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS
Beating Nick Saban and Alabama would go a long way toward changing the perception that Mark Richt can win the big game. Of course, if Georgia does win, people will just say that a two-loss Bama is a shadow of the team they were three years ago. Poor Richt. He should probably thinking about winning one of those national championships to shut everyone up.
Cupcake of the Week
This was already covered, but it does present another possible strategy for the Eagles. Maybe Leonard Fournette has a sweet tooth like Skittles-loving Marshawn Lynch. EMU should leave a plate of delicious cupcakes on the sideline and hope Fournette eats so many he gets a tummy ache and can't play.
Rivalry Game of the Week
Texas Tech at No. 5 Baylor, 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC/ESPN
This game is for bragging rights in the state, and the loser risks being compared to the University of Texas. That's a slight no program wants.
Mascot Fact of the Week
Baylor has two live bears on campus and its mascot has been the Bears since a campus vote in 1914. Also on the ballot was a buffalo, an eagle, an antelope and a bookworm. Really, a bookworm. Imagine a team called the Baylor Bookworms. Outstanding. They would have no fewer national titles than the Baylor Bears (0), but they would have an awesome nickname. And they'd also probably lead the nation in apparel sales. You really blew it, 1914 Baylor students.
Heisman Candidate in the Crosshairs
Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
Watson was on many preseason Heisman watch lists and will play this week in primetime on national TV against Notre Dame. Winning a trophy should be a huge motivation for him, because his head coach would never support him being compensated for his play in any other way.
Tailgate Tip of the Week
Don't accidentally poison your dog at your tailgate. According to this article, the following seven tailgate staples can give your dog diarrhea or kill it: pork sausages, pulled pork, hamburgers, chicken wings, alcohol, salsa, guacamole. No burgers, wings, beer or chips and guac at a tailgate? Way to ruin the whole day, dogs. Bad dog. BAD DOG!
Someone get this article to Uga's handlers before Saturday.
Quote of the Week
Britain Covery, Utah punt returner
Stat of the Week
Despite being ranked No. 1 in all the land, Ohio State has a minus-1 turnover margin so far this year. It will be interesting to see if turnovers come into play this week against Indiana, one of the toughest games left on Ohio State's schedule. (Of note: this isn't supposed to be a joke. Indiana really is one of the toughest games left on the Buckeyes' schedule.)
Question of the Week
Tennessee is struggling under Butch Jones. Maybe they could hire this Joey Freshwater!
Greatest Conference Ever of the Week
Despite only having 10 teams, the Big 12 has the most undefeated teams left of any conference in the country with six. On the downside, Kansas is a member program, which might be enough to pull the Big 12's strength of schedule to dead-last.
Worst Conference Ever of the Week
The Sun Belt went 2-5 in non-conference play last week, with an average margin of loss of 36 points. Does anyone know if Kansas gets a lot of sun? Maybe they would be a better fit in this conference.
Coach on the Hot Seat
Mike London, Virginia
When you lose so much that a sad fan has a well-known move for signaling complete surrender, your time on the job is probably about up.
Player Name of the Week
Lion King, DE, Eastern Michigan
Oh, Lion King. No. Not again. First you had to face the merciless Scar and now Fournette?
Stone Cold Lock of the Week
Leonard Fournette will NOT breaking the single-game rushing record this week. That is, assuming the Eastern Michigan coaches are loyal Varsity Tailgate readers who will take my wisdom and put it into the gameplan.