TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Clyde Edwards-Helaire watched Alabama defeat LSU every year since he was in middle school.
But on Saturday he watched as LSU senior quarterback Joe Burrow kneeled the ball to run out the clock in No. 2 LSU’s 46-41 victory over No. 3 Alabama. It was the first time since 2011 LSU beat Alabama, and eight years later Edwards-Helaire is no longer in middle school.
Edwards-Helaire, who is 5-foot-8, 209 pounds, may look like David, but he played like Goliath on Saturday. He finished with 29 touches for 180 total yards and four touchdowns, scoring two in the fourth quarter to help seal the win.
His background as an undersized running back and Baton Rouge native is why the win means so much to Edwards-Helaire. The junior running back watched from the sideline for most of the last two years as LSU struggled to look competitive against Alabama.
He remembered standing on the sideline last year as Alabama routed LSU 29-0 in Tiger Stadium and feeling like the offense could’ve done something more early on to get LSU going. This year Edwards-Helaire felt waves of emotion after LSU’s biggest victory in recent years.
Tears fell as Edwards-Helaire reached the sidelines after his final touchdown sealing the win for LSU. CBS cameras caught the moment Edwards-Helaire was embraced by LSU wide receivers coach Mickey Joseph.
Edwards-Helaire described the first win over Alabama in eight years as overwhelming. He struggled to put words together to describe it.
“Part of it is probably that and understanding there were plenty of guys before me that didn’t win a game,” Edwards-Helaire said. “There were five-year seniors that didn’t win a game here against Alabama. My strength coach Connor Neighbors was a fullback here some years ago.
“Just to see the look on his face, as far as emotion, I can’t, you can’t remake that. Looking at him he was holding back tears, I’m holding back tears, it wasn’t just something for people on the team now, it was for everybody.”
The emotion carried over after the game as well. Edwards-Helaire and his father found each other near the edge of the field, sharing a long, emotional moment. The raw reactions from Edwards-Helaire and LSU weren’t just of joy but of relief.
While Burrow was held high on the shoulders of his teammates after the game, Edwards-Helaire might’ve stood the tallest. He picked up key extra yards whether it was his patented spin move or running through defenders.
“We have a lot of guys on this offense and on this team that were overlooked,” Burrow said. “Clyde, being 5-foot-8, not everybody wanted him. Justin Jefferson, two-star recruit; Thad Moss, transferred; me, transferred.”
LSU has become a gumbo of underdogs and misfits led by coach Ed Orgeron. Most of the players on LSU’s team were recruited by Orgeron. There are only three coaches on staff Orgeron didn’t originally hire — offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger, defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and defensive backs coach Corey Raymond.
“Sometimes you get in the zone,” Edwards-Helaire said. “[Kevin Faulk] and I were talking all last night and even when I woke up today we were talking. He said, ‘man you’ve got to understand if this was a game I could pad up for, I would pad up for it.’ To have a guy who played 12-13 years in the NFL to look me in the eyes and tell me that, it shows these are moments you can’t get back.”
Edwards-Helaire picked up 11 first downs, three of which came on third down and kept drives alive.
“A quote that always sticks with me is by [LSU running backs coach Tommy Robinson],” the diminutive running back said. “Throw your heart across the line and your body will follow. I live by that motto, and it happens.”
On the season, Edwards-Helaire has 786 yards on 135 carries.His 11 rushing touchdowns leads the Southeastern Conference. A far cry from being listed as a three-star recruit out of Catholic High School in Baton Rouge.
For long LSU’s goals were derailed by Alabama. The Tide’s success was rubbed in LSU’s face, and the Tigers were looked upon as an offensive-inept team stuck in the previous century.
Yet a group counted out by the outside world and led by an often-mocked coach in Orgeron, who many thought wouldn’t survive the 2018 season, were the ones to finally breakthrough against Alabama.
After mustering only 10 points in the three previous meetings against Alabama, LSU offense led by Edwards-Helaire and Burrow scored a school-high 46 points against the Crimson Tide in Bryant-Denny Stadium, where Alabama had won 31 straight games dating back to 2015.
“That just goes to show you that stars, recruiting, all the things the media puts out, it doesn’t really matter,” said junior center Lloyd Cushenberry, a three-star recruit himself and the last player taken in LSU’s 2016 recruiting class. “Once you step foot on campus everything is an even-playing field. Put in the work, and I’ve known since day one in his first practice [Edwards-Helaire would] be special.”
Edwards-Helaire’s 103 yards was the first LSU had a 100-yard rusher since Jeremy Hill had 107 yards on 29 carries in 2012. With that effort, Edwards-Helaire is only the 13th SEC player to have 100 yards rushing against Alabama under Nick Saban, which dates back to 2007.
For most of this season critics questioned Edwards-Helaire and the Tigers rushing attack, especially after LSU’s struggled to run the ball in its first three games.
Now they’re quiet, and many have begun to praise the smallest player on LSU’s roster. As Edwards-Helaire talked to the media after LSU’s big win, he was quick to point out every reporter surrounding him was taller than he was.
“I proved I’m an every-down back, I’m an SEC back,” Edwards-Helaire said. “I had that doubt coming in to LSU, “oh he’s not big enough. He’s not going to be fast enough.’ But you know, everybody can measure the things they see, but they can’t measure your heart.”