ATLANTA, GA – Steve Ensminger said this LSU offense is the one he waited 38 years to coach.
Now, with No. 1 LSU only one win away from the national championship game, that special offense has been dealt an unexpected setback. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, the All-Southeastern Conference running back whose versatile skills are vital to the Tigers' attack, could miss Saturday's Peach Bowl playoff semifinal against No. 4 Oklahoma with a hamstring injury.
Edwards-Helaire needed crutches and a scooter to move around last week after hurting his hamstring in practice. He was not seen in the portion of Tuesday's practice that was open to reporters.
After Edwards-Helair did not practice on Monday, coach Ed Orgeron said, “We're going to see if he can do something” on Tuesday. The apparent answer is the junior was not ready to join practice.
Before the practice, Ensminger said he was confident Edwards-Helair will play. Instead, Ensminger may need a backup plan to keep his dream offense on the move. It's no easy assignment for the offensive coordinator, because the LSU spread offense has set a high standard in 2019.
The Tigers lead the nation in total offense. They rank second in passing and third in scoring while producing the Heisman Trophy winner in Joe Burrow and the Biletnikoff Award winner in wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase.
“As an offensive coordinator, you go years — I think it's my 38th year of coaching — to coach a quarterback like Joe and have receivers and running backs like we have," Ensminger said Tuesday. “It's a special year."
A committee led by freshmen Tyrion Davis-Price and John Emery Jr. may take over at running back. The third member of the committee would be Chris Curry.
Edwards-Helaire leads the undefeated Tigers (13-0) with 1,290 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns. Davis-Price ran for 270 yards with six touchdowns.
For all the “next man up” rhetoric tossed about as LSU's coaches and players try to remain optimistic, Edwards-Helaire would be difficult to replace. He's effective as a runner, blocker and receiver. He's also important because he creates opportunities for others in the high-scoring attack.
“Clyde is a running back, but what makes Clyde so good is you can't cover him with the linebacker," Burrow said Tuesday. “Teams have to go dime or put another safety in there, another DB to cover Clyde, and then we can run the ball down and throw it. So Clyde, you know, super versatile and puts a lot of pressure on the defense. We're not going to change our offense if Clyde isn't out there, you know. Our offense is our offense. And those guys will step up, and I know they will, and they work hard for it.
“But Clyde is a big part of it."
Oklahoma defensive coordinator Alex Grinch isn't changing him game plan to cover the LSU's different scenarios at running back.
“I don't think their scheme is going to change based on that," Grinch said. “Obviously, they have a weapon in the backfield that does a great job in the run game, runs downhill. He's quick. He's a weapon in the pass game as well."
Grinch said he has seen film of the other LSU running backs “doing similar roles.”