Who’s behind Clyde Edwards-Helaire? Meet the next running back options LSU has in the Peach Bowl

ATLANTA — Music blasted inside the LSU locker room, thumping the upbeat rhythm that matched the euphoria of winning the Southeastern Conference Championship Game.

Tyrion Davis-Price and John Emery sat side-by-side near the front door, two true freshmen running backs watching their teammates dance and smile and embrace.

“It’s so early,” said Davis-Price, considering the experience in his first year at LSU. “I’ve dreamed of moments like this. Just to really be experiencing it, like I said, we’re not done. This is just a taste of it. But like just to experience this very moment, it’s a dream come true.”

LSU arrives in Atlanta for the Peach Bowl; Clyde Edwards-Helaire travels with the team

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It was so early. It was just a taste.

Davis-Price had only carried the ball four times for 10 yards in LSU’s 37-10 win over Georgia.

But he and Emery could not know that in a matter of weeks, they’d be thrust toward the top of the depth chart in the middle of the College Football Playoff, when LSU’s starting running back, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, would suffer a hamstring injury in a bowl practice.

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“He leads by example,” Emery said of Edwards-Helaire in the locker room that night. “He knows the right things to say and that being a likeable person, that can get you far in life. That’s what he taught us. He keeps our heads straight, even though when we mess up, he let us know what he’s been through and what he messed up.”

And then Edwards-Helaire strutted into the room, his 5-foot-8, 209-pound frame doing a little jig as he stepped through his teammates toward his locker.

“Speaking of Clyde,” Emery said.

For two schools known for their football, LSU and Oklahoma have been mighty infrequent gridiron opponents. Saturday’s Peach Bowl matchup betwe…

Yes, speaking of Clyde.

The Baton Rouge native who leads the SEC with 16 rushing touchdowns is still questionable to play for No. 1 LSU (13-0) in the Peach Bowl semifinal against No. 4 Oklahoma (12-1) on Saturday.

Last Tuesday, Edwards-Helaire suffered a hamstring injury during a team drill in practice, multiple sources told The Advocate, and the severity of the injury wasn’t immediately known at the time.

Since then, Orgeron said “Clyde’s a little bit better.” The running back is off crutches, off a scooter, and Orgeron said “we’re going to see if he can do something” in Tuesday’s bowl practice in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The practice will be at about 10:40 a.m. Central, and the first 15 minutes will be open to the media.

“It’s going to be a day-by-day deal,” Orgeron said Monday at the Hyatt Regency in Atlanta. “But I promise you this: it’s a little bit better than what I thought last week. He has a chance to play. I don’t know if he’s going to play. It’ll be day-by-day.”

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Edwards-Helaire is a key piece in LSU’s record-breaking offense, which ranks third nationally with 47.8 points per game and first nationally with 554.3 yards of total offense per game.

His 1,290 rushing yards rank 16th nationally; but its his versatility that Orgeron said will be missed most.

Edwards-Helaire is LSU’s third-leading receiver, and he has recorded 50 catches for 399 yards and a touchdown — tied for the most receptions ever by a running back in school history (Gary James, 1985).

“Clyde, he did everything well,” Orgeron said. “He ran inside, ran outside and caught the football. We’re going to have to adjust if Clyde doesn’t play. Rotate those backs to do what they can do best.”

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And just who are those other backs?

Orgeron repeatedly used the phrase “all three of them” when talking about LSU’s options behind Edwards-Helaire.

The three: Davis-Price, Emery and redshirt freshman Chris Curry.

None are as versatile as Edwards-Helaire; the trio has combined for 18 catches for 148 yards.

But Orgeron said they still have enough versatility to avoid being predictable on offense, enough to keep Oklahoma’s defense on edge.

“I don’t think they know our backs like we do,” Orgeron said.

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Curry is a “very bruising back,” Orgeron said, a player that the head coach once compared to Marshawn Lynch. The 6-foot, 215-pound Florida native’s power was probably most visible when he steamrolled former LSU safety Kenan Jones during LSU’s spring game in March.

Curry, who has 30 carries for 101 yards in 2019, has yet to have a breakout game for the Tigers, although he’s never carried the ball more than six times in his 10 total career games.

If Edwards-Helaire were to be unavailable against Oklahoma, the brunt would most likely be on Davis-Price and Emery — a tandem that has combined for 452 yards rushing and nine touchdowns this season.

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LSU running back John Emery Jr. (4) leaps over Utah State safety Troy Lefeged Jr. (3) on the carry in the first half, Saturday, October 5, 2019, at LSU’s Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La.

Emery was the Destrehan High graduate, the son of a former Tennessee defensive end and one of the biggest gems of Orgeron’s 2019 recruiting class. Emery was the highest-rated running back to sign with LSU since Leonard Fournette, and Orgeron had to flip him from his commitment to Georgia.

Orgeron said Emery “has the ability to break the long one,” although he had some problems fumbling the football earlier in the season that cost him playing time. It’s why Orgeron held him out of the Texas game, and Emery did fumble fighting for extra yardage against Utah State.

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But Emery has not fumbled in a game since, and he showed his speed with a 39-yard touchdown run in LSU’s 56-20 win over Arkansas.

The former five-star recruit also didn’t see the field very often because Edwards-Helaire was extremely effective. The junior had a six-game stretch from Florida until Arkansas where he rushed for 786 yards and nine touchdowns.

“We’re so tight as a running back corps,” Emery said after the SEC Championship Game. “We can’t trip because we’re winning games and we succeed. As far as a whole team, we made sure that nobody is every down. We don’t have that one unhappy person on the team, and that’s what it’s about. If you all come together as a team, you’re going to succeed.”

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LSU running back Tyrion Davis-Price (3) is tripped up by Ole Miss defensive back Jay Stanley (28) as he scores a touchdown in the first half, Saturday, November 16, 2019, at Ole Miss’ Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Miss.

Davis-Price, Orgeron said, has “been the most consistent back” outside of Edwards-Helaire.

He’s the thunder to Emery’s lightning, Orgeron said, who can run the ball both up the middle and get to the outside.

He’s been LSU’s goal line power back, rushing for a touchdown within five yards in each of the final three regular season games. But he’s also shown bursts of speed, such as his 33-yard touchdown run that was the go-ahead score in LSU’s 42-28 win over Florida.

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The 6-foot-1, 226-pound Baton Rouge native was the nation’s No. 8-ranked running back coming out of Southern Lab, according to 247Sports.

Davis-Price wears one eye-black strip during games — an homage, he said, to former LSU safety Tyrann Mathieu, the player that made Davis-Price want to play for the Tigers.

Davis-Price watched Mathieu become a Heisman finalist in 2011, making highlight-reel plays that helped lead the Tigers to the national championship game.

“That’s what I came here to do,” Davis-Price said after the SEC Championship Game, unaware of the role that was coming. “It’s what I came for, for moments like this.”

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