Updated: May 24
LSU 2020 RUNNING BACKS PREVIEW:
THE BEST PASSING GAME IN CFB BOOSTED BY
THE BEST RUNNING BACKS IN CFB?
By LONN PHILLIPS
THE WAY FORWARD / ODE TO #22
📷 As LSU’s ultrasexy passing game attracts new recruits, a litany of bandwagon fans, and a revamped tradition of high octane offense in the Bayou, outside spectators may believe the Tigers running back is on the verge of total extinction... In the wake of Joe Burrow‘s record 60 TD passes, our NFL-ready receivers posting over 6,000 yards in a single 15 game schedule, and the hiring of Joe Brady / Jorge Munoz for top jobs in the NFL / CFB, the reputation of LSU's aerial threat is at an all-time high...but the success of the passing game is intrinsically a good thing for the battle in the trenches, too.
Eschewing any "fluke" tags, LSU aim to do it again with new machine Arik Gilbert at tight end, returning receiverfreaks Ja'Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall out wide, and the pure arm of Burrow-disciple Myles Brennan leading the symphonic charge.
But for those who’ve always favored the ground and pound at the goal line or the 4th and 1 QB sneak, don’t you fret:
Yes, this passing game has become so remarkably filthy it’s turned LSU analysts into assistant coaches...a rarity which will soon become a theme in Baton Rouge....but I ask you all: Would that title ring be snug around LSU’s raised middle fingers without Clyde Edwards-Helaire? Now, before we all get carried away and go crazy, just remember how profound the pre-2019 hype was for freshmen running back trio John Emery Jr, Tyrion Davis Price, and Chris Curry...I barely heard Clyde's name before the season. Anytime I mentioned Clyde Edwards-Helaire in my pieces or comments to anyone, it was met with "you gotta see Emery Jr or TDP or Curry" and believe me, I get why. John Emery Jr specifically sprang to life from that wonderful footage where, in his first ever carry at an LSU practice, he ripped the entirety of the 2019 title-winning defense to pieces...shattering the egos of six or seven guys on his way to the end zone. Emery captured the imagination, just as Ty Davis Price and Chris Curry quickened our heart rates...yet when the season began, Clyde Edwards-Helaire ascended to a heathen-born netherworld where only LSU legends are found.
#22 took complete control and, alongside Joe Burrow, CEH seized LSU's destiny as the greatest team in history, becoming the best back in the country and the most unstoppable offensive weapon in the game.
You could also argue Clyde enjoyed the greatest season of any running back outside of Reggie Bush circa 2005:
Clyde spun every top defense into a shallow grave, flying over, under, around, and through Saban's top ranked unit, bending the squad of projected NFL draft picks over one knee and slapping them in front of their mothers.
No...LSU probably doesn't outlast Alabama without Clyde’s 4 touchdowns and we definitely don't spring out to a 33-13 halftime lead without his G.O.A.T 1st half; in the merciless stalemate against Auburn, we needed every one of #22's moves to drain Kevin Steele's defense, and in the national championship game, we would've found it more difficult to cut into Clemson’s 10 point lead through the air alone... After the 1st quarter against Clemson, this LSU team threw the ball to an omnipotent degree...but in the first fifteen minutes, Clemson cornerback A.J Terrell looked great, getting his hands in on the receivers and deflecting many Burrow passes.
It wasn't until Edwards-Helaire drained the resources of Brent Venables' D when the game truly became LSU's Festival of Champions and Clemson's Circus of Shame, while Ja'Marr Chase / Terrace Marshall directed the A.J Terrell snuff film.
As for an indication of where the offense is headed in the post-Burrow / post-CEH era, 2020 looks to be an obvious continuation of the strident, deceptively multi-faceted offensive attack from Coach Ensminger, a minor, but key detail lost on many who've covered Orgeron's Tigers.
For those who feel LSU were a pass-only team last year...for those lazy "journalists" who think LSU will have a hard time trying to find a balance under Myles Brennan...I have some news for you:
In 2019, our juggernaut offense ran the ball significantly more than the talking heads and analysts realize, throwing on 567 occasions while running a staggering 513 times....with Edwards-Helaire duly obliging as he put on a season-long clinic.
No that's not a statistical anomaly, this RPO spread attack had a pass-run ratio of 188 to 184 at the time of the Florida game...the recipe to the G.O.A.T offense's success was balance:
Ensminger's attack is less reliant on the Joe Brady Expressway than many analysts, fanalysts, or fundits want to believe...the balanced execution of the RPO attack, coupled with the illustrious personnel Ensminger and Linehan could deploy, is altogether an intoxicating combination that should excite every LSU fan with a soul coming into 2020: Last year, LSU would pass to run, run to pass, then mix it all up in a jar with a hive of hornets, drink it down, and spit it out at every opponent:
Because of this nonstop unpredictability, from the venom of our trench warfare and bludgeoning RPO sets to the vertical horizons Burrow, Chase, Marshall & Moss reached, a speedster like Edwards-Helaire was always geauxing to burn opponents on the outside.
Now...through his majestic brilliance, Clyde Edwards-Helaire has carved out the blueprint for every future Tigers running back to follow:
Clyde was the prototype in this new evolution of the LSU Running back: multi-dimensional, vicious, fast as hell, explosive in the burst...and most of all, physically / emotionally violent in the run.
And these newbies are already learning from #22:
During 2019's 3rd and 4th quarters, we witnessed Jugular Jeaux Burrow geaux full-on Hannibal Lecter, repeatedly building such unassailable leads he enabled our future starters to feature exclusively, sometimes for a quarter and a half.
Additionally for our future running backs, receivers and offensive linemen, there were random plays across the entire championship-winning campaign to prove oneself, with running backs Chris Curry, John Emery Jr or Davis-Price grabbing significant game time....
....And they'll have their chance in 2020 to impress their new coach, Kevin Faulk: the greatest LSU running back of them all.
COACH O'S "FULL CIRCLE STAFF"
COME ON DOWN: KEVIN FAULK
Now, with running backs coach Tommie Robinson joining Dave Aranda, Joe Brady and Jorge Munoz out the door, a far more liberating situation opens up here in Baton Rouge for these new specimen at running back: Having passed his wisdom on to LSU legend and 3x Super Bowl Champion Kevin Faulk, Robinson leaves the running backs corps at LSU in an even better standing than when he arrived:
Thanks to Tommie's generous sharing of his decades-old secrets, Faulk undoubtedly learned plenty under Robinson and is more than ready for the position he was tailored for. Now is the time for Kevin Faulk, a man who rescued the program in the doldrums of the 90s, ignited a recruiting hotbed in the Bayou, and nearly won multiple Super Bowls singlehandedly in his HOF NFL career....this is a man who breathes, fights, and bleeds LSU.
In his role as the Director of Player Development since 2018, Faulk has done a damn good job, not to mention he's already well acquainted with these 2020 starters, most of them new blood when Faulk first took over as the DPD. I could tell you a million reasons why Faulk is the perfect man for the job, though it has to be the man's character which attains top billin'.
Despite Tommie's departure to SEC West "rivals" A&M (Tommie arranged plenty in the recruiting department as well), we're forever grateful to Coach Robinson and excited for the hair of the dawg mentality Coach Faulk will bring on a daily basis. Thanks to Faulk's untouchable pedigree, our trio of sophomore running backs (all recruited by the legendary Robinson) will get over the grizzled genius's absence quickly: The chance to learn from the best ever Tigers' running back (a holder of 12 school records) should persuade Emery, Curry, Kevontre Bradford and Davis-Price to buy in 100%, with all four eager to impress the former Patriots Super Bowl Champ.
Faulk's promotion arrives hot on the heels of the Brady / Aranda replacements, the appointments mired in serendipity: Pelini and Faulk are returning to their roots in Baton Rouge, Linehan is the new "kid" on the block bringing experience and enthusiasm, and all are right for LSU, all are primed for the job...and Kevin Faulk is no exception:
This is Coach O's "Full Circle Staff".
As the new RBs' coach, Faulk will demand aggressive attention to detail from all four at his command, hoping their bloodthirsty competitive drive will travel from Spring practices and land firmly on the game-day field come Saturdays in September and beyond.
So, with the starting spot truly up for grabs coming into Spring practice, all four backs will need to give everything if they want to play...
Because of this uber-competition, 2020's regular season should be rife with our RBs deleting opponents and violently plowing through anyone in their path as if these defenders were children in the way of Harvey Weinstein and a cake.....so...without further adieu, let's meet our running backs:
JOHN EMERY JR.
INTANGIBLES: 9.5/10 Once the Zapruder-esque footage of John Emery Jr eviscerating LSU's 2019 defense made the rounds, we all collectively knew our minds had been blown worse than a coked-out Bradley Cooper at a Tijuana donkey show.
Here was a legally blind freshman erasing future 1st and 2nd round NFL draft picks as if they were the mongoloid cave-children of Prince Andrew...obviously, we just had to know more. Soon enough, John Emery Jr became the most hotly discussed running back in college football, listed as the 2nd best running back in the country and 15th overall player in the 2019 recruiting class (according to 247 Sports...and I agree)....thanks UGA, we owe you one. Emery was a valued member of the 2019 LSU Tigers, however he featured less than Tyrion Davis-Price and Chris Curry after concerns for his safety due to his impaired vision and his lack of knowledge in the offense:
Despite the Utah State game showing Emery's best performance in a Tigers uniform, he was sent packing after he missed a backfield block, Burrow screaming in a fury at his coaches to get Emery the "f**k outta the game" and soon after, John found his non-4th quarter opportunities cut to a minimum....Tyrion Davis-Price or Chris Curry were favored instead. Still, much of Emery's freshman struggles can be easily explained:
After the national title victory, it became widespread public knowledge that John Emery Jr had a surgery on the damaged eye he'd dealt with for much of his young football career, and this operation may be the key to opening the floodgates for the Bayou Blur. While he's already shown supernatural vision and the understanding of how to manipulate collapsing gaps with only a single eye, it's impossible to imagine the class Emery will have in the backfield and second level with two. When we think about Emery's prospects, we get delirious just thinking about his potential:
Let's look at his long 39 yard touchdown run vs Arkansas as a prime example of vicious, unsurpassed running back antics:
He receives the ball in the backfield just as left guard Ed Ingram misses a block and allows an Arkansas LB inside with a free shot at Emery.
When you freeze the frame, the play looks lost before it's begun, yet herein lies the magic of #4:
The sophomore, knowing the block isn't coming, lowers his pads and buries the LB into submission, creating his own alley by barreling through the slapstick Hogs defender (who shall remain nameless cause he was just left faceless) before Emery twists to his right, and stretches the play into the stratosphere. Watch his absolute elevation into the secondary as he accelerates faster than a Clemson fan at a Mastodon show on meth; The Bayou Blur may have found his chances to shine limited due to his blotchy vision;
But with one eye, "Double Vision" still had 3 touchdowns (one in the Peach Bowl vs Oklahoma), 188 total rushing yards from 38 carries, three rushes of 20+ yards, and averaging nearly 6 yards per carry in the two games he ran the ball most (8-9 attempts each vs Utah State and Vanderbilt). Emery also displayed his capable versatility as a safety valve, catching 6 passes for 60 yards, beating the fastest linebackers or safeties around the edge in the process and turning negative plays into positive, workmanlike gains. When we analyze all of Emery's attributes and limitless ceiling, do we see the next challenger to Edwards-Helaire's throne?
Utilizing his restored vision, breathtaking finesse, and ringing endorsements from so many LSU luminaries, Emery could very well be the next explosive, legendary Tigers back.
We will delve more into Emery Jr within the coming months, although...
You better buckle your seatbelts Tigers fans: in 2020, this guy is ready to take us on a highly entertaining, defensively-comical ride to touchdown heaven.
SPEED: 8.5/10 ACCELERATION: 8/10 AGILITY: 8.5/10 VISION: 8.5/10 PHYSICALITY: 9.5/10 CATCHING: 8/10 INTANGIBLES: 8/10
Geauxing for 6 touchdowns, 295 rushing yards for an average of 4.2 per carry, Tyrion Davis-Price made some fantastic contributions over the course of the 2019 season: During his freshman campaign, TDP contributed brightly vs Auburn (35 yards total) before the fragile emotional state of big-time SEC competition led Davis-Price to commit a 15 yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, negating his 13 yard screen, and curtailing a crucial LSU drive in a game decided by 3 points. That ”taunting” flag from TDP cost him minutes in 2019, and with three freshmen backups, Coach O looked to Clyde Edwards-Helaire nonstop and found no reason to take any chances. At every turn, this coaching staff knew what they were doing: As good as Davis-Price is, we had the best running back in the country in #22, and we didn’t need these 15 yard shenanigans:
We had a national title to win. TDP had to learn from that harsh experience
(half the LSU bench, staff, players, and fans losing their minds at him in unison)...once again, here was another opportunity for a young Tiger to atone for their team and themselves, proving they belonged:
Weeks later, in an equally critical contest in the SEC, then-freshman Davis-Price responded with a gut-busting score vs Florida, sealing the game-winning touchdown on the ground with his 33 yard burst into the end zone, untouched as the Gators lay stranded in their destitute existence some yards behind in the ether of Death Valley.
And just like that, the real TDP stood up.
Davis-Price's cameos came packaged in a brutish, mutant finesse full of agility, patiently swiveling hips, and the powerful impact and drive of his lowered shoulders pummeling the withered ruins of an A&M, Florida or Auburn defender.
The electricity he provided the team upon entry is what catches the eye most, such as his punishment of Kenneth Murray Jr in the Peach Bowl: In lighting up one of the most athletic linebackers in the country, Davis-Price elevated his game to demoralize the competition:
Tyrion doesn't just run for his life, he runs to take yours. You have a feeling TDP, just like Emery, could dance and bide his time for a millennia before finally bursting forth for a 60 yard scamper...
Both TDP and John Emery have an intangible awareness within collapsing gaps, the pair maneuvering and extending the play until they've invented their own path...
Trailblazing backs are spooky and they are rare...
LSU has three guys who have these assets in one area code, one locker room, one team, one heartbeat...and with these guys under Kevin Faulk, it's geauxin' to get outta hand, man. But much like Coach Faulk and Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Jeremy Hill, Nick Brossette, Derrius Guice, Leonard Fournette, Billy Cannon or Dalton Hilliard (any great LSU running back, really) this trio of LSU sophomores all know how to lower the shoulder and plow defenders out of the way....
Meanwhile, the chameleonic Bernie Madoff brutality of TDP's running style is only bested by one other among them:
SPEED: 8/10 ACCELERATION: 8.5/10 AGILITY: 9.5/10 VISION: 9.0 PHYSICALITY: 10/10 CATCHING: 8.5/10
“I truly believe in my heart I’m the best running back around here, and I’m the best running back in the United States..."
- Chris Curry 2019
In the lead-up to the Oklahoma game, the major question should've been "Can LSU score 100 points on the Sooners"; instead, the No Fun Media's corporate buy-out headlines focused on Clyde Edwards-Helaire's health.
The best running back in the country tore his hamstring only days after the awards ceremonies, throwing Clyde's future availability for either the semi-final (or title game) in serious doubt. With LSU's offensive attack seemingly reliant on the speedster, either in the air or the ground, this had to be bad news for LSU....right? Thanks to Chris Curry, those doubting LSU's backups were proven horribly wrong. Coming into the 2019 Peach Bowl (much like the 2020 season), many suspected John Emery Jr or Tyrion Davis-Price would assume the starting role, maybe even sharing the spot; Instead, the 15th rated running back in the country out of Lehigh High School took full control and dealt unbridled punishment unto Oklahoma's emasculated defense. Chris Curry took the brunt of the carries in the Peach Bowl, rampaging the Sooners up the gut and torching Alex Grinch's "men" on the stretch gives, lowering his pads into all-comers, most shying away from Curry's feverish contact as if he had leprosy: Whether you wanted a hit from Curry or not, he was comin'....this swift Charles Bronson-ing of Oklahoma had to be exactly how Coach Orgeron, RBs coach Tommie Robinson, and OC Steve Ensminger drew it up. Rushing for 90 yards from 16 carries, our freshman sensation took control of proceedings, exploding out of the backfield with a rugged pace and sensational swagger, Curry's dreadlocks flowing as he de-faced all in his way, leaving scores of Sooners hobbled in his wake. The Peach Bowl is a perfect lesson for what we should expect for 2020: Expect nothing... With three top class backs vying for a single starting spot, and a fourth, largely unknown contender out of Texas, the best man will win out...
Predicting who that will be is never an exact science, still Curry's heart, confidence, and football IQ were the biggest reasons he secured his place in LSU's backfield prior to such a critical game. Emery and TDP weren't trusted in that moment, yet Chris Curry was... How will his powerhouse performance vs Oklahoma position him on the roster??? The fact that Curry possesses nearly the same attributes as the two previous running backs, minus some of the more supernatural qualities of Emery, sets him on equal footing. Apart from those two, Curry displays far more power and intensity in the burst, he's far more comfortable being split out wide (Burrow and Brennan motioning Curry out of the backfield vs Oklahoma on many occasions), and has proven himself to be more than adequate in protection. We feel, given his confidence, his experience and the coaching staff's previous belief in his abilities, the #1 spot may be Chris Curry's to lose.
SPEED: 9/10 ACCELERATION: 9.5/10 AGILITY: 8/10 VISION: 8/10 PHYSICALITY: 7.5/10 CATCHING: 8/10 Stealing this 4-star recruit from the clutches of Ohio State, Arkansas and Wisconsin was paramount to LSU's 2020 class. As the lone running back from our post-championship group, Bradford's capture was imperative in preserving our roster's depth on the ground.
More than his mere presence, Kevontre Bradford may be LSU's most dangerous back in between the tackles.
With his lean muscle and room to bulk into a 200+ lb back over the next few years, the Lancaster High School master is definitely an elite talent who flew under the radar. Kevontre has complete speed and vision, forcing his way through the tiniest of gaps and then.....with that type of open-field pace, he's gone.
Sure, Texas high school defenses are a bit lacking these days in the speed department, still, take nothing away from a guy who scored most of his 42 rushing touchdowns leaving defenders forty yards in the dust.
Kevontre is a fantastic addition to a RBs corps short on depth and brimming with talent;
Although with 25 total receptions, 3 touchdowns and over 300 yards in the receiving category during a 3 year span at the high school level, 2020 may not be Bradford's year on the big stage unless we see his sudden drastic improvement as a multi-dimensional option....which I'll never rule any Tiger out...prove em all wrong Kevontre.
PROJECTED ROSTER ORDER
#1: JOHN EMERY With his vision now stabilized, Emery must be given the keys to the kingdom to fully reach his stratospheric potential. "The Bayou Blur" could very well be the next special one.
#2: CHRIS CURRY Although Curry's experience, confidence and dual-threat abilities may provide him with an edge over his fellow sophomores, we think his hesitation in the backfield may drop the Lehigh High School product behind Emery.
#3: TYRION DAVIS-PRICE TDP isn't deficient in any area, though what Curry and Emery provide is perfectly-tailored for the high-flying, multiple-theater attack of the Tigers.
#4: KEVONTRE BRADFORD Though 2020 may come too soon for the Texan, at the least Bradford maintains a stellar big-play aptitude Coach Ensminger will utilize at varying points in the season...the sky's the limit. by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN GEAUX TIGERS!
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