We’ve been hearing about LSU’s outstanding running game since two-a-days in August. The Tigers could run four solid rushers out any opponent, thus insuring that they always had fresh legs to carry the ball in the fourth quarter.
Juniors Spencer Ware, Michael Ford and Alfred Blue and sophomore Kenny Hilliard were a fearsome foursome carrying the football for Les Miles’ Tigers. They, running behind a massive offensive line, were supposed to be the firepower behind LSU’s pursuit of another national title.
But due to injuries, that’s not the case anymore, so the Tigers turned to Jeremy Hill, who had not been involved a whole lot in the playing rotation before Saturday’s win over South Carolina. Hill, a 6-foot-2, 235-pound freshman, was a Parade All-American after a stellar career at Redemptorist High School in Baton Rouge. There, he became the school’s all-time career rushing leader.
But when he arrived at LSU, Hill was not even mentioned as a candidate for playing time for a couple of reasons.
One reason for Hill’s obscurity is that he enrolled in January after clearing up some off-field problems. He also saw limited action in the spring game with six carries for 37 yards.
The other reason is that with the group of Ware, Ford, Blue and Hilliard in front of him, the Tigers saw no immediate need to get him on the field. That is, until last weekend against undefeated South Carolina.
Before last Saturday, Hill had been patiently waiting his turn. He had played in four games in mop-up duty and picked up 71 yards on 13 carries and scored two touchdowns. In the first half against South Carolina, he had three rushes for six yards and caught a 21-yard pass. Then in the second half, Hill made his presence known in a big-time way.
On LSU’s first drive after halftime, the Tigers drove to the South Carolina 16-yard line and then they turned the ball—and the drive—over to the freshman. On his first carry in the second half, Hill went nine yards for a first down. On the next play, he went seven yards for a touchdown. From there, Hill was off to the races.
Hill finished with 124 yards on 17 carries — becoming the third LSU rusher to top the century mark this season — and scored twice. His second touchdown of the game was on a 50-yard sprint with 5:03 remaining that proved to be the game-clincher.
“I guess it came down to the long run when they made that last touchdown. It ended up being the difference-maker,” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said after the Tigers posted a 23-21 victory. “Sometimes a team gets a little bit more fire and energy, and they have it. They had it tonight; there’s no question about it. They beat us. They ran it; we couldn’t run it. That was probably the huge difference in the game.”
Spurrier was not the only coach on the field who was impressed by the Tigers’ run game.
“I liked how (Jeremy) Hill played,” Les Miles said. “I really thought that he had a big night.”
For a freshman who is used to success at the high school level, it is not always easy to stand on the sidelines and watch others play. But Hill paid his dues and waited his turn.
“I think that’s something the coaches preach. They do a good job of keeping everyone patient,” Hill said. “This team has a lot of depth. They recruit well every year. Once you come here, you know you’re going to have to wait your turn to play. Once you get that opportunity, you’ve got to take advantage of it and run with it.”
And Hill did just that. He helped the Tigers put the emphasis back on the running game, something that had been missing the previous week in the loss to Florida, when the Gators held LSU to just 42 yards rushing on 25 attempts.
“I think the effort was there,” Hill said after the South Carolina game. “You watch the film, and guys are playing hard. It was just one guy would mess up a play. We just kind of put it all together tonight.
“I think we kind of wore those guys down. They got tired as the game went on so we just kept running downhill, just hitting them hard, and eventually we were going to break one. That’s kind of what I did.”