The first play was exactly like they drew it up. The other one, not so much.
No. 6 LSU’s offense erupted for 28 second-quarter points behind two big passing plays to defeat No. 8 Florida 35-28 on Saturday night in Tiger Stadium. Sophomore quarterback Brandon Harris hit classmate Malachi Dupre for gains of 52 and 50 yards on a flea-flicker and desperation heave late in the first half.
“I would say that’s momentum. We came out and played,” sophomore running back Leonard Fournette said. “Brandon Harris made a tremendous play with his feet and his arm. A lot of people think he doesn’t know how to throw, but I guess he proved them wrong tonight.”
After four weeks of inconsistency, the Tigers’ passing game finally showed signs of life in a 45-24 win against South Carolina last week.
The receivers were eager to improve on a five-drop game against Eastern Carolina the week before facing the Gamecocks, and their efforts carried over into the showdown with the Gators (6-1, 4-1 Southeastern Conference).
Instead of relying on Heisman Trophy favorite Fournette, LSU (6-0, 4-0) went at Florida’s secondary early.
Harris completed four passes to march LSU into the red zone on its second drive of the game, and Fournette capped the possession with a 2-yard rushing score. On the Tigers’ next series, Harris found Dupre on a fade route in the back of the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown.
But the sophomore duo was only getting started.
After the defense forced another Florida punt with about three minutes remaining in the first half, LSU took over near midfield hoping to build on a 14-7 lead. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron fooled everyone in the stadium, drawing up a flea-flicker that allowed Dupre to find some room for a 52-yard reception.
“Cam is doing a great job of mixing it up,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “He was looking at it and said, ‘This is the time.’ He made a great decision about how to run it, and the timing of the call was perfect.”
There was no trick on the next play: Fournette scored from 6 yards out.
The Gators ripped off a four-play touchdown drive on the ensuing possession, giving LSU the ball back with 1 minute and 34 seconds until halftime. After three Fournette rushes and another completion to Dupre, the Tigers called timeout with 27 seconds left.
Facing a third-and-9, Harris showed both his elusiveness and arm strength on one play.
Defensive tackle Caleb Brantley flushed Harris from the pocket, and sophomore Jordan Sherit grabbed the quarterback’s jersey as he escaped. But Harris wriggled free of Sherit’s grasp and chucked the ball downfield to — guess who? — Dupre.
Junior defensive back Marcus Maye got turned around as Dupre positioned himself to make the catch around the 5-yard line. Dupre managed to avoid Maye’s tackle and dove across the goal line to put LSU ahead 28-14 at halftime.
“It wasn’t drawn up like that,” Dupre said. “It was looking slim for us to get points before the half. It was third down without much time left. Coach Cam dialed up some 9-routes, and Brandon was very smart in getting the ball out of his hands.
“I was able to get my hands on the ball and get in the end zone.”
Harris completed three of seven passes in the second half as LSU held off the Gators’ comeback bid with a touchdown on fake field goal.
But the damage was already done in an explosive second quarter. Harris said he and the receivers have all been playing with a chip on their shoulder, and they may have silenced a few doubters Saturday night.
“Everybody was down on our passing game after (the Eastern Michigan) game,” Harris said. “They said we can’t do it in a big game, but I love it. I love the motivation. I love when people doubt us.”