BATON ROUGE, La. -- People usually stress quality over quantity.
It’s tough to perfect that and it’s even harder to get both.
Well, that’s what LSU is working with in its backfield.
The top-ranked Tigers (8-0, 5-0) are putting a pounding on opposing front sevens with their stable of running backs.
First, there’s Spencer Ware, who is the leader of the pack and the battering ram. He runs with power and grace while continuing to get extra yardage with those fancy spin moves.
Next you have Michael Ford. He isn’t as big as Ware, but he still packs a punch. He has a little more speed and complements Ware well in the offense.
And don’t forget about Alfred Blue. Even at 6 feet 2 inches, he’s a versatile back who has as many yards for loss as touchdowns (4).
Together, these three have totaled 1,205 yards and 16 touchdowns on 264 carries this season. They are a major reason why LSU is fourth in the SEC in rushing (189 yards a game) and why the Tigers enter their showdown with No. 2 Alabama (8-0, 5-0) as the No. 1 team in the land.
“It’s nice to have a stable of running backs,” LSU offensive lineman Will Blackwell said.
“‘Fresh legs’ like I like to say. Guys don’t have to carry the ball 30 times a game. They can get 10 or 15 and run as hard as they can every time and you don’t have to worry about them wearing down or getting out of breathe or getting banged up.”
It’s LSU’s running backs who have done most of the roughing up this season.
Ford said he would love for he and his teammates to take the credit for a successful running game, but all of his praise was directed toward running backs coach Frank Wilson. Ford said he’s the one who comes up with the game plans and makes the decisions about who will play and when someone will play.
He keeps them fresh during games and hungry during practice.
“You might not know who it is, but Coach Frank gets us ready for anybody who goes in there during practice,” Ford said. “We just rotate, rotate, rotate.”
It’s that attitude that has this group excelling. Ware might be considered the No. 1, but all three think they’re starters.
“You never know who is going to start because practice won’t tell you,” he said. “We all have to go out there and play hard.
“It helps out a lot because when we get to the game, nobody misses a beat.”
It could get frustrating not knowing what your role will be in upcoming games, but this group doesn’t mind. Ford said any one of them could take the reins from beginning to end.
That was made pretty obvious when Ware was suspended for the Auburn game, leaving the other backs to shoulder the load. This time it was yet another running back who stepped up in during Ware’s absence. Ford gained 82 yards on 12 carries, but it was true freshman Kenny Hilliard who had a breakout game, gaining 85 yards and scoring two touchdowns.
Before the Auburn game, Hilliard had just five carries.
Having multiple backs carrying the rock during a game doesn’t mean changing offensive styles. Blackwell said that even though each back runs differently, the offense treats the running backs the same when they’re on the field and it’s all about creating holes.
“We block the same no matter who’s back there,” he said.
What can get lost in the rushing bundle is that these backs’ success helps open up the passing game. Quarterback Jarrett Lee said his job is much easier and the passing game is tougher to stop when he has the luxury of handing the ball off to a handful of running backs.
“It helps a lot. When you have a stable of backs like we do who can come in and make plays like that then it opens up the passing game,” Lee said. “It opens up the play-action passing game for us.”
Ware is back from suspension and LSU’s bye week has this group feeling better than ever. Ford said throwing multiple backs out and keeping these players vibrant can be hazardous for a defense.
“Definitely it wears them down because every time somebody goes in there, you know they’re fresh when the defense is tired,” he said.