After leading the country in rushing a season ago, LSU’s Leonard Fournette is far and away the top running back in the SEC — and arguably the nation — entering the 2016 season. As a sophomore, Fournette averaged a whopping 162.8 yards per game and is already the school’s fourth all-time leading rusher (2,987 yards), and it should come as no surprise that he is expected to carry a heavy load again in his third and likely final college season.
Few would argue against Fournette’s elite status within the conference. All of the attention he commands, however, also overshadows the man behind him on the depth chart, who may be the most talented backup in the SEC.
Derrius Guice may not have boasted the most impressive rushing statistics as a freshman, but the Baton Rouge, La., native exploded onto the scene when his team needed him to the most.
In the midst of LSU’s 7-0 start, Guice played an integral role. Through the first five contests, Guice toted the rock 29 times for 263 yards and a touchdown. A 16-carry, 161-yard breakout performance in the Tigers’ rout of South Carolina not only marked career-best totals, but went down in the school’s record books as the sixth-most yardage produced by a true freshman.
Guice picked the right time to re-emerge late in the year, coming through with a 73-yard performance in LSU’s regular-season victory over Texas A&M, which may have saved coach Les Miles’ job.
Guice was a star on special teams late in the year, too. After securing a role as LSU’s primary kick returner, the true freshman racked up 472 yards on only 20 returns. He finished the season off with a 23.6 yard return average.
It’s difficult to shine when there is a major Heisman Trophy contender soaking up the spotlight, but Guice managed to do so in dynamic fashion. Truth be told, he did so by taking the advice of his friend and role model.
“I expected to learn a lot from him. He’s my role model, my big brother, and I expect him to do great things and I’ll give him a breather every now and then,” Guice told SEC Country. “It was pretty much expected. We got to play big roles here and there, and it’s great to play behind someone that you can learn so much from and teach a lot to. It’s a great person to be behind.”
The one-two tandem of Fournette and Guice is arguably tops in the SEC, and it’s not only because of Fournette. Guice is the No. 1 backup in the conference because of the unique skill set he brings to the position.
There may be better backs in terms of downhill running style, receiving abilities or special teams contributions. There’s UGA’s Sony Michel, Tennessee’s Alvin Kamara and Alabama’s Damien Harris, but Guice combines running, receiving and return talents like no other tailback in the conference.
It’s not a secret either.
When new LSU running backs coach Jabbar Juluke accepted his position this winter, he was of course complimentary of Fournette, but his focus was on the entire Tigers’ backfield.
Juluke knows what he has in Fournette, but conveyed that LSU’s running game would be great because of the entire stable of running backs. In order words, Guice’s role will be equally as important, and in 2016 he’ll have a chance to prove to the rest of the nation why there’s so much hype surrounding the sophomore.
“As a unit, we want to be the best in the country,” Juluke told SEC Country. “It’s not about one good player. The running backs at LSU — the only difference between them is going to be the jersey number on their backs because they’re all going to step the same way, compete the same way, play hard for each other and cheer when one of us does well.”