As finals week darkens the campus on Nicholson Drive, players join their fellow students sleeping on desks in the library and slugging coffee by the bucket full. Sports shift to the back burner, both football and basketball. It’s as good a time as we’ll get to dive into the football season that was. August stunned the college football world, more specifically Baton Rouge as Tyrann Mathieu was removed from the football team, but expectations remained high. What we’ll do is take every position group and tell you what we saw versus what we expected. It never seems to work out just like we predicted, does it?
Let’s start with the running back stable, a group we called the best in the country multiple times before the season began. Everyone returned from the 2011 team, and freshman Jeremy Hill entered the fold to add more depth to the deepest of cupboards. What did we see?
MORE THAN I EXPECTED:
It would have been tough, not impossible, to envision Hill assuming the role of No. 1 tailback midway through the season. Through two weeks, Hill hadn’t touched the football. When Alfred Blue went out in Week 3, Hill got 10 carries against the Idaho Vandals, but he didn’t touch the ball at Auburn the following week, and he had just one carry against Towson. With Blue down, the carries figured to shift toward Spencer Ware, Michael Ford and Kenny Hilliard. Instead, Hill surged to the top. He rushed for more than 100 yards against South Carolina, Texas A&M and Alabama, proving that he could carry the mail against anyone in the country. Hill slowed down just a little bit toward the end, but he did finish the season rushing for nearly five yards per carry and 10 scores. Hill has shown a tremendous ability to find the crease in the line of scrimmage and get up the field. He falls forward just about every time he runs the ball. I love this stat. He didn’t have negative yardage against either South Carolina or Texas A&M. He goes forward, and you saw that he can hit the home run, breaking the wills of both teams. I saw more Jeremy Hill than I expected this year, and that was a good thing.
I thought that baby was dead and gone. Not so much.
No play from this season will burn into my brain deeper than Copeland’s absurd snag, shimmy, stiff arm and sprint against Alabama. I didn’t see that one coming, and neither did anyone else. Copeland carried the ball 21 times this year for 67 yards and four touchdowns. This is a great story. Defensive tackle turned fullback getting the opportunity to carry the rock. I could do without the stupid penalties, but Copeland has some worth, not only as a lead blocker, but as a ball carrier.
LESS THAN I EXPECTED:
Man, it looked like Kenny Hilliard was primed for an awesome sophomore season after he ran for 307 yards and six touchdowns in the first three weeks. After that, Hilliard really fell off the tracks. That’s the way it goes on a crowded depth chart. Someone has to be left out. He ran for just 153 yards after the first three weeks. Hilliard dealt with some personal things this year, but it’s nothing that will keep him away. We haven’t heard the last from Kenny Hilliard, but we heard less from him this year than I expected.
Yards down the stretch
LSU looked like the 2011 team against South Carolina, Texas A&M and South Carolina, but where was that the last three weeks? LSU ran for 19 against Mississippi State, 145 against Ole Miss, and 89 against Arkansas. The first two aren’t anemic, but they aren’t what you would have expected entering the games. I didn’t think LSU ran the ball very well in any of those games, especially not the last one.
JUST WHAT I EXPECTED:
Entering last season, the prevailing thought was that Les Miles would pick his No .1 back and roll with it. He did that with Jacob Hester, Charles Scott and Stevan Ridley when he had a chance, and we thought he’d do it again. Instead, Miles changed things up and spread the wealth around in 2011, and it worked. We expected more of that this season, and we got it. Early, Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard were the top two, but due to injury and production, respectively, the deck was shuffled. Jeremy Hill found his stride, and Spencer Ware and Michael Ford were sprinkled in to do what they do best. When the dust settled, Hill led the team with 613 yards, and Ware’s 358 came in fourth with Hilliard and Ford between them. That’s a nice balance. Legs stay fresh, and to Frank Wilson’s credit, guys stay happy.