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Georgia football is well aware of ‘the best running back in the country’ in LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire

ATHENS — Kirby Smart called him a football-playing machine. Joe Burrow — the likely Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback — called him the best running back in the country.

Whatever you want to call LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, he’s going to be a problem for the Georgia offense to try and solve.

Edwards-Helaire racked up 1,233 yards on the season and an astonishing 16 touchdowns. Those numbers both surpass what Georgia running back D’Andre Swift has done this season.

For maybe the first time all year, the Georgia defense is going to face a running back who might be as good or better than what they see from Swift in practice.

“He makes the best football tacklers in our conference miss,” Smart said of Edwards-Helaire. “So when you got football players that are playing against him from Auburn, Florida, Alabama, and he’s making them miss, you get immediate respect with the toughness that he runs with. And I mean, the kid is, he’s got an incredible drive and ability and willingness to break tackles and toughness that I just respect.”

The Georgia team is already well aware of what the LSU running back is capable of based on his performance against the Bulldogs in 2018. He rushed for 145 yards on 19 carries against the Bulldogs as he led LSU to a 36-16 win. It was the only game against a Power Five opponent in 2018 that he finished with over 100 rushing yards.

This year he rushed for over 100 yards against the likes of Florida, Auburn and Alabama.

“He’s a very versatile back. He’s a very good downhill runner,” defensive linemen Michael Barnett said. “He’s going to try and go through you instead of trying to juke and finesse. He’s best when he tries to drop his shoulder into you.”

Of course, Georgia’s rush defense is much improved from where it was against LSU in 2018, as the Tigers ran for 275 yards that day. This year Georgia boasts the nation’s No. 2 rush defense. And the Bulldogs have given up just one rushing touchdown all season.

But the LSU offense as a whole is also significantly improved from a season ago. LSU ranks second in the country in scoring offense and first in the SEC in total offense.

Edwards-Helaire’s emergence has really helped the entire LSU offense become more dynamic. And it isn’t just in the rushing game where Edwards-Helaire has shined, as his 43 receptions are the most by a running back in the SEC this season.

“He’s excelled in the passing game. You have to put a linebacker on him and I don’t think there’s a linebacker in the country that can cover him,” Burrow said about his running back. “So they have to pick their poison in the run game or the pass game.”

That means the likes of Monty Rice, Tae Crowder, Nakobe Dean and Quay Walker will have their hands full on Saturday covering the LSU junior at all times.

Edwards-Helaire attributed his emergence to being a smarter player now than he was a season ago. LSU head coach Ed Orgeron added on Monday he thought Edwards-Helaire was going to be a good running back, but that he’s far exceeded LSU’s expectations of him.

But make no mistake about it. Georgia is not sleeping on what Edwards-Helaire brings to the table. The Georgia defense knows that slowing him — like every other running back it has faced this season — is going to play a major key in winning the SEC championship game.

Michael Barnett on LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire

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