BATON ROUGE, La. — LSU’s running back tandem of Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams, the driving force of the No. 21 Tigers’ offense, could be in for a very busy weekend.
The two ball carriers have combined for more than 1,500 yards and 15 touchdowns rushing this season and have mercilessly punished those defenses which struggle most against the run.
On Saturday, they head to Tennessee, home of the worst run defense in the Southeastern Conference.
The Volunteers are giving up 256.9 rushing yards per game, which makes a matchup with LSU a potentially unenviable one for Tennessee’s Brady Hoke in his first game as interim head coach.
The last time LSU faced a run defense this bad statistically — at Mississippi — Guice and Williams each rushed for well more than 100 yards in a 40-24 victory. Guice rolled up 276 yards by himself nearly matching the LSU single-game record of 285 yards he set late last season against Texas A&M.
“Both backs are freaks of nature,” tight end Foster Moreau said. “Derrius is faster than Darrel. I watch him and I say ‘how did he do that.’ Leonard (Fournette) hit the hole hard and broke tackles going forward. Derrius spins and breaks tackles going side-to-side.
“Darrel doesn’t get tackled by one guy,” Moreau added. “He has great vision, as you saw on the (54-yard) wildcat play against Alabama” on Nov. 4.
Operating in a new offense under first-year coordinator Matt Canada, and behind a beat-up and relatively inexperienced offensive line, LSU rushers still have managed to average 207.9 yards per game, which ranks fifth in the 14-team SEC. The Tigers best games rushing in SEC play were 393 yards against Ole Miss and 216 against Florida.
“The numbers are just numbers,” LSU left guard Garrett Brumfield said. “The only numbers we focus on are the number (score) at the end of the game. We’re not focusing on what Tennessee has done. We’re focusing on us. We have to play disciplined. I’m sure we’ll have a great plan. Our job is to execute.”
The Volunteers’ defensive numbers against the run have downright ugly in league play. Four of Tennessee’s six SEC opponents have run for at least 272 yards. The Vols’ poorest performance came in their 50-17 loss at Missouri last week. Missouri averaged eight yards per carry while rushing for 433 yards.
“A lot of it was the tackling aspect against Missouri,” Tennessee defensive tackle Kendal Vickers said. “I don’t think we tackled as well as we have. It’s frustrating, but we’ve got to move forward. LSU creates a bunch of problems. They have a great o-line. They have two running backs who do a lot.”
Guice, who was bothered by a knee injury during the first half of the schedule, is now just 71 yards shy of recording his second straight 1,000-yard rushing season.
Williams is a very versatile threat. Besides his 602 rushing yards, Williams is LSU’s No. 2 receiver with 18 catches for 241 yards. Williams has also been utilized as a Wildcat quarterback in the past two games. He had a 54-yard run from that position against Alabama.
New offensive coordinator Matt Canada has added the jet sweep package to the LSU offense, and it has produced a few big gains around the end. Tigers wide receivers have rushed for 380 yards and three touchdowns.
However, LSU’s running game has looked most effective when Guice and Williams are doing the majority of the work, gaining ground about 5-yards at a time to sustain drives and help the Tigers control the clock.
“Gaining five or six yards is football,” Moreau said. “That’s what we’ve always been doing at LSU. Any offensive coordinator will say that if you get four yards on a first-down run and that’s an efficient run. Getting five or six yards is lagniappe.”
AP Sports Writer Steve Megargee in Knoxville, Tennessee, contributed to this report.