LSU's Clyde Edwards-Helaire played like he was '6-foot-4 and 270 pounds' at Alabama
BATON ROUGE — Every time LSU coach Ed Orgeron has been asked about tailback Clyde Edwards-Helaire, going back to the summer, he answers the same way.
"You know, Clyde's 6-4, 270," he likes to say.
Orgeron said exactly that on CBS after his Tigers defeated Alabama, 46-41, Saturday in Tuscaloosa. And the 5-foot-9, 212-pound Edwards-Helaire was never closer to that height and weight in spirit, effort, and heart than on that day.
The junior from Catholic High in Baton Rouge rushed 20 times for 103 yards and three touchdowns while catching a career-high nine passes for a career-high 77 yards and a touchdown.
"He has a great mindset about himself," Orgeron continued. "He has the heart of a champion. I am so proud of Clyde."
Then Edwards-Helaire was interviewed on CBS.
"I feel like my heart can't be measured. You know, growing up," Edwards-Helaire said, but he was interrupted by LSU quarterback Joe Burrow.
"YEAH," Burrow yelled as he came up from behind.
"My God, man," Edwards-Helaire said, then continued. "You know, always a lot of doubt as far as us as a team, us as a state. Personally myself, always been talked down — height and everything else. So, being able to help my boys out, it's something unbelievable. This is amazing. I can't wait to get back home."
Edwards-Helaire is correct. It was considered doubtful that he would be LSU's starting tailback this season for very long, if at all. He was expected to be replaced by one of two top recruits signed last February — John Emery Jr., the No. 2 tailback in the nation from Destrehan High according to Rivals.com, or Tyrion Davis-Price, the No. 7 tailback in the nation from Southern Lab High in Baton Rouge.
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But Edwards-Helaire has started all nine games and is No. 7 in the Southeastern Conference in rushing with 786 yards and 11 touchdowns on 135 carries as the No. 1 Tigers (9-0, 5-0 SEC) prepare to play at Ole Miss (4-6, 2-4 SEC) at 6 p.m. Saturday on ESPN. He is LSU's third leading receiver with 28 catches for 202 yards and a touchdown and is No. 2 in the SEC in all-purpose yards with 131.9 a game and No. 3 in kickoff returns with 22.1 yards a game.
Against Alabama, though, Edwards-Helaire played the game of his life with 199 all-purpose yards, including a 19-yard kickoff return. It was the yards after contact on runs and receptions, though, that Orgeron and LSU fans everywhere may remember for years to come.
When LSU faced a critical, third-and-10 play from the Alabama 36-yard line early in the fourth quarter after the Tide had scored back-to-back touchdowns to draw within 33-27, Edwards-Helaire turned what could have been a fourth down into a first down.
While being hit by outside linebacker Anfernee Jennings, Burrow threw while going down to Edwards-Helaire in the flat, and the pass was low. Edwards-Helaire went down and got it and looked like he would come up about five yards short of the first down as cornerback Trevon Diggs converged on him.
But Edwards-Helaire simply ran over and through Diggs and later strong safety Jared Mayden as if he was 6-4 and 270 pounds to get 11 yards and the first down.
"We had a chance to stop them on third-and-10 once," Alabama coach Nick Saban said of the play, though he apparently forgot Edwards-Helaire's name. "We tried to pressure them and didn't get the back covered. Got to give him a lot of credit. He ran through a guy for four or five more yards to get a first down."
Saban's hand hit the podium in frustration at that point.
Burrow rushed on the next play for six yards. Then on first-and-goal from the Alabama 5-yard line, Burrow handed off to Edwards-Helaire, who was hit in the backfield by free safety Xavier McKinney. But Edwards-Helaire broke the tackle with a spin move and cut left for the touchdown and 39-27 lead with 10:07 to play in the game.
Edwards-Helaire added the clinching, 7-yard touchdown run for a 46-34 lead with 1:37 to play. But he wasn't done.
After Alabama cut it to 46-41 with 1:21 left, and LSU recovered the subsequent onside kick, Edwards-Helaire again pushed a pile of potential tacklers for the final several yards of a 12-yard gain for a first down to enable LSU to run out the clock and end the game.
"The play of Clyde Edwards-Helaire as we all know was phenomenal — one of the best efforts I've ever seen from a football player in my 35 years of coaching," Orgeron said at his press conference Monday.
And Orgeron was an assistant at USC when it won national championships in 2003 and '04 with quarterback Matt Leinart and tailback Reggie Bush, who would each win the Heisman Trophy in 2004 and 2005, respectively. He also coached defensive tackle Warren Sapp in 1992 at Miami, and he is coaching the favorite to win the 2019 Heisman now in Burrow.
"I don't know if I have seen a performance like that from a football player in a big game like that," Orgeron said of Edwards-Helaire. "Unbelievable. I can recall Reggie Bush doing things like that. I can recall Warren Sapp dominating some games, but that's right up there with it, man. That was a dominant game."
Edwards-Helaire told the team before the game to "throw your heart on the line, and your body will follow."
Then he did just that.
"Phenomenal saying," Orgeron said. "And that's him. I'm going to say it again. He's 6-4, 270, when he runs that football."
LSU starting right tackle Austin Deculus remains questionable for Saturday's game at Ole Miss after suffering an injury at Alabama.
"He's still very questionable," Orgeron said Wednesday morning on the SEC teleconference.
Orgeron is considering starting senior Badara Traore in Deculus' place at right tackle.