Heisman Watch: LSU's Leonard Fournette shines against Auburn
It’s never a bad choice to listen to Garth Brooks, and the words of the legendary country singer hold true when assessing the current race for the Heisman Trophy. Take the lyrics of Brooks’ 1993 hit single “Callin’ Baton Rouge”, for example:
Operator, won’t you put me on through?
I gotta send my love down to Baton Rouge.
Like Brooks, the Heisman Watchman sends his love to Baton Rouge after Week 3 of college football. That’s because LSU running back Leonard Fournette is the new leader in the Heisman Watch after a stirring performance against Auburn.
Last month I warned Heisman voters not to overlook non-quarterback contenders. That advice is looking more and more wise through three weeks of football. Alabama running back Derrick Henry took the top spot in our Heisman Watch last week, but now it’s time for Fournette make his case. The star of the Bayou Bengals is the best player in college football right now.
Week 3 Heisman Watch
1. Leonard Fournette, RB LSU
2. Derrick Henry, RB Alabama
3. Trevone Boykin, QB TCU
4. Nick Chubb, RB Georgia
5. Ezekiel Elliott, RB Ohio State
State of the frontrunner
Auburn picked a rough week to play without talented defensive end Carl Lawson. The junior missed Saturday’s meeting with LSU with an injured hip, and Leonard Fournette took full advantage of his absence.
Fournette overwhelmed Auburn with career-highs of 228 rushing yards and three touchdowns on just 19 carries. He reeled off scoring runs of 40 and 29 yards in helping LSU build a 24-0 first-half lead. Fournette delivered a preview of his day on LSU’s first play from scrimmage, when he scampered 71 yards to set up his team’s first touchdown. In the end, Fournette’s 228 rushing yards marked the seventh-most in a single game in LSU history.
The sophomore was also remarkably efficient, setting an LSU record with 12 yards per carry. Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp had no answer for Fournette’s ability in front of a home crowd. “He did some things today where I said, ‘wow,’” said LSU coach Les Miles.
Fournette now finds himself in an enviable position from a Heisman perspective. He’s the headliner of a squad that’s suddenly a viable threat in the SEC race. Fournette already has two strong performances against SEC West teams (Auburn and Mississippi State). Plus, he’s doing it all alongside a less-than-prolific passing attack. That means Fournette should remain the bell cow for LSU’s offense, and if the Tigers keep climbing, their running back’s Heisman campaign will follow suit.
Connor Cook, QB Michigan State
Chad Kelly, QB Ole Miss
Anu Solomon, Arizona QB
It took only one play for Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly to suck the life out of Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday night.
That wild, deflected pass resulted in a 66-yard touchdown by Quincy Adeboyejo, a score that sparked a 13-0 run and helped the Rebels take a 30-10 lead over Alabama. Kelly and Ole Miss beat the Tide for just the second time in Tuscaloosa, 43-37, scoring the program’s second-most points in the history of the series. Kelly finished 18-of-33 for 341 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
The quarterback has come a long way since his dismissal from Clemson during spring practice in 2014. After Week 3, Kelly ranks second nationally in pass efficiency (205.7) and yards-per-attempt (12.3). Ole Miss fans likely welcome the change; departed starter Bo Wallace was a feast-or-famine passer who threw 14 picks with his 22 touchdowns in 2014. For now, Kelly looks like a more effective weapon on offense.
Of course, Kelly will have to navigate a tough SEC schedule. He also has only one major victory under his belt, having taken advantage of Tennessee-Martin and Fresno State in his first two games. But the quarterback seems to have hit his stride with Adeboyejo and fellow receivers Cody Core and Laquon Treadwell. Keep an eye on Kelly’s rise if the Rebels prove legit.
Cardale Jones, QB Ohio State
Dalvin Cook, RB Florida State
Ohio State entered last weekend’s game against Northern Illinois as a five-touchdown home favorite. But based entirely on quarterback play, the Buckeyes didn’t look the part.
Jones, in particular, seemed lost at times. The junior started for the third week in a row and struggled with his chemistry in the passing game, overthrowing receivers and tossing two first-half interceptions. In the second quarter, Urban Meyer benched Jones in favor of J.T. Barrett, who went on to start the second half. In the end, Jones finished the game having completed just four of his nine pass attempts.
Meyer has been open about playing both Barrett and Jones this season, but Saturday’s game appears to have worn on Jones. Many Twitter users noticed the Buckeyes’ starter change his Twitter bio to “3rd String QB @ The Ohio State” shortly after the win. (Jones later denied the bio change.)
Jones’s confidence has seemingly taken a hit through three games this season, which won’t help his Heisman chances. Neither does Ohio State’s two-quarterback system, in general. It’s hard to find a loss on the Buckeyes’ upcoming schedule before they face Michigan State on Nov. 21, but if Jones keep struggling, he won’t have a shot at reaching New York.
Heisman video of the week
Attention, defenders: Don’t try to tackle Fournette.
No. 8 LSU at Syracuse
After a huge performance against Auburn, Fournette could punish Syracuse’s defense in the Carrier Dome. The Orange haven’t played a tough schedule, but they still have allowed only 46.7 rushing yards per game, third nationally.
No. 3 TCU at Texas Tech
Trevone Boykin compiled six total touchdowns in TCU’s 56-37 win over SMU on Saturday. Now the Horned Frogs’ quarterback faces his first Big 12 opponent on the road, Texas Tech, which is fresh off a win over Arkansas.
No. 18 Utah at No. 13 Oregon
What’s next for Vernon Adams? The Oregon quarterback sat out Saturday’s 61-28 drubbing of Georgia State as a precaution while nursing a broken finger. If Adams hopes to jump back into the Heisman race, he must suit up against Utah on Saturday.