Big Picture: Fournette's RB coach explains why No. 7 is so 'ridiculous'

BATON ROUGE, LA - SEPTEMBER 19: Leonard Fournette #7 of the Louisiana State University Tigers eludes the tackle of Tray Matthews #28 the Auburn University Tigers and runs for a touchdown at Tiger Stadium on September 19, 2015 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The LSU Tigers the Auburn Tigers 45-21. (Photo by Layne Murdoch/Getty Images)

BATON ROUGE, LA - SEPTEMBER 19: Leonard Fournette #7 of the Louisiana State University Tigers eludes the tackle of Tray Matthews #28 the Auburn University Tigers and runs for a touchdown at Tiger Stadium on September 19, 2015 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The LSU Tigers the Auburn Tigers 45-21. (Photo by Layne Murdoch/Getty Images)

It's been six years since a running back last won the Heisman, but after a month of football, it sure is looking like the Year of the Running Back. The best of the bunch so far, and the clear frontrunner for the stiff-arm statue, is LSU's Leonard Fournette, who again, looked like a man playing vs. children.

Fournette mauled Syracuse for 244 yards and it would've been well over 300 had it not been for a questionable call for not having enough men lined up on the line of scrimmage, nullifying an 87-yard TD burst. Fournette is literally running away from the rest of the Heisman field. He's averaging 210 rushing yards per game -- more than 41 better than the next most prolific rusher. He's also done so despite facing only Power 5 opponents.

On the road at Syracuse Saturday, he averaged 9.4 yards per carry despite all of the Orange's stemming and stunting and overloaded boxes to try and contain the LSU star. For context, consider that the rest of the Tigers managed to average just 1.5 yards per carry on the other 16 rushes.

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"He is ridiculous," LSU RB coach Frank Wilson told FOX Sports Sunday.

Last year as a true freshman, Fournette was a good back, rushing for 1,034 yards on a 5.5-yard average to go with 10 TDs. This year, he's become virtually unstoppable. What changed?

"He now understands what defenses are trying to do," Wilson said. "He now understands (pre-snap) 'This is an 'Under' defense. Or this is an 'Over' defense. Or this is an Okie defense. This guy is gonna spill it. This guy is the alley defender. This guy is gonna contain.' So he can set up blocks and read what they're trying to do. Before, he didn't lack vision, but really he was just reacting to everything. Now, he's anticipating because he understands angles and things like that."

Fournette, who played Saturday at 225 pounds, is a bit lighter than he played at in 2014. But he's every bit as powerful and explosive. Of his 244 yards against Syracuse, 92 came after contact, according to Wilson. The week before when he tore through Auburn in about three quarters of work, Fournette had 71 YAC yards of his 228.

Wilson has been around a lot of terrific backs in his day, from Marshall Faulk to recent LSU star Jeremy Hill. He's never been around a back, though, as big as Fournette, who's had such good feet and legitimate elite speed.

"You have to see him in person to really appreciate how special he is," Wilson said. "Even some of his three- and four- and five-yard runs, he's got defensive ends and defensive tackles bouncing off him. He is a violent runner."

Wilson also says Fournette "is the most unselfish player I've ever been around. Last week he gets the team MVP award and he defers and gives it to the fullback."

It's also helped the Tigers cause that fellow sophomore Brandon Harris continues to develop into a solid young quarterback and game manager, who is proving LSU can burn defenses downfield through the air. But everyone knows, if you want to beat LSU this year, you have to find a way to slow down Fournette.

The big question now around LSU is, can they avoid overusing the star tailback especially since the Tigers have November games at Alabama and Ole Miss and against Texas A&M?

Fournette is averaging 23 carries a game. Last year, he was only getting 14 carries a game. Wilson said around 20 probably would be ideal but that there is no magic formula.

LSU hosts Eastern Michigan next week. EMU is dead last in the country in run defense, and dead last by a large margin, allowing over 373 yards on the ground per game. Fournette could get his 200 yards before the first quarter is over.


*Here is my latest Fox Four ballot and my explanations for each pick. I'll preface this all by saying I still don't think Utah is going to win the Pac-12 much less make the playoff but based on the first month of the season, I felt the Utes were the most deserving team to be No. 1. You can say Oregon was overrated and isn't close to what the Ducks have been in the past six or seven years, and I'd buy that. Still, if you were going to have Michigan State No. 1 last week based primarily on beating Oregon, just how much do you change your rationale now? Beyond that, which teams DO own wins this season that really carry weight with you now?

1. Utah: As I wrote Saturday night, no team has a more impressive resume than the Utes. They didn't just beat Oregon. They crushed the Ducks at home, 62-20. Granted Oregon looks like it might only be a seven or eight-win team this season, but Utah dominated them on the road in a lot more impressive fashion than what happened when Michigan State played the Ducks at MSU. Also, the Utes' win over Michigan is looking a lot better now, too.

2. Ohio State: Undefeated and coming off a blowout win over 1-3 WMU.

3. UCLA: They lost Myles Jack and still hammered Arizona on the road, although the Bruins did give up a ton of yards on the ground.

4. Ole Miss: Winning at 'Bama was great. Almost losing to Vandy … not so much.

5. Michigan State: The close win over Oregon in East Lansing doesn't look so impressive any more.

6. Notre Dame: In spite of the injuries, the Irish keep winning.

7. LSU: In Fournette we trust.

8. Northwestern: The win over Stanford looks very good but Ball State did give the Wildcats all they could handle this week.

9. TCU: Great showing by receiver Josh Doctson and QB Trevone Boykin but that depleted D looks really shaky.

10. Texas A&M: I almost had Georgia here, but the Aggies have beaten a little better competition so far, although that opening win over ASU doesn't look like much anymore.

*The new USA Today Coaches Poll is out, and yikes, it's a mess: 1.Ohio State 2 Michigan State 3. TCU 4. Baylor 5. Ole Miss... Do these coaches go to sleep at 8 pm ET on Saturdays? UCLA is No. 10. Utah is 12. USC is No. 16 -- four spots in front of a Stanford team which beat the Trojans by 10 in the Coliseum. Even more perplexing, Oregon, which is 2-2 and just lost by 42 at home is still ranked at No. 24.

*I had picked Michigan to beat BYU last week in part because I felt like the Cougars might've run out of gas after a very emotional and challenging first month. But I never expected the Wolverines to blow BYU off the field, 31-0. Michigan held BYU to just 105 total yards.

Since losing at Utah, 24-17, Jim Harbaugh's team has now outscored its three FBS opponents by a combined 94-14. Harbaugh is already doing what he has done at every other coaching stop and he's doing it very fast.

*One of the best matchups of the upcoming week is No. 15 Oklahoma at No. 23 West Virginia (Saturday, Noon E.T., FS1). The Mountaineers have quietly started 3-0 and are coming off a demolition of Maryland. QB Skyler Howard has been sharp and the young group of WRs has emerged, but the real intriguing part of this one will be WVU's D trying to contain Baker Mayfield and the potent Sooners offense. I wrote about the job WVU DC Tony Gibson has done since returning to Morgantown a few weeks back in regards to how they shut down a tricky Ga. Southern scheme. Now that we've had a few more games, here's more perspective on just how impressive what Gibson's group did really was.

WVU held Ga. Southern to 224 total yards and just 2.60 yards per play. In Southern's other three games, they're averaging 565 yards of offense and 6.47 yards per play. Even more impressive was that the Mountaineers limited star RB Matt Breida to 70 yards and just a 4.10-yard average. In the other three games, Breida is averaging an amazing 14 yards a carry and 173 yards per game.

*Hats off to Indiana for its first 4-0 start in 25 years. Kevin Wilson is on track to getting IU into the postseason. Meanwhile it looks pretty bleak for Maryland's Randy Edsall, whose team again got blasted. The Terps lost 45-6 and allowed over 600 yards to WVU, marking the second time this season Maryland has given up 600-plus yards. Earlier this month Bowling Green gained 692 on Edsall's team.

*Of USC's 379 receiving yards at ASU Saturday, 319 of them (84 percent) came from freshmen and sophomores.

*Speaking of the Sun Devils, Todd Graham said preseason how he thought this was the best team he had since he's been there, but it sure doesn't look like it. ASU has faced two Power 5 opponents and been outscored 80-31. Graham's team looks like it's in complete funk. ASU's already lost seven fumbles (No. 125 in the nation). That's three more than they lost all of last season.

*Purdue lost again. This time to Bowling Green, dropping the Boilers to 1-3, but I think they finally found their QB in redshirt freshman David Blough. (Full disclosure: I covered the Texan a lot in The QB.) Blough looked very comfortable, going 29 of 39 for 340 yards and two TDs with his only interception coming on the last play of the game.

*Congrats to ECU for knocking off Va. Tech. Ruffin McNeill's program has now won its last five games against ACC opponents and done so by an average on 16 points per game.

*Stat of the Day: Tennessee, which was burned on all five of Florida's fourth-down tries Saturday in UT's loss in the Swamp, has surrendered first downs on nine of opponents' 10 fourth-down attempts. No other team has allowed that high of a percentage since Mississippi State gave up 10 of 11 in 2008.

*Stat of the Day, Take II: Carl Nassib, a two-time academic all-Big Ten pick who came to Penn State as a walk-on, leads the nation in sacks with seven sacks. The 6-foot-7, 272-pound senior is the younger brother of NFL QB Ryan Nassib and plans to go to medical school someday.

*Stat of the Day, Take III: Alabama has opened as a one-point underdog against Georgia, according to the Las Vegas SuperBook. As our old friend Brett McMurphy points out, this ends an unprecedented streak of 72 straight games in which the Tide was installed as a betting favorite. I think Nick Chubb is fantastic but I wouldn't doubt the Tide. Nick Saban's teams have had their issues with spread teams, but they seem to be more comfortable matching up with a style like Georgia's.

*Stat of the Day, Take IV: Since reaching No. 3 in the country last November, Auburn is 1-6 in its last seven games against FBS opponents.

*Stat of the Day, Take V: Oregon ranks No. 60 in passing rating. In the previous four seasons they never ranked worse than No. 9.

Bruce Feldman is a senior college football reporter and columnist for and FS1. He is also a New York Times best-selling author. His new book, "The QB: The Making of Modern Quarterbacks," came out in October 2014. Follow him on Twitter @BruceFeldmanCFB and Facebook.