Since LSU won a National Championship in 2007 Les Miles has found comfort in his ground game being defined by one body.
In 2007 Jacob Hester touched the ball 225 times to Keiland Williams’ 70 touches, seeing the Evangel High graduate finish with 1,103 yards on the year.
In 2008 and 2009 responsibility fell on the shoulders of Charles Scott, though his senior season last fall was cut short when he suffered a broken collarbone against Alabama in early November.
With struggling quarterbacks the story of nearly every Saturday, this past fall turned into the Stevan Ridley Show. He finished the regular season with 225 carries, while the next man in line – redshirt freshman Michael Ford – touched the ball only 41 times in nine appearances.
The difference between this season and those: a ruling by the NCAA that declared Ridley academically ineligible, meaning he must sit out a year of football – beginning with the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 7.
While details of how the situation came to be are murky, Miles, Ridley and his Tiger teammates appear confident that the junior running back will be cleared in the next week.
“I have full confidence that he’s going to play,” said quarterback Jordan Jefferson. “He’s still been practicing with us the whole way, and he’s thinking that everything will work out.”
Ridley will travel with the team when they fly out of Baton Rouge on Saturday, and a conference call will take place on Jan. 4 between Ridley, LSU Chancellor Mike Martin and the NCAA.
“There will be information coming on that date that will give us great direction,” said Miles. “He’s optimistic.”
If the ruling is upheld, Miles turns to a stable of backs that have played second fiddle to Ridley all fall. Though he has not named a replacement, Miles is faced with a choice between Richard Murphy, Michael Ford, Spencer Ware and Alfred Blue.
“We will have a quality back, I promise,” said Miles. “We will be prepared.”
For a younger back like Ford, getting a seasoned body like Ridley back before their bout with Texas A&M is paramount.
“We’re hurting for him,” he said. “It’s a blow that he might not play. He’s a big reason we got to this point in the season. Seeing him not play would hurt everybody.”
With the possibility of a no-go looming, Miles cut back Ridley’s reps in practice by mixing in more touches for backs like Ford and Blue in the process.
“We give (Ridley) the things that we think he absolutely needs to have to be able to play in a game,” Miles said.
When asked to compare his situation with that at Ohio State, where six players suspended for accepting improper benefits will sit out games next season but still play in the Sugar Bowl against Arkansas, Miles backed away.
“I only know Stevan’s (issues), and I can only tell you he is going to do everything he can to make a great appeal,” Miles said. “I don’t know that the guys that sold their memorabilia are comparable to a guy who just took a test and is trying to get a degree.”