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Let John Emery Cook

The sophomore is clearly LSU’s best running back, but isn’t getting nearly enough touches that his talent demands

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Louisiana State Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

To borrow a baseball expression, LSU has a certified home run hitter in sophomore running back John Emery, but far too often the Tiger offense elects to pinch-hit for him.

Emery is not LSU’s leading rusher in terms of yards or attempts. That would be fellow sophomore Tyrion Davis-Price. But while Davis-Price may be getting the bulk of the work, Emery has shown he’s more productive on a per carry basis.

Davis-Price has 50 carries through four games to Emery’s 39; but with those 11 extra chances, Davis-Price has only managed to compile 22 more yards than Emery, 247 compared to 225. But look a little more closely at these number courtesy of SEC Stat Cat and see how Emery and Davis-Price match up on a per-carry basis.

SEC Stat Cat

See how Emery is averaging almost a full yard more per carry? And that he has more yards both before and after contact than Davis-Price? Or what about the fact that he’s broken more tackles than Davis-Price despite getting 11 fewer carries? Remember, TDP is supposed to be the thumper, and yet Emery has been harder to bring down. In fact check this out, here’s where Emery, the supposed lightning in LSU’s backfield, does best:

John Emery’s yards per carry by direction
SEC Stat Cat

Compared to Davis-Price, the thunder of the tandem:

Tyrion Davis-Price’s yards per carry by direction
SEC Stat Cat

Okay, so Emery seems to be more consistent. But surely Tyrion Davis-Price is more explosive right? Well not exactly.

Yes, Davis-Price’s longest run of the year is 35 yards, while Emery’s season long is 17. But Emery has a higher frequency of explosive runs than Davis-Price. I’ll grant you that the barometer for an explosive play varies from outlet to outlet, but an explosive running play is widely considered a run that goes 10 or more yards. Emery edges out Davis-Price on that one too; nine of Emery’s 39 carries have been considered explosive, compared to only five of Davis-Price’s 50.

Remember Clyde Edwards-Helaire? The diminutive do-it-all dynamo that lined up in the Tiger backfield last year? Of course you do. Edwards-Helaire wound up becoming a first round pick by the Kansas City Chiefs because he was just as good catching the ball as he was on a handoff. Well, catching the ball is another area where Emery is outpacing Davis-Price. Sure it’s only eight receptions compared to three, but Emery is showing he’s LSU’s best option when Myles Brennan or TJ Finley have to dump the ball out of the backfield.

Speaking of Brennan and Finley, you might have noticed that LSU’s quarterback situation is in flux. Brennan’s working his way back from a nasty torn abdominal muscle (ew????) and Finley, while impressive against South Carolina Saturday night, is still a true freshman and may have to start on the road against Auburn. Do I have to point out what happened the last time a true freshman quarterback started at Jordan Hare for LSU?

Look I get the circumstances are entirely different in that game versus this upcoming Saturday. Number one, Jordan Hare will only be a quarter of what it normally is. TJ Finley won’t have to face the fury of nearly 90,000 people, instead it will only be around 18,000. Plus I think we can agree the offense LSU is running now is just a tad bit more dynamic than the one Les Miles and Cam Cameron were running in 2014. And lastly, this would be Finley’s second start compared to Brandon Harris’s first ever start. It sounds simple but it matters.

LSU’s best offensive outing of 2020 was Saturday against South Carolina when they ran the ball 52 times. That overlap is hardly a coincidence. No matter which quarterback—the injured Brennan or freshman Finley— is under center for LSU, doesn’t Ed Orgeron and Steve Ensminger owe it to either one of them to give the ball to the offense’s best back?

Few schools if any have the running back pedigree that LSU does. This program produced Billy Cannon, Charles Alexander, Dalton Hilliard, Kevin Faulk, and Leonard Fournette just to name a few. John Emery has the talent to be every bit as good as any of the truly great LSU running backs, he just needs the coaching staff to give him the appropriate amount of carries that his talent deserves.