LSU running game busts Florida’s pride right in the mouth

J.C. Copeland needed to look at his phone to see the punishment doled out after plowing into the end zone.

Early in the second quarter of LSU’s 17-6 victory over Florida, the LSU fullback bulled into the end zone. Lowering his shoulder, the force of impact from 270 pounds popped off defensive tackle Damien Jacobs’ helmet.

Only Copeland never saw the orange lid sailing 3 yards. Instead, he had to peer down at his iPhone screen to see the moment of impact after a friend had tagged him in a video posted on Instagram.

“I just literally watched it,” Copeland said.

No one would blame Copeland for needing to double check what they saw Saturday in Tiger Stadium.

Against Florida LSU went back to its road-grading identity, pounding between the tackles to hang 175 yards rushing — the most this season — on the nation’s No. 2 rush defense, showing the Tigers’ air-it-out attack hasn’t sacrificed its roots.

“That’s the strength of a really fine football team,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “Those things and those characteristics of a team and the ability to win at those different spots is what makes a really good football team.”

To be clear, LSU hasn’t forsaken the run. Entering the game, the Tigers averaged 197.3 yards per game, including 216 last week at Mississippi State. The improvement of quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who had 152 yards on 9 of 17 passing, obscured that reliability.

“We’re all used to that, and that’s the way we practice every day,” running back Jeremy Hill said. “Our offense has been different this year with the pass game being so successful, but we know we can be successful with the ground and pound.”

Seeing Florida, which entered allowing only 65 yards rushing, on the schedule flipped a switch. No, this would not be track meet. Resurrected were well-worn hallmarks of SEC football: Burly lineman clashing at the point of attack, fullbacks clearing holes and tough yards on contact.

“It’s knowing that you have to dominate your man,” Turner said. “It’s a one-on-one game for everybody. If I win a block and the rest of those guys win their blocks, then we’ll come out on top.”

Saturday only punctuated that facet of LSU’s attack.

An 8-yard run by Hill, who had 121 yards on 19 carries, put LSU over Florida’s average on a 62-yard drive capped by quarterback Anthony Jennings’ 1-yard touchdown run to make it 14-3. At halftime, LSU’s ledger read 95 rushing yards — only 10 fewer than racked up by Mettenberger’s arm.

“We were rushing the football,” Miles said. “We were positioned to control the game. Controlling the game is the key piece.”

And Hill, who showed mettle in churning for yards after contact, proved it could be timely, too.

After Florida pulled within 14-6, the sophomore sheared off a 26-yard run — one during which Copeland and left tackle La’el Collins took blocking as seek-and-destroy — that put LSU in field-goal range to put the game out of reach with 7:58 left to play.

“We can win shootouts, and we can tough, physical running games,” Hill said. “That’s the kind of game it was today.”

One Copeland admitted he’d been awaiting since boarding the bus in Starkville, Miss., last week.

“I love those contact games and being able to hit somebody every play,” Copeland said.

Now, he and LSU have their own memento to savor.