Hill’s re-emergence bolsters depth at running back
LSU has used three different running back rotations, started two different runners and had a different leading rusher in each of his first three games.
But the backfield might be stabilizing as the Tigers prepare to play Auburn in their Southeastern Conference opener Saturday night.
Sophomore Jeremy Hill, the leading rusher last season and presumed starter this season before running into off-the-field trouble, made his first start against Kent State last Saturday and ran for 117 yards and two touchdowns.
Hill said he doesn’t feel like he’s all the way back after being away from the team for nearly four months leading up to the start of preseason camp, but it appears he’s back in the starting lineup moving forward.
“I did some great things out there and I did some really bad things,” Hill said. “You just kind of go with the good and learn from the bad, try and keep an even keel and go to work fixing the mistakes.
“I missed a few blitz pick-ups that I should have gotten and our quarterback got hit a few times. I missed a few cuts. I cut back when I didn’t need to and should have kept going to the side — small things like that that people probably don’t notice watching the game but things that I can improve on.”
Hill, who didn’t play in the opener and had 50 yards and a touchdown on six carries in his debut two weeks ago, said he “started to get my rhythm back” during the game, but that’s a work in progress.
“It just comes with reps, getting used to game speed,” Hill said. “You can’t simulate that on a practice field. Getting those game reps, you’ll get back to it.”
Though Hill seems to have regained the spot at the top of the depth chart, LSU continues to list him, Terrence Magee, Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard as equals.
Magee is the leading rusher (210 yards) and is tied with Hill for the scoring lead with three touchdowns. Magee was the leading rusher in the season opener and complemented Hill’s 100-yard game with one of his own in relief last week.
“I’ve been knowing Terrence since I was in high school and he doesn’t surprise me a bit,” Hill said. “He’s been a great athlete ever since I met him. When I first saw him in action I knew he was going to be special.”
Magee got a lot start on his 100-yard game Saturday as his first carry didn’t come until less than four minutes remained in the third quarter.
“Jeremy Hill set the tone and he wore them down early, as well as Hilliard and Blue,” Magee said. “”When I got in there (the defenders) were kind of tired.”
Blue, who had knee surgery a year ago, started the first two games, but he’s the only one in the foursome who hasn’t led in rushing in a game this season.
“It doesn’t really matter which back is in there,” Blue said. “Terrence Magee is breaking out, Jeremy Hill’s having a good game, Kenny’s having a good game, and I’m running well. (Running backs coach Frank Wilson) bases it on practice and goes with whoever has the hot hand.”
Hilliard led the team with 54 yards and a touchdown against UAB two weeks ago, but he had just four carries last week.
“This program has always had depth with great running backs coming through,” Hill said. “That’s been the history with coach (Les) Miles. We’re just picking up on that and doing what we’ve been recruited to do.”
Lack of takeaways
The LSU defense has just three takeaways through three games — two fumble recoveries and one interception. Last season the Tigers averaged about 2½ times that, recovering 15 fumbles and making 18 interceptions.
“I think (takeaways) come and go,” Miles said. “There is an ebb and flow in games and you can’t necessarily predict how soon or how often that’s going to happen.
“If you watch the film, I think you see attempted strips and guys that are making plays on the ball. And I think it really kind of depends on the style of offense that you play. Some offenses are a little bit more at risk and some are ready to take first downs and/or punt. And I think that those guys are not as liable to give you a turnover.”
When asked if defensive coordinator John Chavis might have been holding back during the pre-conference schedule before becoming more creating or aggressive in SEC play, linebacker Kwon Alexander replied, “(Chavis) always has something up his sleeve. You never know what he might do.”
Beckwith shows versatility
Freshman Kendell Beckwith lined up at defensive end the first two games and was at middle linebacker at times last week.
“We think that he can play a number of spots on defense,” Miles said. “I think one of those spots is linebacker. I think to say that over the course of a career that he would just be a linebacker, I don’t know that does service to his talent.
“I think maybe there’s an opportunity for him to play linebacker maybe a mikebacker, in certain situations move to the perimeter and put his hand on the ground and pass rush.
Again, I think there is some variance there and I think he’s developing very nicely.”
Two good enough so far
Still, no one has emerged as a consistent third receiver behind Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr., but that hasn’t hurt the passing game.
LSU ranks first in the SEC in passing efficiency. After Landry (17 catches) and Beckham (15 catches) only three players have more than one — wide receiver Travin Dural (three) and fullbacks Connor Neighbors (three) and J.C. Copeland (two).
Miles mentioned Dural, Kadron Boone (one catch) and John Diarse (none) as candidates to break out in the passing game.
“I think all three of those guys are real quality receivers and on the given day could end up with, you know, five to nine catches and a big night,” Miles said. “So I think it’s just kind of depends on what the defense wants us to dial up.”