spkm_1130_LSU_v_TexasAM-8

LSU Tigers running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire (22) looks for a hole in the Texas A&M Aggies defense to run through during the Southeastern Conference matchup at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on Saturday, November 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Lake Charles American Press, Kirk Meche)

The passing option for the re-tooled LSU RPO offense this year was pretty much ready to go as soon as the Tigers unwrapped their new toy.

Plug it in — boom — receivers were running open long into the night and quarterback Joe Burrow was an instant Heisman candidate.

It took a little longer to get the running game app to cooperate.

Once it came online, however, the school offensive records starting falling and Burrow is now the odds-on favorite the win the school's second Heisman trophy.

Early on it was a tad awkard, slow-developing and full of stutter-steps that had fans occasionally longing for the quick strike of one of Les Miles' toss sweeps.

It surprised Burrow.

"We started off the season and we weren't running the ball very well," he said "Then about Game 4 or Game 5, we started really rolling on the ground.

It took patience to get where Burrow says defenses now have to "pick their poison." And mostly a whole of Clyde Edwards-Helaire.

Whether Edwards-Helaire just blossomed late as a junior or just needed a different offense that was perfect for his skill set is up for debate.

But there's no doubt he was the final piece of the puzzle to LSU's scorched-earth approach to offense.

He's fourth in the SEC in rushing at 102.8 yards per game, close on the heels of backs from three teams that don't throw a lick.

LSU does — a whole lot of them to Edwards-Helaire, who also third on the team with 43 receptions for another 338 yards.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire Game by Game

Game Car-yrds Rec-yrds Total TD
Ga. Southern 9-45 4-31 76 1
at Texas 15-87 4-15 102 1
Northwestern 13-50 0 50 1
at Vanderbilt 14-106 1-1 107 1
Utah State 14-72 1-12 84 0
Florida 13-134 0 134 2
at Miss. State 11-55 2-15 70 0
Auburn 26-136 7-51 187 1
at Alabama 20-103 9-77 180 4
at Ole Miss 23-172 4-22 194 1
Arkansas 6-188 7-65 253 3
Texas A&M 18-78 4-49 121 1
Season 182-1233 43-338 1571 17

"Run game or passing game, he's so versatile in that aspect," Burrow said.

That's the word — maybe why Edwards-Helaire, who has 17 touchdowns by land and air, is a finalist for the Hornung Award that goes to the nation's most versatile player.

"I thought he'd be a good back, no question about it," head coach Ed Orgeron said. "But I don't think anybody thought he'd have the great year that he's had."

You want to perfectly sum up Edwards-Helaire's expectations vs. contributions?

Late in the third quarter against Arkansas with the game well in hand and many starters pulled, the coaches realized he needed one more yard to get 100 for the game.

Just one carry, one yard, then have a seat — and he promptly busted off an 89-yard touchdown run.

"He's exceeded all of our expectations ... except maybe Clyde's," Orgeron admited. That a credit to him, to (running backs coach) Tommie Robinson. But mostly to Clyde."

But nobody can accuse him of stat padding. He's had his biggest games on the biggest stages, most notably 180 combined yards and four touchdowns in LSU's signature victory over Alabama. It was his touchdown reception that put the Tigers up 33-13 just before halftime; it was his twisting 7-yard run that broke two tackles to put the game away late.

Against the two best defenses LSU has seen up to now, he ran for 134 yards against Florida and 136 against Auburn.

"I think is the best back in the country," Burrow said. "I think he's excelled in the passing game. You have to put a linebacker on him because he'll run the ball so well. I don't think there's a linebacker in the country that can cover him."

"I would say I became more patient," Edwards-Helaire said. ‘I became more of a smart runner, being able to read the things I need to see and not just running."

Few envisioned it working out that way.

He was just a 3-star recruit out of Catholic High School in Baton Rouge trying to keep up the program's legacy of recent names like Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice.

He was also too short — just 5-9 — and LSU had two incoming 5-star freshmen running backs this year that better fit the profile. Most figured it was only a matter of time before one or both would take over the LSU backfield.

Tyrion Davis-Price's and John Emery's days will come, no doubt.

But for now, Edwards-Helaire will just keep proving the doubters wrong.

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