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LSU Tigers 45, South Carolina Gamecocks 24: Can LSU Win Without Leonard Fournette? Maybe, But Why Should They Even Try?

The Tigers coast to a big win against South Carolina despite an uneven performance from their star running back

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

If you are one of those who wonders if LSU could win a football game without Leonard Fournette, then Saturday's 21-point victory against South Carolina might provide something of an answer. During the first half, South Carolina limited the star running back to 49 yards on 15 carries. And while Fournette ended the game with 158 yards on 20 carries, he was only LSU's second-leading rusher(!), and he averaged 3.7 yards a carry outside of one 87-yard touchdown run.

And the Tigers won easily. South Carolina did keep things tight in the first half, trailing only 17-10, and fought back to as close to 38-24 late in the third quarter. But there was never much doubt in this game as to whether LSU would win, at least not at any point after halftime. The Gamecocks were outclassed and outplayed for most of the day.

Which does raise the delicate question of how much this win really tells us about LSU. Brandon Harris was 18-of-28 passing for 228 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. But he was playing against a South Carolina defense that allowed Greyson Lambert to set the NCAA record for completion percentage, so how do we tell if Harris has taken the next step as a quarterback. Derrius Guice actually led LSU with 164 rushing yards on 17 carries, but how much of that has to do with facing one of the worst rushing defenses in the conference? And how good would either of them have been if South Carolina didn't have to focus on shutting down Fournette to have any chance?

LSU is going to be just fine this season, because they have Fournette and they shouldn't increase their degree of difficulty by trying to win without him. That's not how sports work. But the blowout in Baton Rouge is at least an indication that the Tigers might be able to play well when Fournette's not at his best.

As far as South Carolina's season goes, there's not much more than can be said. South Carolina's quarterbacks completed either at or just below 50 percent of their passes (depending on if you count a trick play), and the team managed just 73 yards on 21 rushes. The Gamecocks are now winless in the SEC halfway through their conference slate, and next week's game against Vanderbilt (location to be decided) looks like the only winnable league match-up on the calendar, and one of just two winnable games overall. Even a player like Fournette probably wouldn't be able to help them.