The LSU Tigers will need Jeremy Hill's physical presence this Saturday to defeat the Florida Gators.
After the Tigers' leading touchdown receiver suffered an apparent ankle injury against Mississippi State, LSU's best chance of victory might be to run the football against Florida's front rather than attack the secondary.
Landry walked out of the football facilities Monday evening on crutches and wearing a boot, so he might not be able to go Saturday afternoon.
Don't fret—the man who's tied for second in most rushing touchdowns in the nation (nine) can carry this team on his back.
What Makes Hill Special
The Gators are giving up 65 rushing yards a game, which is the best in the conference. However, Florida has yet to face a running back with Hill's frame and ability. Standing at 6'2", 235 pounds, Hill is a load.
“He’s a freak," said Anthony "Freak" Johnson at player interviews Monday afternoon. "He’s a 240-pound guy that can run a 4.4. When he gets separation it’s like, ‘Why is there nobody catching this big man?’”
His frame has allowed him to break tackles, his speed and agility has given him breakaway ability and his work ethic, yes, work ethic, has helped him record 21 career rushing touchdowns (three shy of Billy Cannon's career total) in just 15 games of action.
But it's his attention to detail that makes him the player he is today.
“He’ll find the littlest things to get better on, whether that’s coming out of his break or how he’s reading the defense,” said Kadron Boone. "He’ll grab us after a play and say, ‘Hey, who are you trying to block this play?' He’s getting a mental vision of the blocking scheme."
Breaking Down Hill's Gifts
So far this season, the home run balls have come mostly from Zach Mettenberger and the electrifying receivers, but Hill has had his fair share as well. Averaging 7.5 yards per carry, Hill is not only a chain mover, but he's a deep threat, as seen in his 69-yard touchdown run against Mississippi State.
One play—the longest play from scrimmage for the LSU Tigers this season—best illustrates Hill's strengths.
On this play, LSU runs its patented power dive play.
Hill follows a pulling Trai Turner and his fullback J.C. Copeland in a hole that's going to be filled by an unaccounted for Beniquez Brown. This should be a minimum gain at the most, but because of Hill's compact stature, Brown braces himself for impact.
“That’s a big dude,” said Corey Thompson, who started in place of injured safety Craig Loston against Mississippi State. “Tackling big guys like that you just have to buckle down and get ready.”
Brown does and takes out one of Hill's legs. Hill stumbles forward, but then his athleticism and speed kicks into play.
Hill regains his balance, makes a nice cut in the open field and causes Mississippi State defensive back Nickoe Whitley to take a bad angle.
This forces Whitley to barely grab Hill's leg, where Hill easily breaks an arm tackle.
Hill accelerates to the outside, captures the edge and races down the sideline, separating himself from the entire defense.
He's made a career at LSU creating these jaw-dropping runs.
Analyzing Hill against Florida
If you want to get an idea of how Hill will look against Florida, think of the Georgia game.
Remember how Georgia played run defense early and forced LSU to throw the football? Think the exact opposite for Saturday's contest.
I look for the Gators to defend the pass early because of Mettenberger's successful deep ball. The Tigers lead the NCAA in passing plays beyond 20 yards against FBS opponents with 35.
Football is all about countering your opponent's move, so this is where LSU's running game comes to play. Running the football against Florida's physical front early would be a great way to catch the Gators off guard.
That's where Hill will make his mark, but his greatest impact may come in pass protection and catching balls out of the backfield.
If Landry can't go, the Tigers will be missing a key piece in the passing game, so Hill's production from a receiving standpoint could be crucial.
Hill's versatility makes him one of a kind. His blocking, bruising running style, attention to detail and solid hands are why his teammate Johnson told me before practice that Hill has a greater impact than the SEC's best running back, Todd Gurley.
“I believe (his impact) is better because he can catch out of the backfield and block for our quarterback," Johnson said. "He does a lot, man, and the confidence he gives this offense is if Zach doesn’t complete a pass, he can just hand it off to Hill who will get five yards.”
That type of influence on a game will be needed against the SEC's stingiest defense.
Jake Martin is a Featured Columnist of Bleacher Report and a contributor for the The Sun Herald in Biloxi, Miss. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official interview materials from The Sun Herald.