BATON ROUGE, La. - At the beginning of LSU’s longest run this season, two linemen pulled across the formation. They were left tackle Cameron Wire and left guard Ed Ingram, and when they reached the other side of the line of scrimmage, they sealed a crease for junior running back Tyrion Davis-Price.
Davis-Price burst through the open hole, one of the largest an LSU running back had seen this year. As tight end Jack Mashburn blocked a linebacker, Davis-Price sprinted down the sideline for a 30-yard gain, eclipsing the previous season-high of 26 set by freshman Corey Kiner against Central Michigan.
The run highlighted a career game for Davis-Price, who rushed for 147 yards on 22 carries with two touchdowns. It also demonstrated how using different blocking schemes helped spark LSU’s rushing attack in the 42-21 loss to Kentucky. Davis-Price had rushed for 141 yards over the previous five games combined.
“It's something the whole year we've been trying to establish,” Davis-Price said. “The o-line, they came with a different mentality that week of practice. You see what they did. We're going to continue to build from that and finish strong this year.”
LSU had struggled to run before facing Kentucky. The Tigers averaged 70.8 yards rushing through five games, one of the lowest marks in the country. They abandoned the run for long stretches. The week before, LSU’s running backs recorded 13 carries while quarterback Max Johnson attempted 46 passes.
The offensive formula wasn’t working, so LSU committed to running the ball more against Kentucky, even though the Wildcats had the No. 25 rushing defense in the country. Last week, coach Ed Orgeron said the offense would use different sets and formations. As the game unfolded, they included gap schemes, pulling tackles, counters and power concepts.
LSU’s players said the team had implemented the plays during preseason practice. They appeared at times earlier this season — Davis-Price gained 11 yards at one point against Mississippi State behind a pulling lineman and tight end — but never as much as they did last weekend because the battered offensive line had struggled to block and the game plan skewed toward passes.
“We felt that's one of our stronger plays from an offensive line standpoint,” senior center Liam Shanahan said. “We committed to those plays over the weekend, and we had a little success with it. Hopefully that's something we can continue to build on moving forward.”
The concepts featured heavily against Kentucky. Even though the Wildcats initially stopped the run, LSU remained committed as it fell behind 21-0 in the third quarter then 35-7 in the fourth. Davis-Price had 13 carries and 95 yards in the second half — perhaps because Kentucky could play more conservatively on defense, but also because LSU kept handing him the ball.
“I was just trying my best to come back for my team,” said Davis-Price, a junior. “I had that mindset. I didn't even know how many yards I had until after the game. I was trying to make a comeback for my team.”
Davis-Price credited the offensive line, which has always been the key to LSU unlocking its run game. The Tigers have struggled with one-on-one blocks, forcing LSU to implement more variety and use max protection, but Orgeron thought the offensive line blocked the run plays better against Kentucky than it had all season.
Health also helped. LSU’s starting line finally regained every starter when Wire returned two weeks ago. As he rotated with redshirt sophomore Anthony Bradford, Orgeron viewed left tackle — a position where LSU started four different players in five games — as a point of strength.
Now the question becomes whether or not LSU can replicate the performance. Heading into this weekend’s game against No. 20 Florida, LSU may need to lean on its running backs after sophomore wide receiver Kayshon Boutte suffered a season-ending ankle injury. The Tigers have depth at wide receiver, but many of the players are inexperienced.
“I do believe we're going to run the ball more and we're going to try to keep it going,” Davis-Price said. “But I don't think the receivers are worried. I think somebody's going to step up and make plays.”
The emergence of Davis-Price and LSU’s rushing attack didn’t solve the offense’s troubles. The Tigers had seven points entering the fourth quarter against Kentucky. They still haven’t scored more than 28 against a Power 5 conference team, and they average 2.91 yards per carry.
The idea the line will improve the longer it plays together makes LSU hope the run game can sustain instead of flashing for one game. And at the very least, the concepts that helped spring Davis-Price will remain part of the offense.
“I think that's going to help us create some different gaps in the defense, different gaps for them to fit,” Orgeron said. “We're going to continue to do that.”