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LSU's effective running game early and often set the tone for its victory over South Carolina

Glenn Guilbeau
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

BATON ROUGE — In one game Saturday, LSU nearly equaled its rushing yards over its previous three games.

The Tigers rushed for a season-high 276 yards on 54 carries in their 52-24 win over South Carolina on Saturday. They came in with 290 over three games.

In the first quarter alone, LSU gained 76 yards on 18 rushes in building a 10-7 lead. In the 45-41 loss at Missouri on Oct. 10, the Tigers finished with 49 yards on 20 carries and could not negotiate one yard on four goal-line tries for what would have been the winning touchdown in the final seconds of the game.

LSU set the tone early against South Carolina with 13 runs for 56 yards out of its first 16 plays for a 75-yard touchdown drive.

Tailback John Emery gashed South Carolina for runs of eight, 14 and nine yards on the opening drive.

"Night and day," LSU coach Ed Orgeron said Monday after previously saying on the Mondays after the Tigers' two losses that he wanted more runs early in the game and on first down. "Night-and-day difference."

LSU ran on first down five out of six times on the first drive. The Tigers built a 31-10 halftime lead via 114 rushing yards on 28 carries and 216 passing yards on 14-of-18 passing by true freshman quarterback TJ Finley. 

"We have to run the football, especially on first down," Orgeron said. "That helped pave the way for TJ's success. We couldn't put it all on his shoulders."

It helped shorten the game and rest LSU's troubled defense, too, as the Tigers allowed just 403 yards after coming in at No. 73 in the nation with 494 yards allowed a game.

"Overall, best performance this year, obviously," Orgeron said.

The Tigers (2-2) will try to win two straight for the first time this season at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Auburn (3-2) on CBS.

Emery gained 88 yards on 18 carries with a touchdown, while fellow sophomore tailback Tyrion Davis-Price led all rushers with 135 yards on 22 carries and a touchdown. 

"We already have a pass game," Emery said. "We just wanted to come out and show that we have a run game. We know we have the abilities. We just have to go on the field and show what we have. It was great."

LSU quarterback TJ Finley (11) hands the ball to tailback Tyrion Davis-Price on a run-pass option play after first checking the defense in the first half of the Tigers' 52-24 win over South Carolina on Saturday in Baton Rouge.

And LSU cured its goal-line ills as well. Finley - all 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds of him - bulled his way into the end zone on third and goal from the 1-yard line on LSU's first drive. He lined up under center instead of in the shotgun, which is what quarterback Myles Brennan was instructed to do on the goal line at Missouri. 

Brennan remains questionable for the Auburn game with an abdomen tear.

Emery added a 3-yard touchdown on a dive for a 52-17 lead in the fourth quarter.

"We had great penetration from our offensive line, and I just leaped over," he said.

"We're improving on goal-line offense," Orgeron said. "I wish we would have had that in a little sooner. I thought the offensive line was the MVP."

Finley had a hand and a head in the running game as well. He often decided to hand off or keep the ball on run-pass options (RPOs).

"Most of the runs were RPO," Orgeron said. "The good thing about TJ, he's 6-6. He sees it really easy, man. He can see that slant in the line. It's all built in. If they give us a box where we can run the football, want to run the football. We have to."

Auburn will enter Saturday's game near the bottom in the Southeastern Conference and at No. 65 in the nation against the run with 180 yards allowed a game.

LSU will likely continue to run first

"Going into the season, I thought the backs were going to be the strength of the offense," Orgeron said. 

Orgeron sees Davis-Price and Emery as dual starters.

"We're going to be equal," Orgeron said. "That worked out well."