Chris Curry didn’t know the plan until right before it was go time. But he did know that he had to be ready.
During practice for the CFP semifinal in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl against Oklahoma, LSU starting running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire suffered a hamstring injury that left him questionable for the game.
The probability of his absence placed a huge question mark on the offense given how there wasn’t really a definitive plan B without Edwards-Helaire. To wit, if you were to add up the next three running backs’ season yardage totals, you would have had less than half of Edwards-Helaire’s output.
Most people assumed true freshmen Tyrion Davis-Price or John Emery Jr. would take the lion’s share of the touches vs. the Sooners.
They got more meaningful snaps spelling Edwards-Helaire all season. Curry had mostly seen action in games during garbage time when LSU was running out the clock in another lopsided win during the No. 1 Tigers’ 14-0 march to next Monday’s national title game vs. No. 3 Clemson.
So, when LSU coach Ed Orgeron turned to freshman redshirt Curry and told him to take the first snaps against Oklahoma, it took everybody by surprise, Curry included.
“I’m glad he did it like that,” Curry said. “Because I was having that mindset of ‘I’m ready to go, I’m ready to get in. Let’s go, let’s do it.’”
Curry played in six games in 2019 prior to the CFP semifinal, rushing for 99 yards on 22 carries. He nearly matched his season numbers vs. the Sooners with 89 yards on 16 carries and nine-yard catch to boot.
The respectable stats didn’t properly showcase how Curry took his opportunity and ran with it.
There were multiple runs where Curry broke past the second level and sought out contact with defenders, relishing opportunities to lower his pads and deliver licks. Each time he trucked a hapless tackler, you could feel the LSU sideline get more energized.
“He had some great practices, and the plays that we’re running we felt that Chris was the best one to run it,” Orgeron said. “Boy I’ll tell you what, he took his opportunity. We said, `Next man up, we put 11 men on the field, and we fight like Tigers.’ And he did it. I’m so proud of him.”
“I really prepared like I was going to start,” Curry said.
After the Tigers’ 63-28 blowout of the Big 12 champions, Curry sent out a tweet thanking Joe Burrow. As it happens, it was LSU’s Heisman Trophy winning quarterback who vouched to the coaching staff for Curry to get a shot.
“I was thanking (Burrow) for really speaking up,” Curry said. “Thanking him for giving me the opportunity and the chance to play. ‘You got this this.’ That’s basically what he said, ‘You got this and you earned this.’ He said, ‘I think he should play.’ Coaches have their own opinions and they came together and said, ‘I think we should give this kid a chance.’”
Curry appeared in four games last year as a true freshman, the most he could play and still maintain redshirt status. Much like this season, most of his touches were inconsequential, and he only finished with two yards on eight carries.
With the heralded 2019 signing class arrivals of Emery Jr. and Davis-Price, Curry found himself mired at the bottom of the running back rotation most of this season.
But he kept grinding.
Curry took his assignment to the scout team to heart, sometimes too seriously creating a miniature rivalry with some of the defensive players. He welcomed every chance to improve while helping the team, no matter where, when, or how it came to him. If that meant swallowing pride and taking scout team reps, he was going to do it.
“I try to go hard as I can to get those guys ready for Saturday,” Curry said. “It’s bigger than me. It’s about LSU. Next man up, whoever is in that spot at the time. At times it can be (difficult), but talk to coaches and work hard every day, you never know when you’re going to get your shot.”
For his sticktoitiveness, Curry was rewarded with a start in LSU’s biggest game since the 2011 BCS national championship game loss to Alabama. Burrow and wide receiver Justin Jefferson may have stolen the spotlight, but Curry certainly proved his worth.
“In this time and world of transfer portals and all that, taking the easy way out, it says a lot about his character, his grit, and his toughness,” Orgeron said of Curry’s determination to succeed. “He told me, ‘Coach, I’m going to be one of your best backs. Just watch.’”