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It’s Now or Never for John Emery and Tyrion Davis-Price

The junior running backs have yet to establish themselves and it’s cause for concern

Alabama v LSU Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Of all the things Ed Orgeron said after LSU’s second scrimmage, the most notable was about his top-two running backs, juniors John Emery and Tyrion Davis-Price.

“Tyrion and John have been off and on. We need some consistency out of both of them. And we hadn’t got it really all camp.”

That’s concerning to hear as LSU closed out fall camp and began preparing for Saturday’s season opening game against UCLA (September 4, 7:30 P.M., FOX). Considering how highly touted Emery (No. 2 running back in the 2019 cycle) and Davis-Price (No. 8 in the 2019 cycle) were the fact that, three years later, we’re still waiting for one—or both— to emerge is disappointing especially for a program that has as rich of a history at the running back position.

TDP has averaged 32 yards in 23 games played; Emery averages 29 yards through 19 career games. That’s a far cry for a program that seems to churn out 1,000 yard rushers year after year after year.

But maybe there’s hope on the horizon. Orgeron wants to get back to running the 2019 offense (don’t we all?) and brought in Jake Peetz and DJ Mangas under the recommendation of former passing game coordinator/receivers coach Joe Brady. People who don’t closely follow LSU football think that the offense was only Joe Burrow dropping dimes to Ja’Marr Chase, Justin Jefferson and Terrace Marshall on defenses left and right.

But that’s not quite the case. Go back and look at the numbers, LSU actually had a near 50/50 split run-pass ratio. LSU ran the ball 513 times (34 times a game) and threw 567 passes (37 attempts a game).

Which brings us to why there may be hope for optimism for Emery and Davis-Price in 2021. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, like TDP and Emery, came into the 2019 season with more questions than answers. And he, like TDP and Emery, had two highly touted freshman running backs joining the program (Emery and Davis-Price in 2019, Corey Kiner and Armoni Goodwin in 2021). One big dumb idiot even said this heading into the 2019 season:

And while I’d certainly love for Clyde Edwards-Helaire to breakout and establish himself as the Tiger’s feature back, Emery seems to be a key missing piece. I think in the early part of the season the rushing attack will be more committee based like the late 2000s and early 2010s teams, but as the year progresses, I feel Emery will prove to be more of the Jeremey Hill/Leonard Fournette/Derrius Guice workhorse that Steve Ensminger has to keep on the field.

Zachary Junda, July 31, 2019

Okay so I whiffed on that. Clyde accounted for 1,800 yards from scrimmage and 17 touchdowns, was first-team All-SEC and became a first round pick. Davis-Price was relegated to a backup spot and Emery was banished to the shadow realm during the Florida game after missing a block which led to Joe Burrow saying, quite clearly if you watch it back, “get him the fuck off the field.”

But why couldn’t Emery or Davis-Price (or both!) make an Edwards-Helaire type of leap? The parallels are certainly there. Middling production in their first two years? Check. A revamped offense installed heading into their third year? Check. A veteran offensive line blocking for them? Check. A veteran quarterback under center? Check...ish. And two hotshot backs breathing down their necks ahead of their draft-eligible year? Definite check.

The fact is, it’s now or never for both Ty Davis-Price and John Emery. They aren’t kids transitioning from high school to college, there wasn’t a disrupted summer and fall workouts like last offseason, and the offense is a return to form.

The opportunity is there. It’s on them to seize it.