By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Today, we get one step closer to the end of our countdown......
Which LSU Tigers will lead the way as LSU Odyssey's top two Tigers of 2021?
Much like last season's Top 10 Tigers of 2020 list, we were forced to analyze a season which will live on as a dangerous time for LSU, a scary year full of uncertainty and disappointment....
However, through it all, certain Tigers treated fans to individual brilliance at an elite level, showing out for the Tigers Community in our darkest, most desperate hours of need.
Who stepped up when LSU needed them most?
We reveal our Best IX Tigers of 2021.....
And we reach the penultimate Tiger on our list at II, a proud Baton Rouge native who stands as one of the most underrated & wildly doubted Tigers in recent memory, as well as one of our toughest...
TY DAVIS-PRICE (RB)
1,004 Rushing Yards (1st)
211 Carries (1st)
4.8 Avg (1st, min. of 16 att.)
6 Rushing TDs (1st, 2nd Overall) .
Amid LSU's first 5 games of 2021, Jake Peetz's offense failed to register a single 100 yard rusher, even having trouble gaining 100 yards as a group:
From Week 1-5, LSU's entire running backs unit only hit 100 yards once, while rushing for under 50 yards on 3 separate occasions...
It was abysmal.....only Corey Kiner's 72 yards, against in-state minnows McNeese, gave LSU any thrust, all as the Tigers' offensive line sustained injuries, constantly missed assignments, and worst of all, appeared out of shape & even defeated:
Throughout 2021's first stretch, Ed Orgeron's offensive staff started, benched, tried to replace, and inevitably were forced to rely on third year National Champion Ty Davis-Price.
Due to main challenger John Emery Jr's 2021 absence (academics), TDP became LSU's much-needed veteran presence within the running back room; Over the next 6 months, from June 2021 to December, Davis-Price's life would change in many ways, and while dealing with family, school and his then-doubted NFL future, TDP handled every moment with class.
From becoming a father for the first time in June to battling mano e mano vs close friend John Emery Jr for LSU's #1 running back job, TDP experienced a wide variety of changes in 2021. During fall camp, after Emery's status grew uncertain by the day, #3 showcased his rising qualities....only to be shut down for crucial practices following an ankle injury.
Across LSU's first 5 games, TDP fought & scrapped alongside his teammates, win or lose, even wincing through pain as he smashed unblocked edge rushers away from QB Max Johnson.
Once Ty's ankle injury fully healed and better blocking schemes were adjusted into the playbook by (of all people) former team trainer Jack Marucci, LSU's running game suddenly erupted against high quality SEC opponents.....with LSU's underrated / constantly doubted junior running back assuming control:
Due to Peetz's obsession using Ty as a backfield pass protector, the former Southern Lab star selflessly battled through LSU's first few games, often standing as the only person between QB Max Johnson and yet another sack....all as Davis-Price's hurt ankle "recovered" through live snaps.
Forced to run through an impotent offensive line, usually meeting 3 or 4 defenders in the LSU backfield when first touching the ball, TDP found nothing but tough sledding through week 5, culminating in a toothless display from LSU's entire offense (sans Boutte & Bech) in a close loss vs Auburn.
But once week 6 @ Kentucky rolled around, Ty dug deep against a strong SEC defense, gathering big chunks of yardage on his way to 147 yards & his first 2 TDs of 2021.
LSU Odyssey recapped that performance and previewed the upcoming Florida game with a prophetic statement: "Ty has always done well against Florida and he loves playing against the Gators..."
What happened on Saturday, October 16th was nothing short of historic, legendary and unforeseen in the annals of LSU Tigers football:
Carrying LSU to a 49-42 victory over top 20 ranked Florida, TDP rushed for an all time single game Tigers record, bleeding Todd Grantham's defense for 287 yards and 3 TDs.
Rushing for 13 first downs, a trio of 3rd down conversions, 6 rushes of 10+ yards, 4 gains over 20 yards, and 11 touches of 5-9, Ty was a human lawnmower, chewing up Gators with intense glee.
"I'm ready to go for another game," Ty quipped during his postgame interview, looking as if he'd hardly broken a sweat.
Immediately, TDP went from largely unknown and unappreciated to undisputed #1, as well as one of LSU's best overall players;
This all time great, 287 yard outburst started rewriting the false narrative some attached to Ty, all after just one afternoon, converting every stone cold doubter into a fan, while every LSU analyst was queuing up to take back their earlier "freshmen should start", "wish we had John", and "#3 is too slow" quotes.
In fact, at one point during 2021, 104.5 ESPN's Matt Moscana implored "Ty is not a #1 running back...."
Beyond his enhanced reputation on the surface, Ty's NFL pedigree exploded, with every interested GM now wondering "was Florida a 'one game wonder'?"
Proving Florida was just the beginning, Ty followed up his legend vs the Gators by rushing for 100+ yards in 2 of his next 3 outings, including 104 yards @ Alabama & 106 vs Arkansas over back to back weeks, becoming just the third LSU running back ever to rush for more than 100 yards on the road at Alabama (Faulk & Clyde).
Ty scored 6 TDs across 3 consecutive appearances, averaged 6.7 yards per carry @ Kentucky, an even 8.0 on the ground vs Florida, 4.5 yards each touch @ Alabama, while also finishing his final season with consecutive 80+ yard games vs ULM & Texas A&M.
Ending his season at 1,004 rushing yards, averaging 4.6 per carry, TDP pulled off a Herculean feat behind such a porous, injury-riddled offensive line constantly shuffling personnel in or out.
Thanks to TE Jack Mashburn supplying a physical, versatile blocking threat throughout LSU's final 6 games, Ty was able to find just enough space & time to reach the second level, doing far more damage in the open field than many predicted or expected.
Ty was often mischaracterized as a slower, power-only running back, yet the truth is far more complex:
While being more physically robust, TDP displayed an effective burst in between the tackles or out on the edge, specifically during his highly successful freshman season.
Ty has rediscovered that early burst, in fact, as he lit up the field during his NFL Pro Day with a 4.48 mark on his 40 yard dash, TDP continues to prove he is still an evolving footballer who's ceiling is far higher than most were able to pinpoint.
When I think back on Ty's LSU Tigers career, I tend to ponder how much he accomplished with little fanfare, rare celebration or kudos.....contributing thankless "dirty work" tasks and doing anything / everything possible to propel his hometown team to victory.....in the end, his junior year's 1,000 yards & broken records is thoroughly earned & deserved cosmic justice for all he'd given & experienced at LSU.
Winning a championship inside the Superdome wearing purple & gold, reaching over 1,000 yards during a single season, rushing for just under 20 TDs, averaging between 4.4 & 4.8 yards per carry each year, producing 6 TDs as a freshman within 2019's G.O.A.T collegiate offense, breaking LSU's all time single-game rushing record vs Florida.....
I don't think people really understand just how incredible an achievement Ty's 1,000 yard 2021 season really is....
Facing top defenses, fronted by an O-line held together by Brad Davis and scotch tape, playing through an ankle injury, battling two highly touted freshman backs....despite all the odds, TDP made his biggest dreams become reality in 2021.
As for Ty himself or those closest to him, they knew he could do this all along....and as he inches closer to the NFL Draft only weeks away, make no mistake, 2021 and 2022 will be remembered as the time he made us all believe.
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By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
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