Three and Out: RB Leonard Fournette leads LSU to shaky win over Syracuse
Leonard Fournette steamrolled Syracuse. The rest of LSU? Not so much. The Tigers prevailed over the Orange in a more-difficult-than-expected 34–24 win Saturday at the Carrier Dome thanks in large part to their Heisman candidate running back.
Here are three thoughts on LSU’s victory.
1. Fournette trucked along and kept an upset at bay
After torching Auburn for 228 yards last week, Fournette became the first player in LSU history to rush for 200 or more yards in back-to-back games. The sophomore ran for 244 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries Saturday.
Fournette’s runs were timely and drove LSU’s offense while the passing game struggled and Syracuse threatened to capitalize. On the Tigers’ second possession, Syracuse defensive end Ron Thompson had quarterback Brandon Harris wrapped up in the backfield. But as Harris was falling, Fournette cut behind him, caught a pitch and ran 48 yards deep into Orange territory. He then took one play off before tiptoeing inside the left pylon for a 14-yard touchdown run.
After a fourth quarter 40-yard touchdown pass from Syracuse quarterback Zack Mahoney pulled the Orange within a touchdown at 17–10, Fournette took an inside handoff, burst through the box and outran the Orange secondary on his way to a 61-yard score. On LSU’s next offensive play, Fournette sprinted 87 yards down the left sideline for another touchdown, but an illegal formation flag brought it back.
Even without the final backbreaker, Fournette did more than enough and accounted for 62% of the Tigers’ offense.
2. LSU miscues kept Syracuse in the game
Despite Fournette’s dominance, LSU’s carelessness throughout the game gave Syracuse a puncher’s chance in the fourth quarter.
The Tigers committed 14 penalties for 120 yards, a handful of them negating offensive first downs in the first half and erasing timely defensive stops in the second. Early in the fourth quarter, blatant pass interference by Kevin Tolliver wiped away an interception in the end zone. The Orange hit pay dirt six plays later on a two-yard pass from Mahoney to running back Ben Lewis, moving the score to 24–17. With just over two minutes left in the game, a late hit on Mahoney extended an Orange drive, and the quarterback found freshman Dontae Strickland in the end zone a play later.
The penalties ultimately didn’t cost LSU on Saturday, but they helped a Syracuse offense led by a walk-on fifth-string quarterback score 24 points. With matchups against Alabama, Ole Miss and Texas A&M still to come, the Tigers can’t afford to be undisciplined.
“The significance to this day was that, as a team, our football team won, and they did so in a sloppy manner,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “Leonard had a big day and certainly contributed very significantly. But we have to fix things, all of which include every player and every coach on this team.”
3. Harris delivers late in a mixed-bag performance
Harris will never be expected to be the focal point of LSU’s offense, but he did his part in the Tigers’ first two games of the season to move the ball efficiently through the air when called upon. That didn’t happen Saturday against a mediocre-at-best Syracuse secondary. The sophomore finished 8 for 16 for 157 yards and a touchdown, with big plays down the stretch masking his game-long inconsistency.
As LSU nursed a seven-point lead and faced a third-and-five, Harris unleashed a 51-yard pass that found Travin Dural on the Orange 11-yard line. Harris then went right back at Syracuse cornerback Julian Whigham, throwing an 11-yard fade to Malachi Dupre for the Tigers’s final touchdown of the game.
“I think Brandon Harris is coming, I think our quarterback is giving us the leadership that we need,” Miles said. “I think he's not rattled easily. I think he recognizes the things he can do and can't do.”
Harris showed up when LSU needed him on that late drive, but his spotty play was the Orange’s best defense as the Tigers chewed up 6.4 yards per carry. He helped limit LSU to just three of 10 on third-down conversions.