LSU receivers waiting to make impact while Leonard Fournette runs wild


BATON ROUGE, La. -- Malachi Dupre has had a front-row seat for the Leonard Fournette Show thus far.

The massive numbers Fournette, LSU's star tailback, has accumulated have come at the expense of a barely-utilized passing game, but Dupre said he and LSU’s other receivers don’t have a problem with the end result.

“Leonard’s been getting opportunities and making the best of it almost every time he touches the ball -- which I understand, which Travin [Dural] understands, which Brandon [Harris] understands, which everybody understands,” said Dupre, who leads the team with 103 receiving yards on seven catches. “Leonard’s doing the best job that anybody could possibly do at running back. We’re not complaining at all. We keep getting Ws, and that’s what it’s all about.”

Fournette has catapulted to the top of many Heisman Trophy watch lists after rushing for more than 200 yards in each of the last two games for No. 9 LSU (3-0). Considering that Saturday's opponent, Eastern Michigan (1-3), ranks last in the FBS in rush defense, and we might see another heavy dose of Fournette.

When the Tigers need the passing game, though, Dupre believes it will be productive.

“Moving forward, I can say that we’ll have the run if we need it, we’ll have the pass if we need it, we’ll have balance,” Dupre said. “Whatever the coaches feel like we need to do to win the game, we trust in them to make good calls, and so far it’s been working.”

So far, LSU’s approach has been extremely run-heavy, with the Tigers keeping it on the ground 74.5 percent of the time. That helps explain why, even though Harris ranks 18th nationally in ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating metric (78.8), the Tigers rank toward the bottom in nearly every statistic related to the pass.

Harris “does the things that we ask him to do” according to LSU coach Les Miles, who cited completions of 51 yards to Dural and 42 yards to Dupre last weekend against Syracuse as evidence that his sophomore quarterback is progressing.

“The good news is we’ll look forward to getting him more throws,” Miles said. “He continues to improve and continues to work at it and that’s a very grounded view of what we were asking him to do and he’s getting it done.”

Nonetheless, the numbers aren’t pretty. LSU ranks 121st in the FBS in completions per game (9.7), 122nd in pass attempts per game (15.7), 123rd in passing yards per game (100.7) and dead last among Power 5 teams in passing yards (302). And it isn’t just that LSU has attempted few passes, the Tigers haven’t been especially successful on the rare occasions that they put the ball in the air. They rank 102nd nationally in yards per pass attempt (6.43) and 116th in yards per completion (10.41).

Against Syracuse, LSU receivers dropped four passes -- two by John Diarse and one each by Dural and Dupre. Plus Harris was sacked twice and seemingly threw under duress more than he had in the Tigers’ first two games of the season.

“It’s definitely something that we need to fix, we need to be better at,” right tackle Vadal Alexander said. “The No. 1 thing is getting Leonard or any running back to the second level clean as an offensive line, and No. 2 is in the pass pro, the passing game, we need to protect Brandon. And so we have spots where we need to improve on that.”

That’s the general theme within LSU’s offense when it comes to anything other than springing Fournette for one of his many long runs. Even if they can intellectually understand why Fournette’s next-level running has been the centerpiece of the offense thus far, LSU’s other skill players also want to feel like they are contributing to the team’s success.

In time, Dupre believes they will have opportunities to do just that.

“Obviously I’m aware, Coach Cam [Cameron] is aware, Brandon’s aware, everybody in the whole world’s aware how many times we pass the ball. We’re all aware of that at the receiver position,” said Dupre, who caught four passes for 73 yards and a touchdown against Syracuse. “We know we can make plays. But if Coach Cam doesn’t call it and if Leonard’s running the ball the way he has in the past few weeks, I’m not the type of selfish person to say, ‘Let’s stop doing it.’ I’m not like that.

“I got a few opportunities this weekend and scored, but you can’t ask for a better job than is being done by our running backs right now. But moving forward, I know we’re going to be playing some tough defenses and tough coaches, so there’s going to be a time down the road that we’re going to need to have balance. We’ll have it. I promise.”