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LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire (22) carries the ball past Florida linebacker David Reese II (33) in the second half of the Tigers' 42-28 win over the Gators, Saturday, October 12, 2019, at LSU's Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La.

The LSU coaches speared their running back with padded sticks in Monday's practice, trying to dislodge the football from his tightened arms as he squatted through an obstacle of dummies.

Minutes later, another Tigers back grasped a football that was fixed to the end of a rope. A coach yanked the football free, then chided the player for letting go.

Think of any drill, any drill imaginable, to keep running backs from fumbling the ball, and it's likely that LSU has used it at some point during its practices.

It's enough to make you re-check your notes to see whether there's some sort of butterfingers epidemic going on in the Tigers backfield.

Hardly.

LSU running backs have fumbled three times in six games. LSU has lost two fumbles all year, tying it for 11th fewest in the nation.

But the fumbles were untimely.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire dropped one in the LSU end zone during a 66-38 win at Vanderbilt, a fumble the Commodores recovered for a defensive touchdown.

The 5-foot-8, 209-pound junior lost another the following week against Utah State, coughing up the football near the goal line, where LSU tight end Thaddeus Moss covered it up to save a turnover in the red zone.

True freshman John Emery lost another while fighting for more yardage against Utah State, although the LSU defense kept the Aggies from scoring on the following drive.


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Those three fumbles seem inconsequential in two games that LSU ended up winning by four touchdowns or more.

In a way, that's exactly why LSU coach Ed Orgeron has increased the number of ball-security drills: so far the only thing that can stop LSU's potent offense, which leads the nation with 52.5 points per game, is itself.

The Tigers couldn't risk losing any possessions in their top-10 showdown with Florida, a team that entered Saturday's game leading the nation with 19 takeaways.

LSU didn't fumble in its 42-28 win, and Edwards-Helaire rushed for a season-high 136 yards on 13 carries with two touchdowns.

"We had a little emphasis on ball security this week," Orgeron said after the game with a grin, pausing for effect while the room full of reporters chuckled.

No. 2 LSU (6-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) is entering the heart of its conference schedule, and Orgeron seems more secure in his running back room than he has been all season.

The Tigers entered the season with plenty of talent at the position, but it was raw, young and unchallenged. Both Emery and true freshman Tyrion Davis-Price arrived on campus in August, and though they were both elite recruits — top-10 backs according to most recruiting sites — there were still signs they weren't quite ready to make the jump to significant playing time.

LSU linebacker Jacob Phillips said ball security is generally an issue for running backs entering college, and there's a learning curve against defenders who are expertly trained to pull the ball away.

"In high school, people don't really go after the ball like that," Phillips said. "But here, we're playing at the top level. So that's going to be a main focal point."

The caution could be seen in the snaps: Emery and Davis-Price combined for 11 carries for 31 yards in the season opener against Georgia Southern. Davis-Price had one carry for no yards against Texas, and Emery did not play.

"I didn't want to put them in the Texas game because we had to go — I felt like we had to score every time — and I didn't want to fumble," Orgeron said Sept. 16, the Monday before the Vanderbilt game. "I'm not saying they would have fumbled, but I've trusted that Clyde could do it."

That was Orgeron's approach through three games, until he was advised otherwise.

Former Southern Cal coach John Robinson, a College Football Hall of Famer whom Orgeron brought on in July as a consultant, presents Orgeron with key points and musings every Monday morning.

The Monday after LSU's 65-14 win over Northwestern State, Robinson told Orgeron: We need to work those backs in quicker in significant roles.

"He's right," Orgeron said.

In the three games since, Emery and Davis-Price have each carried the ball 18 times and scored a touchdown, and they've rushed for a combined 210 yards.

The decision hasn't come without consequence. LSU senior running back Lanard Fournette left the team after recording a total of four carries for 17 yards against Texas, Northwestern State and Vanderbilt.

Edwards-Helaire still remains LSU's top back. His 78 carries for 509 yards and seven touchdowns are each more than double the total of any other running back on the roster.

But the trust is there for the young running backs.

When LSU was tied 28-28 with Florida in the third quarter, it was Davis-Price who entered the game and rushed for a 33-yard touchdown that gave the Tigers the lead for good.

"Everybody's understanding their role for the year," Edwards-Helaire said Monday. "And they understand what we need to do."

Email Brooks Kubena at bkubena@theadvocate.com.