ORLANDO, Florida – And some thought the Citrus Bowl would lose a lot of sweetness when LSU tailback Leonard Fournette elected not to play in it as he wanted to completely heal a season-long ankle injury to prepare for the 2017 NFL Draft.
They didn’t realize – only because of lack of knowledge - that sophomore Derrius Guice too has the juice, which does not rhyme. Guice rhymes with nice, which is how LSU’s future looks despite the loss of one of its greatest running backs in history in Fournette.
Fournette, who will enter the draft a year early, leaves LSU as its fourth all-time leading rusher with 3,830 yards in less than three seasons as he played in only seven games this season. The three in front of him – Kevin Faulk with 4,557, Dalton Hilliard with 4,050 and Charles Alexander with 4,035 – all played complete four seasons.
Guice, who gained 138 yards on 26 carries in the No. 20 Tigers’ 29-9 victory over No. 13 Louisville in the Citrus Bowl Saturday, has 1,823 yards in his career with one or two seasons remaining. He finished 2016 with 1,387 yards, becoming just the fourth LSU back in history to gain 1,300 yards or more in a season.
“Well, LSU is Running Back U., so when one man goes down, you’ve got to step up,” Guice said after winning the Citrus Bowl most valuable player award. “And I feel like I’ve done a great job of stepping up this year.”
Guice can be brash, but that comment is an understatement. Guice just set the school rushing record for a game just last Thanksgiving night when he put up 285 yards on 37 carries in the Tigers’ 54-39 win at No. 22 Texas A&M. Fournette, who missed that game with the ankle, had that record for all of a month as he gained 284 on 16 carries while not 100 percent in a 38-21 win over Ole Miss.
“The linemen did a great job of helping me step up,” Guice said Saturday. “And (running backs coach Jabbar) Juluke does a great job. He has developed me all year with the position drills we do. He’s always telling me to be patient. I’m glad what we got next year. Next year is going to be great, and I’m glad we ended this year like this.”
In 2017, LSU could return as many as seven starters on offense. That will be six if junior wide receiver Malachi Dupre – fresh off his best game at LSU with seven catches for 139 yards Saturday – elects to enter the NFL Draft. Quarterback Danny Etling will be a senior. Left guard Will Clapp will be a junior as will right tackle Toby Weathersby. Left tackle K.J. Malone will be a senior as will fullback John David Moore.
“I can’t wait for next year,” Guice said.
Neither can new coach Ed Orgeron, who is 1-0 as the Tigers’ full-time coach after Saturday’s victory. Orgeron hopes to dramatically improve LSU’s passing game from what it was under former head coach Les Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron under new coordinator Matt Canada, but Guice will likely be featured in the running game as much as Fournette. Canada joins LSU on Monday. Interim offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger ran the offense Saturday.
“Matt is going to come in, and he’s going to do some things on the offense that we feel like we need to do to get to the championship,” Orgeron said. “He has had tremendous run games. And, obviously, Derrius is going to be a big part of it.”
In LSU’s last four games with Fournette ailing or not playing, Guice nearly matched Fournette’s season total as he gained 758 yards on 103 carries. That’s 189 yards a game, which is more than the nation’s leading rusher, Texas’ D’Onta Foreman, has with 184.4 a game.
At 5-foot-11 and 212 pounds, Guice is not as big as the 6-1, 235-pound Fournette and not as powerful. He’s nearly as explosive, though, with a jerkier style but is capable of “trucking” defenders for which Fournette grew famous. Ask Louisville kicker Blanton Creque, who was run over by Guice on a 50-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter Saturday.
And he blocks, too. Asked about the one-handed catch Dupre made in the second quarter for a 29-yard gain, Guice said he missed it live.
“In the process of him doing that, I was flipping somebody, so I couldn’t really see the whole thing,” he said. “Football is a physical sport. So if you can’t take it, don’t play.”
Orgeron plans on playing Guice as much as possible.
“We had guys that were waiting in the background this year,” Orgeron said. “You look at a guy like Derrius Guice. I want you to think about this guy, what he’s done for the team this year and the way he runs the football. We had probably one of the best players in college football in Leonard Fournette get hurt. Derrius stepped in and didn’t blink an eye. He’s one of the best players in America. I totally expect him to be the best player in America next year. We’re fortunate to have him.”
GODCHAUX TO ENTER DRAFT: LSU junior defensive tackle Davon Godchaux wrote on his Instagram account Sunday what has been expected. He will enter the 2017 NFL Draft as a junior as he wants to provide for his son, Davon Montel Godchaux
"This was a very difficult decision," Godchaux wrote. "But I know in my heart, this is the best choice for me and my son."
Godchaux, who went to Plaquemine High School, made four tackles in the win over Louisville Saturday with one sack, a quarterback hurry and a pass breakup. He finished second on the team in 2016 with 6.5 sacks and had 62 tackles on the season. In three seasons, Godchaux started 34 games. He had a career high nine tackles against Wisconsin this season. He is projected to go as high as the late second round of the draft, according to NFL Draft expert Mike Detillier of WWL Radio in New Orleans.
"Likely late second or early third round pick," Detillier said. "Quick, active defensive tackle."
Considering that junior safety Jamal Adams is also likely to enter the draft as he is a projected first rounder, LSU will return just three regular starters on defense – nose guard Greg Gilmore, defensive end Arden Key and cornerback Donte Jackson. But that side of the ball is still full of young talent such as defensive tackle Rashard Lawrence, linebackers Devin White and Michael Divinity and part time starting cornerback Kevin Toliver II with more on the way. And it has defensive coordinator genius Dave Aranda, who dissected Louisville coach Bobby Petrino’s offense into nothingness with its first game without a touchdown since 2010 on Saturday.
“We look forward to building a championship program here,” Orgeron said. “We’ve got work to do. We look forward to going to the recruiting trail and do the things that championship programs do.”
LSU WINS FOURTH STRAIGHT OVER HEISMAN: LSU's victory over Louisville and 2016 Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Lamar Jackson marked its fourth over a Heisman winner since the 2003 season. The Tigers beat Oklahoma and 2003 Heisman winning quarterback Jason White, 21-14, in the national championship game on Jan. 4, 2004, then beat Alabama and 2009 Heisman winning tailback Mark Ingram, 24-21, in 2010 and defeated Texas A&M and 2012 Heisman winning quarterback Johnny Manziel, 34-10, in 2013.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Make sure you all get out of his way."
---LSU tailback Derrius Guice on Coach Ed Orgeron's victory dance after the Citrus Bowl.