In the aftermath of their big win on Thanksgiving over Texas A&M, LSU made the decision the team's players had thrown their support behind — removing the interim tag from head coach Ed Orgeron’s title and making him the team’s newest full time head coach.
It’s a move that has drawn mixed reviews, but there is no denying that the Tigers have played better since he took the reigns. He has his work cut out for him in a very tough SEC West though, and by the end of January his task could be trying to find a way past a two-time defending national championship Alabama team, if Nick Saban has his way in the coming weeks.
While there are big questions marks at quarterback, and Orgeron will have to replace a lot of talent on both offense and defense, Oregeron does have Derrius Guice, who's shown he has what it takes the be the best running back in the nation.
Taking over from Fournette
Leonard Fournette established himself as one of the best pure runners college football has ever seen last season, but injuries this year have severely hindered his ability to make an impact. While Guice saw meaningless snaps only in the game against Jacksonville State early in the year, he was able to capitalize on Fournette missing time. That led to impressive performances against Missouri and Southern Miss, where he forced a missed tackle 10 times on 32 carries, rushing for 288 yards and finding the end zone four times. Despite that, he saw just two carries against Alabama — something which in hindsight was a huge mistake given his ability to make people miss in space, and how difficult big plays are to come by against Alabama. However, with an increased workload against Arkansas, Florida and Texas A&M, he has proven that he deserves to carry the load for LSU heading into next season.
Finishing the season strong
Seeing 76 of his 155 carries over the final three weeks of the regular season, Guice has exploded with two huge performances against Arkansas and Texas A&M, where he combined for 533 yards, and a solid showing in a loss against the Florida Gators too. The performances against Arkansas and Texas A&M have been particular eye opening because of just how difficult he has been to bring down.
Against Arkansas he forced seven missed tackles on 21 carries, rushing for 252 yards, including one that went for 96 yards. He averaged 5.6 yards after contact per carry in that game, forcing everyone to stand up and take notice. Florida did a much better job against him the following week, holding him to just 89 yards, but he still managed to average 3.1 yards after contact per carry — something that’s an impressive feat against a solid Florida defensive front.
The game against Texas A&M always had the potential to be a huge mismatch on paper when Guice had the ball. We discussed in on the PFF SEC Podcast heading into the game, but here you had Guice — who has shown himself to be very difficult for opposing defenses to tackle — going up against a Texas A&M defense that have, at times, made it look like they would struggle to tackle a stationary tackling dummy. The result was 16 missed tackles forced on 36 carries by Guice. 281 yards, 5.7 yards after contact per carry and four touchdowns. Everything that Texas A&M could, and should, have feared on paper coming into the game came true, and Guice was ultimately the primary reason why LSU won that game.
Potential as a receiver
Guice hasn’t seen many receptions out of the backfield over the past two seasons, but with his skillset, that is absolutely something LSU should look to incorporate into their offense next year. On six catches this year he has averaged 16.7 yards after the catch, and when you look at his body of work as a runner over the past two seasons, in terms of his ability to make people miss in space, it lends itself well to him being featured as a three-down back. On 205 carries over the past two season he has forced 51 missed tackles, so just imagine what he has the potential to do if matched up against a linebacker in space as a receiver.
Ed Orgeron might not be the big name that some had hoped for when LSU fired former head coach Les Miles, but he absolutely appears to have the players' backing — something that is likely to shine through when it comes to recruiting. In the immediate future though, he has to put LSU in the best position they can be to challenge for an SEC championship and College Football Playoff spot in 2017. What’s clear now is that Derrius Guice is the type of player they can build a gameplan around to achieve that.