In a corner of the lobby in the LSU football practice facility, there’s a charging mannequin decked out in an Odell Beckham Jr. jersey.
Maybe someone should see if the faux Beckham can catch, too.
Except for the 2013 season when Beckham and Jarvis Landry each caught 1,000 yards worth of passes from Zach Mettenberger, the LSU passing game is typically overshadowed by its running game.
But Saturday’s results against woefully outclassed Eastern Michigan may have set a new low.
The Tigers rushed for 399 yards behind what is becoming a remarkably typical effort from Heisman frontrunner tailback Leonard Fournette: 26 carries, 233 yards, three touchdowns.
But no one, probably not even Fournette, thought he would ever need to have that many carries against the Eagles. That’s because as easy as he churns up the turf, that’s how hard it was for LSU to throw over it. The Tigers were an anemic 4 of 15 passing for 80 yards with five dropped passes.
Wide receiver Malachi Dupre was asked Monday to grade his group’s performance against EMU:
“F-minus,” said Dupre, who had a pass in the end zone from Brandon Harris carom off his hands.
Dupre said he later saw on film that an EMU linebacker tipped the ball and altered its trajectory — not that it made him feel much better.
“It’s a catch I have to make,” he said.
It is easy, even preferable, for LSU to stick the ball in Fournette’s breadbasket and let him stampede over opposing defenses. Remember the old coaching axiom that says three things can happen when passing, and two of them are bad? Handing off to Fournette elevates the productivity and lessens the possibility of the bad by a significant margin.
But the time that this LSU team can ride to victory solely on the back of its magnificent No. 7 has ended. It’s a virtual certainty there will be a game or games remaining on the Tigers’ schedule in which they will have to make a drive through the air or hit some key passes to win.
So far, that isn’t happening. LSU is averaging 95.5 passing yards per game, ranking 123rd of 127 FBS teams, only propped up by four predominant running teams: Air Force, Army, Navy and Georgia Southern. It’s been so bad, the Tigers’ below-average mark of 162.9 yards per game through the air last season looks like a well-oiled passing machine. And, perhaps, an unreachable star for this team to surpass.
There’s a growing sense in the LSU wide receivers’ meeting room that they hold the key to maximizing whatever potential this team has — or will end up holding it back.
“We see how great the offensive line is blocking, what a great job Brandon (Harris) is doing in the pocket, what a great job Leonard and (fullback J.D. Moore) are doing in the backfield,” receiver John Diarse said. “We know we have to answer. We’ll run up against a team that will challenge us, and we’re going to have to throw the ball. We have to do a better job finishing plays.”
Dupre, who was the nation’s No. 1 wide receiver prospect out of high school, admitted he has been a bit frustrated by the fact that LSU overall is running the ball 75 percent of the time (62 passes, 186 runs). At the same time he admitted the receivers’ problem is mental, not physical.
“I’m sure you could catch a pass,” Dupre said to a young reporter next to him.
In a way, perhaps Les Miles has the same idea.
Miles has always been a run-first guy as LSU’s coach, but at his Monday news conference he indicated in frank language that he is frustrated with his team’s failing grade in the passing game.
“I think our receivers expect more from themselves,” Miles said. “I think several guys played really hard and played really fast. I think there were times when energy to the ball didn’t match their ability.”
Miles was asked whether it might be time to look at other receivers, like D.J. Chark. Freshmen like Jazz Ferguson and Tyron Johnson also come to mind.
“Yeah, we’re looking at shuffling the lineup,” Miles said. “We’re looking at all those things. I’m not ready to do that at this point in any wholesale fashion.”
Taking the ball out of the hands of LSU’s most experienced receivers, even the few passes they’ve caught or had thrown their way, has a whiff of desperation to it. And even as dire as the passing game has been, it’s hard to picture a wholesale shift away from Travin Dural (who also dropped a pass), Dupre and Diarse.
But something has to change for LSU’s passing game. And quickly. Saturday’s game is almost certain to be the last one in which the Tigers can pass for that little and get away with it.