1. Let me clarify a few things before we start. An athlete is not his or her body in motion. Leonard Fournette is a really nice young man, generally regarded as pretty quiet and relaxed around his teammates and friends. People who covered his recruiting mentioned nothing of a daywalking werewolf throwing strangers into trees and car windshields.
He is a nice person and a vicious, dazzling athlete, and the two should never be confused for the same thing. A ton of bad sportswriting lives and breathes off the confusion that athletes reveal themselves on the field, as if sports are the ultimate test of character. They're not, and never were, and this is why people get so confused when an athlete turns out to be a mediocre person and a stellar athlete, or vice versa.
2. In real time, it's easy to confuse the varying factors of a situation. This is especially true in football, the game of chess in which all the pieces are designed to blow up when moved.
For instance, Fournette -- personally pleasant Fournette -- had a brilliant stat line in LSU's 45-21 trouncing of Auburn. Fournette carried the ball 19 times for 228 yards and three TDs. More significantly, he did terrible things to defenders unlucky enough to catch up with him.
3. The mythbusting should start now, if only to make Fournette look even better once we're done. Hopefully this won't be the most impressive tape Fournette has this year, because that would mean every defense in the SEC plays as ineptly as Auburn. And while turning the SEC West into the Big 12 South would be entertaining, it would do Fournette no favors. A great thing needs to be challenged, and Fournette's running is a great thing.
This is bad, bad, bad defense. LSU is running power here. The guard (No. 64) pulls, runs to the other side, picks up his blocker, carries him to the Grand Canyon and throws him deep into the cold embrace of the earth.
He's only in the frame for a second, but William Clapp flattens his man, opens a run lane and frees Fournette from the backfield without pesky interference from defenders. Power works in a lot of mean ways. Putting 300 pounds of beef on the hoof is the meanest one.*
*Clapp is a redshirt freshman. He'll be throwing people into canyons for a while.
4. Power also works by taking someone like a fullback and throwing him into space at the first thing he sees off the edge. To his surprise, No. 44 John David Moore flies around Clapp expecting contact and finds ... nothing.
Moore reroutes and aims for Auburn DB Tray Matthews, already coming off one block by a wide receiver. Matthews gets thrown around twice and finishes with a 235-pound fullback flying over his back. Why anyone ever wants to play defense is a legitimate philosophical question deserving of academic inquiry, but Matthews is definitely trying.
5. It takes a whole lab to make a monster, and Fournette has one. You don't average 8.6 yards per carry before contact without an offensive line sweeping clear turf for you. Want to know why Fournette ran through so many arm tackles?
The first reason is Fournette has balletic balance and an underrated ability to make subtle shifts. It's weird to call a running back this nasty a delicate thing, but his first move (TEN YARDS DOWN THE FIELD UNTOUCHED, JESUS, AUBURN) is usually to break slightly to one side or another.
The other reason defenders are arm-tackling him: a lot of those arms belong to defensive backs, because their friends in the linebacking corps and defensive line are flattened beneath LSU's linemen.
6. Now that we've stripped about 8.6 yards of possible mythmaking, let's add some back on.
Cornerback Jonathan Jones, No. 3, has done well by throwing his blocker away. He makes a valiant effort to tackle Fournette from behind.
That's him, flying sideways and off the screen, his arms reaching out like a child's toward its mother on the first day of daycare.
No coach would say this, but I think this is what everyone under 200 pounds should do in proximity to Fournette. Make a good effort. Flail your arms a little. Fly in one direction or another so long as that direction is anywhere but in Fournette's way. If you can't make a tackle, make some theater for the people in the cheap seats. We know what you're doing, and we appreciate it.
No. 24 Blake Countess tries. He really does. He even looks like he's trying to get low on Fournette, which you want to do in order to avoid the worst possible outcome: a running back trucking your ass in front of a national television audience, a packed stadium and your family. Fournette either closes the gap intentionally or is simply moving so fast he steps through Countess like he's an Under Armour-clad irrelevance. Either way, at the point of attack, Fournette cocks a shoulder and drives through him.
Leonard Fournette weighs 230. Blake Countess weighs 180. This is what happens when you mess with physics and physics messes back.
Grabbing the shoe is endearing. It's a sign of professionalism. Countess was not going to give up on the play, even after it was over, even after he'd gone sideways against gravity. I kind of kept waiting for him to slide sideways for a while, maybe down the ramp, out through the tunnel, past the Parade Ground and across the street to Walk-On's in full uniform, where he'd slide up to a barstool, stop in a seated position, and order a beer and some chicken fingers. He'd do that, but not before the noble attempt to tackle Fournette by his heel, something as admirable as having to stop a landslide with only a crossing guard's stop sign.
7. Fournette will see better defenses, and that's when his best games should come. There are hints of what he can do in traffic: moving piles, sitting passively while defenders literally roll over his back, finishing with undistilled vengeance. What happens when Fournette is in space is thrilling, but what you have to do just to get to him should be what worries opponents most. LSU's brute-simple, rugby-grade scrum is the thing Arkansas wanted to be, but failed at achieving.
It's a thing defenses don't see a lot of anymore, even in the SEC West, where most teams have spread the field in hopes of shooting holes in Nick Saban's defenses. It's the world's worst obstacle course just to get to Fournette, and when you get there -- if you get there -- you still have to tackle that. It might seem strange to think of Fournette not as a start to a play, but as a finish, but the run game in LSU's brand of football does that by design.
The most physically gifted person on the field will be the last one you see, the final boss after somehow plowing through the entirety of Dark Souls, the Hillary Step after making it all the way up Everest.
And this is just one run
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SB Nation presents: Ole Miss and Leonard Fournette highlight Week 3 action