LSU running back Leonard Fournette did not travel with the team to Texas A&M, a source told The Advocate on Wednesday afternoon, a bitter end to an injury-plagued regular season for the draft-eligible junior.
Fournette, a New Orleans native who began this season as a favorite for the Heisman Trophy, is battling through a lingering left ankle injury that will now sideline him for a fourth game this year. He suffered a high and low ankle sprain to his left ankle during preseason camp, injuries that have never completely healed.
On at least three occasions, he’s re-injured the ankle while attempting to play. He was not expected to play in a 16-10 loss to Florida last week, but he changed his mind after a pregame scuffle, asking interim coach Ed Orgeron if he could suit up. He ran for 40 yards on 12 carries and did not play in the fourth quarter.
His status this week has been listed as “day to day” and a “game-time decision,” according to Orgeron. He re-injured the ankle in the season opener against Wisconsin, again in a game at Auburn and then last week.
“It’s been hard on him,” Orgeron said earlier Wednesday on the Southeastern Conference teleconference. “It’s been tough, and he’s done everything he can. It’s just a reoccurring injury that enables him to run.”
The 25th-ranked Tigers (6-4, 4-3 Southeastern) meet the 22nd-ranked Aggies (8-3, 4-3) on Thursday night in a game crucial for any hopes of Orgeron remaining the team’s full-time leader. The team was scheduled to depart on a flight to Houston at 2:25 p.m. Wednesday.
LSU is already without middle linebacker Kendell Beckwith. He suffered a knee injury against Florida.
Fournette is expected to leave after this season for the NFL draft. He’s projected as a top-10 selection. Many scouts feel his ankle issue will not affect his status.
“He’s among the handful of blue-chip prospects. He’s my personal top-rated offensive player,” said Rob Rang, draft analyst for CBSSports.com. “He possesses the combo of size, speed and power that the NFL hasn’t seen in a draft since Adrian Peterson.”
Fournette has run for 843 yards and scored eight touchdowns in the seven games he’s played, averaging 6.5 yards a carry. Sophomore running back Derrius Guice leads the team with 964 yards rushing. Guice is averaging 8 yards a carry. Junior Darrel Williams could see more action than usual. He’s got 183 yards on 36 carries.
Guice in a 19-7 win over A&M last season ran for 75 yards on a kickoff return and had a 50-yard touchdown scamper.
“We found out who Guice was last year when he took off on us,” A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. “Guice got us last year with a couple of explosive runs.”
For Fournette, it’s a sour end to a highly anticipated final year. He broke the single-season rushing record (1,953) and touchdown record (22) last year and was the first SEC running back to lead the nation in rushing since 1949.
He ran for a single-game rushing mark this season against Ole Miss (284) before Alabama, for a second straight season, held him to under 40 yards. He missed games against Jacksonville State, Missouri and Southern Miss.
This is believed to be the first time Fournette has missed an LSU road trip in his three seasons with the program.
Who: LSU at Texas A&M
Time: 6:30 p.m.