Rabalais: Jeremy Hill’s success helps, but LSU must remain aggressive

The Auburn Tigers don’t need the number of the truck that hit them in Tiger Stadium on Saturday night.

They’ve seen his kind before.

Auburn has had more than its share of great running backs. Bo Jackson. Brent Fullwood. Cadillac Williams. Stephen Davis. Ronnie Brown. I could continue to runneth on this way, but you get the picture.

I don’t know if the immortal Bo Jackson was here in person Saturday night. But if he was, Bo knows what he saw from LSU tailback Jeremy Hill.

Jackson would have seen many of the same skills he displayed in his brilliant career.

After being suspended for the season’s first five quarters, Hill has ramped up his game Saturday upon Saturday like a race car team trying to find the best fuel mix to create the ultimate performance for their machine.

The first time Hill touched the ball two weeks ago against UAB, he scored a touchdown. On LSU’s first drive against Kent State last week, he scored a touchdown.

In a 35-21 win over Auburn on Saturday, Hill carried the ball 25 times for 184 yards and three touchdowns, displaying that rare blend of speed and power that the best running backs possess.

You may still be in the camp that thinks Hill shouldn’t be playing after his pair of off-the-field transgressions that were very close to having him serve jail time instead of sharing time in the LSU backfield. No one probably deserved a game ball Saturday night more than District Court Judge Bonnie Jackson, who instead of ruling in August that Hill violated his probation for an April bar fight tacked on 40 hours of community service.

The other camp says the best service Hill can do to this community is to score touchdowns.

Personally, I think while Hill’s transgressions were serious — he was on probation because of a misdemeanor sex charge from high school — he didn’t quite deserve to be thrown away. He does have two strikes and deserves to be out if he fails once more. But for now, he should have the chance to rehabilitate himself and his public image.

Make no mistake, LSU needs him. LSU’s other running backs — Alfred Blue, Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee — are good, but Hill is the best it has. Could be the best LSU has had in a long time.

In the end, though, Hill’s earlier success running the ball may have worked against LSU’s mindset.

Once LSU went up 35-14, it stopped attacking on offense. Problem is, Auburn didn’t throw up a white flag. It kept pressing with a spread offense that became much more efficient once the rain (Les Miles called it a “stiff dew,” refusing to admit it rains in Tiger Stadium, bless his stubborn heart) stopped falling.

Overall, Miles liked the offensive balance — a nearly perfect harmony of 228 yards rushing and 229 passing. But he knew the ending was off key.

“We’re pleased to a point, but not satisfied,” he said.

LSU’s defense was on the field way too much in the fourth quarter, 85 plays overall. Were it not for an onside kick call against Auburn that was reversed and an interception a few moments later by LSU cornerback Jalen Mills, the game could have ended up being much more squirmier for the home team than it was.

“I don’t think we let up,” Hill argued. “I think those guys adjusted. That’s what SEC teams do.”

Hill finally looked mortal late in the fourth quarter. When Auburn’s defense suddenly had no reason to fear Zach Mettenberger’s right arm, it angled its schemes toward stopping the LSU running game with abandon.

Hill struggled to get back to the line of scrimmage as LSU suddenly was unable to move the chains with an imbalanced offensive approach. In the end, LSU outgained Auburn only 457-437 after holding a 403-263 edge in total offense going into the fourth quarter.

“I wish we would have finished a lot stronger than we did,” Hill said. “We put our defense in tough positions.”

This is the new world order in the previously defense-dominated Southeastern Conference. There are two many spread offenses, too many experienced quarterbacks for any lead to be truly safe. And LSU will face a steady diet of both the rest of the way this season, starting with next Saturday’s showdown at Georgia against a Bulldogs team led by talented senior Aaron Murray.

That won’t be the last offensive power LSU has to face this season. There’s a road game at Ole Miss on Oct. 19, another at Alabama on Nov. 9 and a home game with Texas A&M on Nov. 23.

One thing I feel I can say with confidence at this point: The LSU-Alabama game won’t wind up 9-6 this time.

In the first three games, and to start the Auburn game, LSU did a great job of using the pass to set up the run. LSU made Auburn pay for its decision to load the box up with defenders bent on stopping the run, taking advantage of Auburn’s slippery mistakes to score touchdowns, as good teams are supposed to do.

Perhaps it’s a good lesson learned for LSU and Miles: Hill and the running game are a great weapon in the arsenal, but only part of it. There will be times LSU needs to pass to keep winning this season.

Bo knows that, too.