Kenny Hilliard, Not Leonard Fournette Looks Like LSU's No. 1 RB After Week 1

Sean FryeFeatured ColumnistAugust 31, 2014

HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 30:  Kenny Hilliard #27 of the LSU Tigers is tackled by Konrad Zagzebski #91 of the Wisconsin Badgers at NRG Stadium on August 30, 2014 in Houston, Texas. Zagzebeski was injured on the play and to be taken off on a stretcher.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Bob Levey/Getty Images

In the first half, carries between LSU Tigers senior running back Kenny Hilliard and Leonard Fournette were split almost down the middle. 

And the Tigers found themselves trailing Wisconsin 17-7 at the break. A 75-yard touchdown drive to open the third quarter for the Badgers swelled the lead to 24-7, and LSU looked all but out of the game. 

So, with Fournette, the nation's most highly touted recruit of the 2014 class, struggling to break himself into the college game, Les Miles went with the tried and true.

He called on Kenny Hilliard, who got most of the carries in the second half and was the driving force behind LSU's big second-half comeback. 

Hilliard finished the game with 110 yards on 18 carries—a 6.1 yards per carry average—and proved to the nation that he's the one Miles and Co. should lean on in the running game this season. He also had LSU's only rushing touchdown, a 28-yard fourth-quarter scamper that capped off a 21-point Tigers run, putting them up 28-24. 

Hilliard has always been in the shadows of other backs since arriving at LSU (Jeremy Hill and Michael Ford). But he's always had a knack for big plays. In his first two seasons in Baton Rouge, he averaged over five yards per carry, racked up 800 yards and 14 touchdowns. 

Last season, as Jeremy Hill took a firmer hold of the reins as the featured back, Hilliar was limited to just 68 carries and 310 yards. But even then, he still found pay dirt seven times. 

Out of high school, according to 247sports, Hilliard was a 4-star back and the eighth-rated ball-carrier in the nation. So he knows what it's like to have tons of hype laid on a player's shoulders coming out of high school, and that could prove very beneficial in Fournette's maturation process. 

It's not that the jury is still out on Fournette—the jury hasn't even been sent to deliberate yet. Fournette is just one game into his college career and has three years to realize his enormous potential. His highlights against the Badgers came on special teams, where he had three returns of 25 or more yards. 

That's undoubtedly something that Fournette can build on as he gets acclimated to the college game. And there's no doubt that he's the future of LSU football. 

But for now, the top of the SEC looks weak compared to seasons past with Alabama's scare against WVU, Auburn fighting to stave off Arkansas and LSU's flirt with danger against Wisconsin. So Miles knows now that he has to rely on his senior running back if he wants the Tigers to have a shot at making the inaugural College Football Playoff.