“I will never forget this night.” JEREMY HILL, LSU running back
To avoid falling into an insurmountable hole with their first back-to-back losses in four years, the ninth-ranked Tigers turned to a running back Saturday night who had mostly gone unnoticed for the first half of the season.
True freshman Jeremy Hill responded, carrying 17 times for 124 yards and scoring both of LSU’s touchdowns in a must-have, 23-21 victory over No. 3 South Carolina before a rocking Tiger Stadium crowd of 92,734.
“This team has a lot of depth and they recruit well every year,” Hill said. “When you come here, you know you’re going to have to wait your turn. But once your time comes, you’ve got to take that opportunity and run with it.”
Hill may not have gotten his chance Saturday if Alfred Blue hadn’t been sidelined by a knee injury in the first month of the season. Or if Spencer Ware hadn’t been taken to the locker room Saturday and treated for leg cramps.
But Hill indeed ran with his opportunity.
The former star recruit from Redemptorist High School showed why he was considered one of the top running backs in the South as a senior in the 2011 recruiting class. He showed why LSU remained faithful to him even after legal issues delayed Hill’s enrollment by one semester.
He showed the power to break tackles, the shiftiness to avoid them and the speed to outrun them.
“He certainly came on at the right time,” LSU coach Les Miles said.
Hill’s first score Saturday came at the end of a drive to start the first half in which he matched his jersey number with 33 yards rushing. LSU took a 10-7 lead as its freshman running back extended to complete a 7-yard TD run.
At that point, Ware’s status for the remainder of the game was in question.
The powerful junior returned later in the quarter, making several impressive, leg-churning runs to keep possessions alive. He finished with 55 yards on 14 carries, even taking a snap from behind center and running a quarterback sneak in the first half.
It was one of those nights when all the LSU backs got their turn.
Michael Ford sped for 41 yards on seven carries. Kenny Hilliard had 33 yards on 10 carries.
But the running back who led LSU’s ground assault — the Tigers rushed for 258 yards against one of the Southeastern Conference’s top defenses, converting 15 rushes into first downs — was the one most fans probably wouldn’t have expected.
Hill entered Saturday having rushed for 71 yards on 13 carries. Sixty-one of those yards came on 10 carries in a blowout of Idaho.
“Jeremy Hill’s a pretty talented back,” Miles said. “Great speed for a big man.”
Hill had already enjoyed a night to remember when LSU took possession at midfield leading 16-14 and looking to run some clock with 5:15 left.
“I knew that we needed to run the clock out,” Hill said. “I just hit the hole hard.”
Hill took a pitch from quarterback Zach Mettenberger on first down and pinballed through the teeth of the defense. He was out in the open soon enough, on his way to a 50-yard touchdown that suddenly gave LSU a two-possession lead.
Chants of “L-S-U! L-S-U! L-S-U!” filled the stadium.
“I’ll never forget this night,” Hill said.