AUBURN — Auburn defensive players are intent on not reliving the embarrassment that LSU’s Leonard Fournette delivered in Baton Rouge last year.
The problem whether Auburn can stop it from happening again this weekend when the Tigers see No. 7 in an LSU jersey again.
LSU’s 45-21 domination began last year with a 71-yard dash by Fournette on the first play from scrimmage. He ran around, over and through an overmatched Auburn defense for 228 yards on 19 carries and three touchdowns. Heisman Trophy campaigns began, T-shirts were made and the demise of Auburn’s disappointing 2015 season originated immediately after that afternoon at Tiger Stadium.
“The only thing I really remember is just the feeling,” Auburn defensive tackle Montravius Adams said. “I don’t remember the score, but I know it was a bad score. I just remember the feeling.”
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn didn’t try to downplay a revenge motivation for his players as they host No. 18 LSU (2-1, 1-0 SEC) in a critical 5 p.m. game Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Malzahn said Tuesday in his weekly news conference that he doesn’t anticipate needing to find extra incentive for his defensive returning players other than the tape of their blowout loss last season.
"I think each individual guy on the defensive side wants to redeem themselves,” Malzahn said. “We're a different team and a different defense than we were last year but he's one of the best players in college football. He gets to the second level, that's when he's extremely tough to handle.”
Fournette’s performance against Auburn began a three-game stretch where the 230-pound tailback went for more than 200 yards on the ground in a season where he led the Southeastern Conference in rushing yards a game by nearly 15 yards. Judging by the comments this week from his head, Fournette is “full speed ahead” after an ankle injury hampered his preseason training but LSU’s main offensive weapon will be featured in its first road test in league play.
“It was nice to see Leonard back. No. 7 is running like he would run,” LSU head coach Les Miles said. “He'll get nothing but better. I think he's kind of getting a little of the rust off and looking forward to these series of games that can make a difference.”
Auburn, which entered that SEC opener last season at LSU ranked No. 18 in the country, began the week with safety Rudy Ford suggesting that slowing down Fournette “shouldn’t be that much of a challenge” but ended with CBS Sports cameras showing his not making much of an effort to touch the LSU tailback on a highlight reel touchdown run.
“The bottom line is we got our rears kicked,” Malzahn said after the blowout loss last year.
On Fournette’s 40-yard touchdown that has been shown on practically ever sports highlight reel for the past year, you can see Auburn safety Tray Matthews going up and over the top of Fournette’s back on his way to the end zone. In preseason camp, Matthews said he’s able to laugh about being in that highlight now but film review of his technique wasn’t a pleasant experience the following day with then-defensive coordinator Will Muschamp.
“That was my first game back from popping my shoulder out of place so I actually didn’t hit that whole week,” Matthews said in August. “So going into that game, I really didn’t know what I was going to do. When I saw him come, it was kind of like a business decision, because I didn’t want to pop my shoulder all the way out of place and have to miss the whole season, so I said, ‘Let me hit him up high and try to grab him and bring him down.’ But I actually jumped too high. My adrenaline was running. I got healthy shoulders now, so we’ll see what happens this year.”
The 411 rushing yards totaled by LSU were the most put on an Auburn defense since Ole Miss ran piled up 515 yards on the ground in 1951.