LSU's Clyde Edwards-Helaire was the constant for the Tigers in 23-20 win over Auburn
BATON ROUGE — Coach Ed Orgeron said LSU's 23-20 win over No. 10 Auburn Saturday "wasn't the prettiest" as his team committed 12 penalties and turned the ball over twice.
LSU quarterback Joe Burrow said it "wasn't pretty by any means" either as he contributed to the Tigers coming away with just three points after two drives to Auburn's 2-yard line in the second and third quarters, and he threw an interception to the Auburn 2-yard line also in the third quarter.
But to tailback Clyde Edwards-Helaire, everything was beautiful. The junior from Catholic High in Baton Rouge led the Tigers with 136 yards on 26 carries with a 6-yard touchdown run for a 16-13 lead with 4:58 to go in the third quarter after previous failed touchdown opportunities.
It was Edwards-Helaire's biggest day since gaining 145 yards on 19 carries in the 36-19 win over No. 2 Georgia last season.
And this victory propelled the Tigers (8-0, 4-0 Southeastern Conference) to No. 1 in the Associated Press media poll from No. 2 on Sunday, passing No. 1 Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC), which fell to No. 2. LSU also moved from No. 3 to No. 2 in the USA TODAY coaches' poll behind Alabama. The Tigers' No. 1 ranking is their first since the 2011 season when it started out 13-0. LSU coach Ed Orgeron improved to 8-3 against top 10 teams since taking over as interim coach in 2016.
LSU and Alabama should meet in a No. 1 vs. No. 2 "Game of the Century" on Nov. 9 at 2:30 p.m. on CBS in Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Both teams are open this week.
"His cuts are unbelievable, man," LSU defensive end Rashard Lawrence said. "It's like that in practice. Glad we don't have to go against him any more because we're in season. But in camp, we saw it every day."
Clyde-Edwards was not expected to remain LSU's featured rusher with true freshmen Tyrion Davis-Price and John Emery Jr., but he has.
"Clyde's tough," Orgeron said. "He's hard to tackle because of his leverage."
Edwards-Helaire is only 5-foot-9 and 212 pounds and is noticeably shorter than his teammates and opponents.
Auburn could often locate Edwards-Helaire, but that didn't mean it could stop him. LSU offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger kept it simple and went to Edwards-Helaire on all four plays of the Tigers' 45-yard drive for the go-ahead touchdown at 16-13.
"Let's just pound it this drive," Burrow said Ensminger told him. "He said, 'We're just going to run the ball and see if they can stop us."
And No. 22 kept getting his number called. Edwards-Helaire got 22 yards on the first play of the drive, 12 on the next one, then 5 and finally the 6-yard touchdown.
"Four consecutive runs really isn’t a lot," Edwards-Helaire said. "But thinking back on it, it was a real pressure moment because we know we had to score the ball. We had been down there before and didn't score at the goal line. We had to get in there.”
On third and goal from the Auburn 1 with the Tigers trailing 13-10 midway in the third quarter, Edwards-Helaire was stopped for a 1-yard loss. Orgeron then went for it on fourth and goal from the Auburn 2-yard line. Burrow hit wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase on a quick screen, but Auburn was not surprised as cornerback Noah Igbinoghene and safety Jeremiah Dinson nailed him at the 1-yard line.
"I had to make up for that third down," Edwards-Helaire said. "We didn't play our best, but we found a way to win."
Edwards-Helaire was LSU's most consistent weapon as he gained 19 yards on three carries in the first quarter. Then he exploded in the third quarter with 73 yards on 12 carries and finished Auburn off in the fourth period with 44 yards on nine carries.
"No question," Orgeron said when asked if Edwards-Helaire turned the offense around. "Passing game was tough sledding. We just weren't on point. He had 136 yards, made some key plays."
LSU's running game turned in 187 yards, marking the fourth time over its last five games that it gained 180 or more after getting 122 or less through its first three games. Edwards has two 100-yard games out of his last three as he gained 134 on 13 carries in the 42-28 win over No. 7 Florida.
Edwards-Helaire has 683 yards on 115 carries on the season with eight touchdowns.
"In the second half, we figured we would just run the ball, and we ended up having almost 200 yards (with 187)," Burrow said. "The offensive line did a great job."
Tight end Thaddeus Moss also blocked well.
"He blocked his tail off against guys who are 40 to 50 pounds bigger," Burrow said.
And Edwards-Helaire kept running through and sometimes under people.
"He's hard to find sometimes behind those big guys," Orgeron said.