LSU's new passing game is all the rage, but don't sleep on Clyde Edwards-Helaire's impact
Somewhere between watching Clyde Edwards-Helaire flash the “Horns Down” after scampering in for a 2nd half touchdown and watching him put Texas defenders in the spin cycle on Saturday, it hit me.
Edwards-Helaire is the perfect back for this new LSU offense.
And yes, while the high-flying, downfield-throwing, spread-it-out offense is all the rage in Baton Rouge, what Edwards-Helaire brings to the table shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s just a tad different than giving Derrius Guice or Leonard Fournette 30 carries in a given game.
That might be an afterthought coming a game in which LSU had its first 400-yard passer in 18 years and the Tigers had 3 receivers hit 100 yards in the same game for the first time in program history. The defining moment of that game was Joe Burrow’s 3rd-and-17 pass to Justin Jefferson that turned into the dagger that sank the No. 9 Longhorns in Austin.
But amidst all the passing game excitement, Edwards-Helaire had his coming out party in this new offense with 102 yards from scrimmage. He’s proving to be the do-it-all back who’s built to thrive in Joe Brady’s system. As Josh Lemoine pointed out on Twitter, Edwards-Helaire is being used like Mark Ingram was while Brady was with the New Orleans Saints.
You see, modern offenses do a couple of things that LSU fans might not be used to. They still operate out of the shotgun in short-yardage situations and they use the running backs in the passing game as an extension of the ground attack.
Edwards-Helaire does exactly those things:
Film study of #LSU’s new Spread/RPO Offense reveals the full capabilities of Clyde Edwards-Helaire.
At times over-looked, CEH runs extremely hard and keeps his legs moving at all cost. Catches very well.
Clyde seems to be taking the Mark Ingram role with Joe Brady on board… pic.twitter.com/Tlo89QxiEb
— Josh Lemoine (@LsuFBallTruth) September 5, 2019
Want a crazy stat? After his 4-catch game against Texas, Edwards-Helaire is up to 8 catches through 2 games. The first time Fournette and Guice topped 1,000 yards rushing, they finished the year with 7 and 9 catches, respectively. In their LSU career, Guice had 1 game of 4-plus catches and Fournette had 3.
Edwards-Helaire’s role as a feature back is far different than Fournette, Guice or LSU great Jacob Hester.
We had Hester on The SDS Podcast ahead of last week’s showdown in Austin and he admitted that as someone who operated out of a phone booth, he wouldn’t be able to succeed in this, spread, RPO-based system.
No I-formation? No single-back, double-tight end sets? Getting the ball without a running start?
But a back like Edwards-Helaire doesn’t need those things to make his presence felt. Something Hester and Edwards-Helaire have in common is how they keep their legs churning for extra yardage.
Combine that motor with that spin move …
— Cam Mellor (@PFF_Cam) September 7, 2019
No wonder 5-star tailback John Emery didn’t even get a touch against Texas. That’s not a knock on the talented freshman, either. But in a season in which some expected LSU to have a bit more of a committee approach, here’s the breakdown of LSU running backs and their touches from scrimmage through 2 games:
By the way, can we just take note of the fact that 5 (!) LSU running backs have a catch through 2 games. Insane.
It’s not surprising that Edwards-Helaire is so comfortable in this system. It’s what he ran at Catholic High School (Baton Rouge, La.). He was recruited as an all-purpose back, which certainly had something to do with his frame (he was listed as 5-7, 191 pounds as a recruit). But Edwards-Helaire did — and still does — everything.
In Catholic’s victory in the 2015 Louisiana Class 5A Championship, Edwards-Helaire caught 8 passes for a record 161 yards while adding 88 on the ground en route to the Most Outstanding Player honor. In his spare time, Edwards-Helaire also returns kicks and pass blocks like his job depends on it.
Check that. After 2 seasons of returning kicks, he’s not doing that anymore as LSU’s feature back, but he’s still pass blocking like his job depends on it. Or like LSU’s season depends on it.
On that aforementioned 3rd-and-17 throw that Burrow made, Edwards-Helaire was lined up next to him in the shotgun. Many (myself included) thought that Edwards-Helaire was about to get a carry on some of draw play. Or perhaps LSU would draw up a quick screen to the shifty tailback.
Nah. That wasn’t the plan at all.
Instead, LSU split 4 receivers out wide with Edwards-Helaire as the lone back. As expected, Texas sent 6 pass-rushers, including 245-pound linebacker Jeffrey McCullough, who came untouched through LSU’s line. Edwards-Helaire’s job? Step up, lower his shoulder and make sure he doesn’t lay a hand on Burrow. Mission accomplished:
On 3rd-and-17 in the 4th quarter, Joe Burrow and Justin Jefferson did THIS. pic.twitter.com/uf95gKNdAp
— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) September 8, 2019
Edwards-Helaire said afterward that he’ll remember that throw for the rest of his life and that he’ll “take it to his grave.” Surely plenty of LSU fans can relate to that.
Without Edwards-Helaire making that block, though, that play could have easily resulted in a sack and possibly given Texas an opportunity to pull off the comeback.
In a way, that sort of summed up what Edwards-Helaire’s role is going to be with LSU’s offense. The days of workhorse, 30-carry feature backs are a thing of the past at LSU. He’s not going to be the star of the offense, and he might not score the touchdown that some will “take to their grave.”
But Edwards-Helaire is all sorts of valuable in the 2019 version of LSU. “All-purpose” is the perfect way to define him. By season’s end, Edwards-Helaire wouldn’t mind if he was defined in another way.
“Key championship piece.”