Tiger Watch: Five LSU Players to Keep an Eye on in SEC Championship
It's finally here, one of the many goals this LSU team has been striving all season for, has come to fruition after a 12-0 regular season with already so much to be proud of.
LSU has proved it doesn’t buckle under pressure and will need to put that skill to the test if it wants to finish first in the Southeastern Conference. Here are five players we’ll be watching Saturday as the Tigers look for their first SEC crown since 2011.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire (junior running back)
Four weeks into the season, the passing game was the talk of the town as Joe Burrow and the receivers were putting up jaw-dropping stats that haven't gone away. It was then viewed that as long as the running attack could be serviceable to the passing game, LSU would be impossible to stop.
Well that narrative has changed as what we've seen out of Clyde Edwards-Helaire over the last seven weeks has not only made LSU's offense impossible to stop but downright scary to play.
Just think about the first four games for Edwards-Helaire: 314 yards on 65 carries and five touchdowns. Solid stats with a 4.8 yard per carry average. But what we've seen the last seven weeks has been a turbo-charged version of the junior that quite frankly, not many knew was possible.
Over the last seven games, Edwards-Helaire has rushed for 873 yards on 117 carries and 11 touchdowns. That's a 7.4 yard per carry average that has also seen the junior haul in 33 passes for an additional 279 yards.
Even coach Ed Orgeron, while always having faith in Edwards-Helaire and thought he could be a good SEC back, never saw this kind of production coming.
"I think nobody thought that he'd have the great year that he's had," Orgeron said. "I thought he'd be a good back, no question about that. I didn't think he'd gain 1,000 yards. But he's exceeded all of our expectations, except Clyde's expectations."
What Edwards-Helaire has done is turn an already elite, record-breaking offense into a turbo-charged, impossible-to-stop unit that is clicking on all levels heading into a tough SEC Championship battle with Georgia. Buckle up, because it's going to be one wild and crazy fun ride.
Terrace Marshall Jr. (sophomore wide receiver)
It's hard not to notice the 6-foot-4 sophomore on screen during a game but Terrace Marshall has kind of been left behind with the success of Ja'Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson. Don't forget, Marshall was an early favorite of Burrow's in the first quarter of the season, particularly in the redzone.
The two combined for six touchdowns in three games before a foot injury against Vanderbilt derailed Marshall's season, forcing him to miss a month of action.
Since his return to the lineup against Auburn, his numbers haven't been the same, surpassing the 40-yard mark one time in the last five games after going for more than 75 yards in three of the team's first four contests. One of the areas the Georgia defense excels in is holding teams to field goals once getting in the redzone.
Moving the ball hasn't been an issue all year long for this LSU offense but it's extremely important that the Tigers capitalize in the redzone this weekend. If Burrow and Marshall can link up for a score or two and bring back some of that early season magic, it could be the difference maker against the Bulldogs on Saturday.
Saahdiq Charles (junior left tackle)
Saahdiq Charles returned to action against the Aggies in the season finale and the team is "hopeful" he'll be available for postseason play. That starts this weekend against Georgia, a team that sports an elite defensive line that will prove to be another test for the O-line.
Charles, who's missed six games this season due to coaches decisions, has been a solid starter at left tackle when used and the Tigers will need all hands on deck against another elite front seven in Georgia.
Georgia is No. 2 in total defense and against the run this season. With Edwards-Helaire in the midst of a phenomenal final half of the season, it's important the offense establishes the run. With Charles back in the mix, LSU will slide him in at his left tackle role while Adrian Magee will move back to left guard.
The rest of the O-line will stay the same with Lloyd Cushenberry manning the center position, Damien Lewis at right guard and Austin Deculus at right tackle. What Charles' insertion back into the lineup really does is provide LSU the requisite depth it'll need against a defense like Georgia.
With guard Ed Ingram and tackle Badara Traore proving to be more than adequate subs, the O-line should be healthy and fully loaded for the SEC Championship.
Tyler Shelvin (sophomore defensive tackle)
One of the constants in the middle of the defensive line, Tyler Shelvin is having a standout year for the Tigers by showing his ability to chew up multiple offensive linemen and plug holes for opposing running attacks.
His skill set will be needed against the Bulldogs this weekend as Georgia averages 200 yards per game on the ground, mostly due to explosive running back D'Andre Swift. While Swift's status for Saturday is still up in the air, let's operate under the assumption that he plays, which is what LSU is doing anyway.
Outside of the Ole Miss game, when the LSU defense inexplicably surrendered 400 yards rushing, opposing teams haven't come close to that 200-yard mark that Georgia is averaging. While that is a collective effort of the front seven, Shelvin's role is perhaps most important of all as he has an uncanny ability to plug running lanes to help his teammates make plays.
With Georgia's top-two receivers out for a half and the other for the whole game, the Bulldogs will likely try to get the run game going early. If LSU can do its job up front and get necessary stops, it will provide ample opportunity for the offense to jump out to an early big lead.
Maurice Hampton (freshman safety)
The ascension of freshman Maurice Hampton into the secondary has paid huge dividends for the Tigers in the two weeks the team has named him the starter.
With Hampton taking that third safety role LSU has liked all along but were unable to put to use when Todd Harris went down two weeks into the season, it has freed JaCoby Stevens and more importantly, Grant Delpit to play closer to the line of scrimmage.
It's a spot where Stevens and Delpit thrive with their unique athleticism to rush the passer while also helping neutralize the run game and make plays in pass coverage. In his two starts, Hampton has recorded eight tackles and a pass breakup.
After resting against Arkansas, Delpit returned to the lineup against Texas A&M looking close to 100% and recorded his second interception of the season. In the two games Hampton started, Stevens combined for 10 tackles, three sacks and an interception to continue his stellar junior campaign.
Hampton's insertion into the starting lineup has breathed new life into a secondary and a defense that has taken a lot of heat in recent weeks and have backed it up with two great performances against Arkansas and Texas A&M.
With the postseason now here, we'll really get to see what kind of strides the defense has made, starting with Georgia on Saturday.