Tigers back sees role expanding after impressive opener
Bolting down the sideline at AT&T Stadium, euphoria didn’t envelop LSU running back Terrence Magee with TCU’s Terrell Lathan and Paul Dawson giving futile chase.
Truthfully, the junior’s 52-yard touchdown run — his first in more than two years — to open the third quarter lacked cinematic melodrama. No, left tackle La’el Collins blocked down. Fullback Connor Neighbors stuffed a linebacker trying to squirt through a gap. Wide receiver Kadron Boone sealed the edge.
And Magee’s instincts weren’t musty: An alley opened, and the Franklinton native, who has bided his time and endured a position switch, accelerated and opened up his stride on a simple stretch play.
“It was a surprise play,” said Magee, who racked up a career-high 95 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries. “I really didn’t think it would be open that much.”
And with starter Alfred Blue trying to acclimate to game speed after a knee injury last season, coupled with Jeremy Hill’s undefined stint in “withholding” by coach Les Miles, another stellar outing in No. 9 LSU’s home opener in Tiger Stadium at 6 p.m. Saturday against UAB could do wonders to expand a role for Magee.
“He’s a guy that we look forward to expanding a role for,” Miles said. “There is some style of things that he does. He does extremely well. We’re going to continue to call his number for those.”
Against TCU, Magee capitalized in the third quarter, starting with his long scoring run on a stretch play. Later, Magee’s 3-yard touchdown capped a 67-yard quarter of rushing and put LSU ahead 30-17.
“Once you get in the red zone like that, your mindset needs to be score,” Magee said. “When we get in those positions, (running backs) coach Frank (Wilson) preaches getting down hill, going in to score and winning your one-on-one match-up.”
The plot, though, could always be revised — a circumstance Magee knows far too well.
Arriving on campus in 2011 as a dual-threat quarterback and the Most Outstanding Offensive Player in Class 4A, Magee, who is 5-9, 214 pounds, touted a ballyhooed prep career. The Tigers had gone 14-1 in 2010, led to a state title where Magee passed for 203 yards and ran for 126 more.
Undersized and rated as a three-star prospect, he was immediately shifted to running back and asked to bulk up for the pounding of running between the tackles in LSU’s ground-and-pound scheme. Yet, Miles lauded his maturity in preseason camp and said Magee would “be the kind of back that we need for a long time.”
It didn’t translate into a slew of carries — only 27 for 155 yards — and a lone extended appearance in thrashing of Ole Miss after LSU emptied its bench to let him pick up 55 yards on eight carries.
With Magee buried behind Michael Ford, Spencer Ware and Alfred Blue, the midsemester arrival of Jeremy Hill ahead of spring camp created a house. The decision was made to move Magee to wide receiver, a move he gave lip-service support to as a way to see the field more and help the team.
The routine unfolded again: Miles praised Magee in fall camp for his ball skills, fast feet and strong hands. Magee snagged on a lone 7-yard catch against Idaho. If anything, he is known more for his aborted attempt at a jump pass for a touchdown in a road loss at Florida and a fumble as he tried to scramble.
Quiet and polite, Magee kept doubts about the move internal as last season unfolded.
“I kind of viewed it as a negative thing and didn’t see where it could help me out,” Magee said. “I felt like I couldn’t get to the next level playing receiver, but at the same time, I was willing to contribute to the team in any way possible.”
Odell Beckham Jr. said toggling over to wide receiver might not have been preferred by Magee, but his posture and tone never confirmed it.
“You come out, and they put you in a situation that you might not be comfortable in,” Beckham said. “But you make the best of it. That’s what he did last year.”
Yet in the weeks after a Chick-fil-A Bowl loss to Clemson, Magee admitted he mulled whether sticking around Baton Rouge would be the best long-term option, particularly because he wondered if a career spent at receiver would amount to much.
“After last season, it was really going through my mind,” Magee said. “Eventually, I got over it. There were a few people I talked to that encouraged me. And I stuck to (it).”
A phone call from Wilson as he walked across campus snapped his focus.
“What’s this I hear about you leaving?” Wilson asked him.
But Saturday’s outing, plus the skills acquired working with receivers might help Magee factor in more to an offense tweaked by Cam Cameron, who in the past has used running backs extensively as pass catchers out of the backfield.
“Now that he’s out there, he’s going to get the same role that we plan for him all year,” quarterback Zach Mettenberger said. “He’s a great receiving back. He’s great at blocking, and he’s got some wheels to turn out big runs. We’re going to do what we always do: Play the hot hand, and see where it goes from there.”
Still, Magee is mum when asked if he expects a bigger role moving forward.
“I hope so,” Magee said. “No matter what they ask me to do, I’m just happy to get out there and contribute in any way I can.”
Magee’s plight isn’t unusual, though. His opportunity arrived this offseason. Ford and Ware left early for the NFL Draft. Blue was held out of contact in spring practice. Hilliard was trying to slim down. And Hill’s April arrest for assaulting a fellow student outside a Tigerland bar led to a three-plus month suspension, allowing Magee to benefit from offseason workouts.
as the sophomore’s career was in limbo.
“There’s some things you can’t control,” Blue said. “We never knew Jeremy was going to get in trouble.
We knew Mike and Spencer left, and I got hurt. We didn’t know if I was going to come back and be like I was. It was an opportunity, and it’s like coach Frank tells us, ‘Keep preparing.’”
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