Just two months ago, Jeremy Hill was buried by a heap of talent in the LSU backfield.
Saturday night, on what was easily the biggest stage of his young career — and LSU’s 2012 season — the 20-year-old shined like a veteran, carrying the Tigers offense on his back for 107 yards.
Alabama came into the game boasting the nation’s best defense in nearly every statistical category, and especially in the run game. The Tide hadn’t given up more than 80 yards on the ground to any team this season and averaged just 57.3 yards per game against them.
Hill blew those numbers out of the water, chalking up 71 yards on the ground in the first half alone. The former Redemptorist star carried the ball a career-high 29 times, averaging 3.7 yards per carry in his first start as a Tiger.
“We knew we could run the ball on that defense,” Hill said. “It was just up to our O-linemen up front, and they did a great job all night. ... We knew if we just played our hearts out and gave a great effort, we could do a good job running.”
The most yardage Alabama had given up to one individual all season was 59 yards to Arkansas running back Knile Davis on Sept. 15. Hill became the first back to eclipse the 100-yard-mark against the Tide since Georgia Southern’s Dominique Swope did so Nov. 19 last season, and just the sixth to reach the plateau since Nick Saban’s arrival in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Alabama had allowed only 10 rushers to hit 100 yards since 2005 — the fewest in the nation. Hill became the 11th Saturday night.
“I thought it was stellar,” senior offensive lineman Josh Dworaczyk said of Hill. “There was a couple times where I knew I didn’t have my guy where I needed him in the right position, and Hill made the cut and made me right. His effort was really giving us a spark plug in the backfield and giving Zach (Mettenberger) convertible third downs.”
It marked the third straight game Hill has reached the century mark, becoming the first Tiger to do so since Charles Scott rushed for 100 in four straight games to open the 2008 season.
“You’ve been seeing a little taste of him the last few weeks and what kind of ability he has,” Dworaczyk said. “For Hill to get his first start and to go out and play that way, that’s what they expect. I love Hill to death.
“Hill left his heart out there on the field.”
Hill broke a long run of 19 yards and tacked on three catches for 12 yards to bring his total to 119 yards.
Fullback, J.C. Copeland did much of the work up front as usual but also had yet another ill-advised hit that resulted in a 15-yard penalty that killed an LSU drive in the first quarter.
After Hill broke his 19-yard run that brought the Tigers to the Alabama 13, Copeland was flagged for personal foul, pushing LSU back to the 28 and a 1st and 25. The Tigers couldn’t overcome the setback, and came up empty on the drive after a failed fake field goal.
“It was just me being out of control and not being cool-headed,” Copeland said. “I showed a lot of aggression.”
Copeland got his shot at redemption, carrying the ball three times and chalking up two catches for 47 yards, most of which came on one big burst in the end of the third quarter. Mettenberger hit Copeland on a short pass to the flats, and the 6-foot-1, 272-pound bulldozer broke one tackle, shoved another defender aside and turned on his jets for a 42-yard pickup that eventually led to an LSU touchdown.
“That was me keeping my composure right there,” Copeland said. “At the end of the day our team played the best game they could possibly play.”
The Tigers did the unthinkable, racking up 435 yards of offense on a defense that had previously given up no more than 282 in any game.
“We came out there and played our style of offense,” Dworaczyk said. “We had a mindset that we were going to be able to move the ball on these guys.”