X

Breaking Down Leonard Fournette's Big Run and How Star RB Can Get Even Better

Carter Bryant@carterthepowerContributor IDecember 3, 2014

COLLEGE STATION, TX - NOVEMBER 27:  Leonard Fournette #7 of the LSU Tigers runs for a 22-yard touchdown against the Texas A&M Aggies in the first half of their game at Kyle Field on November 27, 2014 in College Station, Texas.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

"Put him on the hood Leonard!"

"Bug meet windshield! Leonard is in the house!"

Those are the words of ESPN play-by-play broadcaster Rece Davis after he witnessed Leonard Fournette's 22-yard touchdown run against Texas A&M. And Davis' words did Fournette's run justice.

ESPN CollegeFootball @ESPNCFB

ICYMI: Leonard Fournette bulldozed a defender en route to 22-yd TD for LSU #SCTop10 » http://t.co/cx7mCypu2f

Davis' color commentator David Pollack immediately made the comparison to Herschel Walker's legendary carry against Tennessee. 247Sports' Kipp Adams did the same:

Kipp Adams @KippLAdams

Looks just like Herschel/Bates https://t.co/fZll6XfoeL RT @cjzero: Leonard Fournette runs OVER Howard Matthews https://t.co/zEMcOW9XFt

It's hard not to feel sorry for Texas A&M safety Howard Matthews, who is no slouch. Matthews was the victim of a freight train collision. 

Fournette's run was nothing short of spectacular. But he had plenty of help along the way. 

Superbly blocked plays are designed for running backs to have one-on-one opportunities against defensive backs in the open field. It is the runner's job of making them miss and turning it into explosive plays. 

“Our coach kept telling us, 'If one person's free, make them miss.' So I tried to my best ability to make him miss,” said Fournette after the game, per Sam Kahn Jr. of ESPN.com.  

Fournette certainly delivered. Let's take a closer look of how the highlight play of LSU's season went down. 

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

Film Study

Here is the design of the original play.

Carter Bryant

LSU is lined up in I formation with Connor Neighbors (CN) as the fullback and Fournette the running back. The play looks as if it is meant for Fournette to run through the strong-side B-gap, which is located between the right guard and right tackle.  

ESPN Screenshot

The LSU offensive line is executing what is called "zone blocking." The key is for every offensive lineman to make a hard step to the right and block whatever comes to the right of them. The line fired off the ball hard and with excellent pad level, most noticeably left tackle La'el Collins (LC). 

ESPN Screenshot

As Fournette receives the handoff, the offensive line's impressive initial step pays off. The surge being created at the line of scrimmage is spectacular.

Linebackers are normally taught the ball follows the fullback. But this time, the ball goes the opposite direction. Neighbors runs left as the play is designed for Fournette to go the right. This forced true freshman linebacker Otaro Alaka (OLB) to run in the direction of Neighbors. 

The best part about zone-blocking schemes is they allow the running back to make a read and improvise along the way. Film guru Chris Brown astutely pointed this out in a recent Grantland piece that broke down the Houston Texans running game. Brown showed through a brief video illustration that the biggest runs on zone-blocking plays are on cutbacks up the middle:

Though the Tigers are not running a "wide zone," the key to the cutback remains the same. If the defense over-pursues, the middle of the defense is where an explosive play can be made. Texas A&M had been over-aggressive on multiple runs up to this point, something Fournette and the coaches probably saw in the previous plays. 

ESPN Screenshot

Fournette reads the play quickly and begins his cutback to the middle of the Texas A&M defense. He is aided by a superb Collins and Vadal Alexander double-team and a vicious Neighbors cut block that sends the defensive end flying. The unblocked outside linebacker Alaka stands and looks at a grounded Neighbors, which makes the gap even wider.

ESPN Screenshot

Collins and the rest of the offensive line continues to maul their assignments as Fournette darts through a massive hole. It is now up to him to score by making the safety, Howard Matthews (HM), miss the tackle. 

ESPN Screenshot

Fournette could have evaded Matthews by running to the right or left him and scored. Instead, he went with a more direct route.

ESPN Screenshot

Fournette delivers a serious blow to Matthews. Alaka stumbles in backside pursuit, which prevented him from making tackle after the collision. 

ESPN Screenshot

Alaka stares at Fournette destroying Matthews. 

ESPN Screenshot

Fournette shows great acceleration to get into the end zone. 

The LSU offensive line and Neighbors were masterful on this play. There are few backs in the country who could have floored Matthews the way Fournette did.

With that said, Fournette could have scored by attempting to evade Matthews to the right or the left. Trucking a safety and then sprinting for a touchdown is a rare occurrence. It provided a great highlight, but it's unlikely to happen again.    

The key to the run was Fournette's decisiveness. He made a quick decision to find a cutback lane and committed to running over Matthews. Earlier in the game, his indecisiveness cost LSU a big play. 

Film Study No. 2   

LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron called his best game of the season against Texas A&M. Cameron's best designed run play happened on this play early in the second quarter with the Tigers down 7-0. Here is how it was drawn up. 

ESPN Screenshot

On the previous play, LSU ran Fournette for three yards to the right side. The formation was similar, and the Tigers were stuffed. What Texas A&M did not know was that Cameron was setting the Aggies up for this exact play. Cameron ran to the weak side of the formation, which was again the right side. 

ESPN Screenshot

LSU is lined up in a single-back set on second down. The three players highlighted for LSU, which includes tight end Travis Dickson (Trav), right tackle Jerald Hawkins (GH) and wide receiver Travin Dural (TD), are the ones who make this play a special one.

ESPN Screenshot

Before the ball is snapped, quarterback Anthony Jennings sent Dural in motion. He had taken a reverse from Jennings for 14 yards earlier in the game. This time, though, Dural is only used as a decoy. This forces Texas A&M to rotate in the secondary. The free safety (FS) moves further right, and the cornerback (CB) takes his place. 

Hawkins looks as if he is blocking the defensive end (DE) on this play. Instead, he holds him off to allow a pulling Dickson to come trap him.

ESPN Screenshot

As Fournette receives the handoff, take a look at the perfect execution of Cameron's call. Dural's reverse motion brought three defenders (labeled 1, 2 and 3) to the opposite side of the field. The motion also wrong-footed three defensive linemen, which is getting perfectly sealed off by the offensive line. A pulling Dickson must now clear out the play-side defensive end. 

ESPN Screenshot

Dickson delivers a picturesque cut block of the defensive end, and the offensive line continues its domination of the Texas A&M front seven. This opens up a massive lane and a one-on-one opportunity against a cornerback for Fournette.  

ESPN Screenshot

Fournette begins to attempt a juke against the corner, which slows down his momentum. He probably should have waited a little bit longer, as it allowed backside pursuit to begin to catch up. Or if he had just ran toward the open space down the right sideline, he would have produced a massive gain. 

ESPN Screenshot

Fournette gets a little bit of misfortune as a referee creates more traffic. Still, the defender must be evaded for this run to be massive. 

ESPN Screenshot

The corner goes to his knees early, but he does a great job getting a piece of Fournette as he attempts to spin out of the tackle. Either way, the free safety had made enough ground to come help. 

ESPN Screenshot

Fournette gets tripped up as the run only goes for nine yards. 

This was a massive missed opportunity for LSU in a crucial juncture in the game. Cameron designed and called the perfect play to give his most talented ball carrier a chance to flip momentum heavily in favor of the Tigers.

There is no excuse for this run to not go for at least 20 yards. Great backs make the defender miss and turn this into a big play. Elite backs, such as former LSU All-SEC performer Jeremy Hill, score a touchdown. Fournette was fortunate he was able to have another opportunity later in the game to atone for this error. 

Conclusion 

Fournette's unreal talent was evident against the Aggies. He rushed for a career-high 146 yards on 19 carries. The team finished with 384 rushing yards, which was a record for LSU head coach Les Miles against SEC opposition. 

The Tigers would have likely not defeated Aggies without Fournette. His trucking of Matthews was representative of the Tigers' physical bludgeoning of Texas A&M.  

Fournette's not done just yet. He needs 111 yards in the bowl game to set the freshman rushing record at LSU, per The Advocate's Ross Dellenger. That is an attainable goal with the way the offensive line performed against the Aggies.  

Nov 27, 2014; College Station, TX, USA; LSU Tigers running back Leonard Fournette (7) rushes during the second quarter against the Texas A&M Aggies at Kyle Field. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

The most interesting postgame quote on Fournette came from Collins, per Kahn Jr. 

“It just brought back memories of the first day he put on pads in camp," said Collins. "He did that and I remember that. I'll never forget. I always wanted to see a little bit more of that from him this year. He's going to be a great player.” 

Notice amidst Collins' praise, he said he wished he could have seen more special runs from Fournette. Though it is a slight criticism, truer words could not have been spoken.  

The biggest area of improvement needed in Fournette's game is making tacklers miss. It was shocking to see how easy he would go down on some runs throughout the season.

One of Collins' best friends and former high school teammates was Jeremy Hill, who is arguably the best running back Miles has ever coached. Hill was superb at gliding past tacklers and turning well-blocked runs into game-changing plays. 

Hill had at least one run of 30 yards or more in nine games. Surprisingly, Fournette only registered two runs of 30 yards or more this season. He could learn a thing or two from watching Hill, who thinks highly of him. 

Fournette's best two games were against Texas A&M and Florida, with the slight edge to his 140 yards and two touchdown performance against the Gators. 

Fournette ran through tacklers, showed amazing cutback ability and trusted his blockers throughout the game against Florida. He must continue to have more of those kind of performances. 

ESPN's Jesse Palmer has referenced Fournette's Heisman potential in LSU games he has broadcasted this season. Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee believes Fournette can make a run for New York City in 2015.

Fournette's trucking of Matthews has drawn comparisons to Jadeveon Clowney's hit against Michigan. The run will be on repeat all offseason, and the Heisman hype machine will balloon yet again. 

Fournette's teammates have raved about his humility, including safety Jamal Adams after the game to Kahn Jr. He is, by all accounts, a team player willing to put in the work to be great. 

Fournette's talent is undoubtedly there. But for the leader of Buga Nation to hoist the Heisman, he will need to become a more well-rounded runner, receiver and blocker. 

Nevertheless, for one night in College Station, Texas, Fournette did something that captivated college football fans everywhere. And that alone is worth enjoying.

Stats, rankings and additional information provided by cfbstats.comESPN.com and LSU Sports Information. Recruiting information provided by 247Sports.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower.  

slash iconYour sports. Delivered.

Enjoy our content? Join our newsletter to get the latest in sports news delivered straight to your inbox!