BATON ROUGE, La. — Vintage Leonard Fournette was on display Saturday night at Tiger Stadium, but his return to dominance came with a troubling side effect: a case of the fumbles.
Fournette’s pair of fumbles put a damper on an otherwise sterling performance that featured 147 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries to go along with four catches for 27 yards.
“The good news is he’s ready to be gotten into great shape and be a great back again,” said LSU coach Les Miles. “But one of those pieces is ball security and that’s something that you always pay a tremendous price for if you don’t work on it prior to.”
The Tigers nearly paid a collective price.
Fournette’s second fumble, which was actually recovered by LSU but resulted in a turnover on downs because a fumble cannot be advanced on fourth down, was the catalyst Mississippi State used for 14 out-of-nowhere points to cut the Tigers lead down to 23-20 late in the fourth quarter.
The first fumble was a bit freakish in its own way as the ball was ripped away from Fournette in a rugby-like scrum of humanity. Because so many people were involved and blocking all available vantage points, seemingly no one in the stadium was aware the ball was even loose until Mississippi State’s Gerri Green ran away from the pile celebrating with the pigskin aloft in his hand.
Fournette fumble. pic.twitter.com/Qv5HeSNn5o
— Cody Worsham (@CodyWorsham) September 18, 2016
Thus, as he was with Malachi Dupre’s drops in the first two games, Miles isn’t too worried about Fournette.
“He’s one of the most ball-secure runners that I’ve ever had,” Miles said. “I’m sure he’ll continue to be. It will just be a little refresher course out there.”
Miles blamed the fumbles on Fournette’s lack of preseason reps. Fournette had to sit out LSU’s scrimmages due to his ankle sprain, making the opener against Wisconsin the only real live contact he’d seen since spring. Fournette sat out last week’s game against Jacksonville State after aggravating the ankle injury at the end of the Wisconsin game.
“The reality of it is that generally he would have had eight carries in one of the preseason scrimmages and then as many as 12 carries and then maybe as many as 15 carries,” Miles said. “So, for the first real live-work that he’s had, certainly we got to fix those turnovers, but we’re getting him back in shape in we’re investing in what will be a very talented back and everybody knows that Leonard has good ball security. We just got to make sure that we bring it to the forefront.”
If Miles is right, then the course of the season will prove that Fournette’s fumbles are merely symptoms of rust and not a full-blown malady.