LSU’s Leonard Fournette draws high praise; Ole Miss’s Chad Kelly finding groove
As Ed Orgeron walked off the field Saturday night after 13th-ranked LSU’s 45–21 thumping of No. 18 Auburn in Baton Rouge, he shook his head at what he had just witnessed. LSU’s boisterous defensive line coach had previously tutored NFL Hall of Fame defensive lineman Warren Sapp at Miami, and was an assistant at USC when Trojans quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart won the Heisman Trophy (in 2000 and ’04, respectively).
But Orgeron still couldn’t fathom what he had seen after watching LSU sophomore running back Leonard Fournette rush for a career-high 228 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries against Auburn. Fournette didn’t even play in the final 19 minutes of the blowout victory.
“That was the most dominant performance of any college player I’ve seen in my 30 years coaching,” Orgeron says. “It was unbelievable.”
It’s high praise for the 6' 2", 230-pound Fournette, who ripped off a 71-yard run on his first carry on Saturday. He spent the rest of the game punishing Auburn tacklers, including safety Rudy Ford, who told reporters last week that stopping Fournette “shouldn't be difficult.”
Try telling that to fellow Auburn safety Tray Matthews, who made highlight reels for all the wrong reasons after he flipped over Fournette’s shoulder while unsuccessfully attempting to bring him down on a 29-yard touchdown run.
“He ran through them, around them,” Orgeron says of Fournette. “He just took over the game. It was something else, especially against a pretty talented team. I’ll say it again, the things he did were unbelievable.”
Had Fournette played the entire game, he would have surely shattered LSU’s single-game record of 250 rushing yards, which was set in 2004 by former running back Alley Broussard.
Orgeron has unique perspective on Fournette, whom he recruited out of St. Augustine High in New Orleans when Orgeron was an assistant (and later the interim head coach) at USC in 2013. One year later, Fournette participated in a Trojans football camp the summer before his senior season, when he was the nation's top-ranked high school player. “He was a great running back then,” Orgeron says, “but he’s really developed.”
The credit for his development goes to LSU running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson, according to Orgeron. Wilson, who also recruited Fournette, has helped him better understand offensive concepts, especially when it comes to hitting holes.
“He’s a guy that’s only going to continue to improve,” Orgeron says of Fournette. “He’s an unusual combination of power, vision and speed.”
Orgeron says Fournette might be the most dominant college football player he’s ever been around. That’s quite a statement considering that Orgeron won two national championships apiece at Miami and USC, with teams that were flush with NFL talent. He also believes that Fournette is the undisputed leader for the Heisman Trophy. In just two games the sophomore has rushed for 387 yards and six touchdowns, and leads the FBS in rushing yards per game (193.5).
“If there’s a better player in the country,” Orgeron says, “I’d like to see him.”
Orgeron isn’t worried about how Fournette will handle his stardom. After all, LSU coach Les Miles likened Fournette to Michael Jordan before the running back ever played a down of college football.
“He’s a very humble young man,” Orgeron says of Fournette. “A hard worker who just wants to get better. He’s very complimentary [of his teammates].”
Just like Orgeron is of Fournette, only now the coach is going to have to come up with a few more superlatives.
Cal (3-0) flying high after dramatic victory over Texas
As the Texas faithful groaned Saturday night after Longhorns kicker Nick Rose stunningly missed an extra point that enabled California to escape Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium with a 45–44 victory, Golden Bears coach Sonny Dykes rejoiced. Unranked Cal is off to a 3–0 start for the first time since 2011. It’s significant because last year the Golden Bears were on the verge of going 3–0 until Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon’s completed a 47-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass on the final play of Cal’s third game. The score enabled the Wildcats to pull out an unlikely 49–45 victory.
The loss devastated the Golden Bears’ young defense, which gave up no fewer than 31 points in every game for the rest of the season. “It hurt us bad,” Dykes says. “It hurt our confidence.”
But while Cal’s defense struggled to contain Texas redshirt freshman quarterback Jerrod Heard on Saturday night, Dykes was nevertheless thrilled with his team’s road victory. It was a critical win in a pivotal third season for Dykes in Berkeley, where he has a 9–18 record. “It was a good win because it wasn’t easy,” Dykes says. “We found a way to win against a football team playing with a lot of emotion and [in front of a] hostile crowd.”
During last season's 5–7 campaign, Dykes’s team beat Colorado 59–56 in double overtime on Sept. 27, and won the following week at Washington State in a 60–59 thriller. Still, the coach was haunted by the Arizona loss, and by an interception that star quarterback Jared Goff threw on a potential game-winning drive in a 36–34 loss to UCLA.
“We had a bunch of those [types of defeats] last year and [they] kept us from going to a bowl game,” Dykes says. “We could have won eight games last year, but we weren't a very good football team.”
The Golden Bears weren’t very good in the first half of their win on Saturday, either. Besides struggling to contain Heard, Cal lost a fumble in the red zone, were offside on a pooch kickoff that they had recovered and missed a 44-yard field goal. “We just kind of sputtered and didn’t take advantage of the opportunities [we had earned],” Dykes says.
By season’s end, Dykes believes his team won’t be the only one that struggled to tackle Heard, whose 527 yards of total offense (including 163 rushing yards) broke Longhorns great Vince Young’s 10-year-old, single-game record of 506 yards. “We just didn’t have anybody on the field as fast as he was,” Dykes says. “He’s good. He’s really, really, really fast. It’s going to take some time [for him] to develop as a passer. He throws the ball pretty good. He doesn’t necessarily know what he’s doing quite yet in the passing game. [Defensively] you want him to throw the ball. I know that. You don’t want him running it.”
Just like opponents don’t want Goff throwing it. The junior completed 27 of 37 passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns against Texas. In the process, Goff broke the Golden Bears’ career records for passing yards, total offense and completions.
“He’s a tough kid that grinds it out,” Dykes says of Goff. “What I like about him is [that] he can win different ways. He scrambled and made some plays with his feet. He converted some big third downs and kept some plays alive. He did a great job taking care of the ball. I don’t think he forced one single throw the whole night. He just plays within himself incredibly well.”
It’s the mental side of Goff’s game that sets him apart, according to Dykes. The coach jokes that Cal probably has two offensive linemen, a defensive back, a defensive end and a wide receiver who can throw the ball farther than Goff—who, if he leaves school early, nevertheless could be the first quarterback selected in the NFL draft next April.
“He does some stuff I’ve never seen anybody do before,” Dykes says. “He gets the ball out so quick. He sees things. He’s got all the stuff. Physically, he’s still real skinny, and when [NFL scouts] get around him, they’re going to go, Am I really going to give this guy $100 million? Other then that, there’s not one negative thing you can say about the guy. He’s humble, he’s hard-working and loves football. There’s not one single skeleton in his closet. He’s all the stuff that you want. He’s never stolen crab legs, any kind of that stuff. You don’t have to worry about all that with him.”
And with Saturday’s win, the Golden Bears now have a real shot at making a bowl this season. They play next Saturday at Washington and then host Washington State before running a Pac-12 gantlet of four straight games against ranked opponents.
“[Every game is] big,” Dykes says, “but this next one will be real big.”
Ole Miss’s Chad Kelly headed in right direction—on and off field
When Chad Kelly arrived at Ole Miss this past winter, Rebels offensive coordinator Dan Werner was skeptical. In more than three decades coaching, Werner has learned to be wary of highly touted recruits, but there were also plenty of other reasons for him to be concerned about Kelly. The redshirt junior quarterback, the nephew of Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly, was dismissed from Clemson in April 2014 for a pattern of conduct detrimental to the team.
Kelly went from the Tigers to East Mississippi C.C., where he led the Lions a junior college national championship. But two weeks after he committed to Ole Miss, Kelly was arrested last December for disorderly conduct at a Buffalo bar following a fight with bouncers. He later pleaded guilty to the charge and was ordered to perform 50 hours of community service.
“I wanted to see what he could do,” Werner says of Kelly.
Werner and the rest of college football saw what Kelly was capable of on Saturday night, when the quarterback completed 18 of 33 passes for 341 yards and three touchdowns in the Rebels’ stunning 43–37 upset of No. 2 Alabama.
“He’s done everything we’ve asked him,” Werner says. “I couldn’t be any more pleased now.”
The victory not only put Ole Miss in the thick of the College Football Playoff race, but it also marked the first time the Rebels have beaten the Crimson Tide twice in a row in a series that dates back to 1894. The win also broke Bama’s 17-game home winning streak, the best in the FBS.
The 6' 2", 215-pound Kelly pulled it off with big plays, including touchdown passes of 73 and 66 yards. The latter came off a bobbled snap, after which Kelly heaved the ball downfield and it deflected into the hands of Rebels wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo.
“He knows where to go with it, when to check down, when to take the shots,” Werner says. “He just sort of has an aura about him.”
It’s shown this season, as Kelly has thrown for 898 yards and nine touchdowns, with just one interception. Werner points out that the lone interception occurred only after the ball had hit an Ole Miss receiver in the hands.
Most importantly, Kelly has been sterling off the field. He’s received A’s and B’s in his classes and hasn’t had any behavioral issues, according to Werner. “He understands that this is his chance to show people what he can do,” Werner says. “So far, he’s done that.”
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