By Brett Martel
BATON ROUGE, La. —
As Jeremy Hill prepares for this week’s eagerly awaited visit to top-ranked Alabama, the LSU running back is spending considerable time reflecting on his performance in last year’s memorable clash — and on how disappointed he was with himself afterward.
If LSU hadn’t lost a lead in the final minute of a 21-17 setback, Hill might have taken some pride in the trouble he caused the Crimson Tide’s normally suffocating 2012 defense. With 107 yards and a touchdown, Hill was the first of only two running backs all of last season to rush for 100 yards against the national champs. (Georgia’s Todd Gurley was the other in the Southeastern Conference title game).
Hill, however, has spent a year dwelling on the yards he failed to get — yards which could have helped LSU run out the clock or at least set up an easier field goal than the 45-yarder Drew Alleman missed with 1:34 to go.
“It haunts me all the time,” Hill said, pointing specifically to a 3-yard loss on a second-and-7 play from the Alabama 29 with about 2:30 left.
The play design called for Hill to cut back left, toward the wide side of the field, after taking the handoff. Instead, he tried to bounce outside to his right and was swarmed under.
Looking back at video of that play, Hill saw there was probably room for a modest gain where he was supposed to run.
“If I had just gotten maybe 4 or 5 (yards), it might have changed the complexion of the game,” Hill said. “I was trying to do way too much. ... You can’t do those kinds of things on Alabama. They’re way too well coached, way too assignment sound. So it’s just getting what’s there. If it’s 3 yards on a play, take that 3.”
Hill pledged he’d be more disciplined and trusting of his teammates when No. 10 LSU meets the Crimson Tide on Saturday night.
Alabama, meanwhile, expects Hill to be a handful again.
Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban emphasized the 6-foot-2, 235-pound running back’s “really good balance and body control.”
“He’s got great speed for his size,” Saban said. “We obviously thought he was an outstanding player in high school. We recruited him very, very hard.”
Hill, who grew up around Baton Rouge, decided to stay close to home, in part because of the patience LSU coach Les Miles showed with Hill’s legal trouble following his arrest for a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old girl in his high school, when Hill was 18. Hill’s freshman season of college football should have been 2011, but he could not enroll until 2012, when his charges were reduced to a misdemeanor.
Hill wound up leading the Tigers in rushing in 2012 with 755 yards and 12 touchdowns, but landed in more trouble last offseason, when he was caught on video landing a punch outside a bar.
Hill pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery, and while that violated his earlier probation, a judge allowed him to stay out of jail on further restrictions, including a curfew and bar-ban. Hill says he’s embraced a new lifestyle in which his social life is largely on hold, and his focus is almost exclusively on school and football.
On the field, at least, the results bear that out. He has 922 yards and 12 touchdowns in eight games this season, averaging a whopping 7.2 yards per carry.
And while Hill remains bothered by some of his runs from his last meeting with ‘Bama, he also will enter Tuscaloosa with abundant confidence, given his previous numbers against the Tide.
“I never get intimidated by anyone. I never let anyone put fear in me. I play with the same intensity level and the same passion every game,” Hill said. “I think I did a good job of that last year, I just kind of, in situations — I tried to do too much.
“Those guys will be ready for me this year and I can’t even sit here and act like they’re not,” Hill added. “It’s going to be exciting. I’m looking forward to it.”