Right guard Will Clapp slipped down while pass blocking against Auburn defensive lineman Dontavius Russell.
Russell slid by the falling Clapp and stepped toward LSU quarterback Brandon Harris, standing in the pocket and searching for a receiver. Russell had a direct line to the Tigers sophomore QB. A sack — on third down, no less — seemed moments away.
Harris then made his move. He felt pressure, stepped left to avoid Russell and ran 27 yards to set up the Tigers’ second touchdown.
Since Harris arrived on campus 19 months ago, the focus has been on his arm — that big, strong, gun-slinging weapon that whistles tight, normally accurate spirals.
Thing is, his feet are pretty good, too.
“He made plays with his feet and his arm,” coach Les Miles said after LSU’s 45-21 win over then-No. 18 Auburn.
Harris has run for nearly as many yards (114) as he has thrown for (145) in the first two games of the season. He’s averaging more per rush (9.8 yards) than he is per completion (6.9). His feet are becoming a key part of LSU’s offense — maybe even more than his arm.
After all, LSU’s 145 passing yards in back-to-back games are the fewest in consecutive games since the Tigers’ 2011 championship season. Does this squad remind Miles of that one?
“I like this team. I like this team for a bunch of reasons,” he said. “They’re talented, there’s speed, they get along with one another, there’s a lot of chemistry here. I think they feel it. … There’s a team feeling there. I don’t know. We’ll have to see.”
The Tigers (2-0) are off to a roaring start, having won a conference road game over a 10-win team last season (Mississippi State) and bludgeoned a squad Saturday that many picked to win the conference (Auburn). They head to Syracuse (3-0) as a whopping 24-point favorite.
LSU has soared up the polls, moving into the top 10 in the Associated Press and coaches rankings for the first time in a year.
How? Most will point to Leonard Fournette, the tackle-breaking sophomore running back who has run for 387 yards and six scores in two games. Others might attribute it to a defense that has allowed a combined three first-half points in two games.
Overlooked: the feet of LSU’s quarterback and his game “management,” as Miles said.
“You don’t understand the change in Brandon,” Fournette said with a shake of the head following Saturday’s game.
Harris hasn’t thrown an interception and has completed 21 of 31 attempts. Half of those passes have come within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage — or even behind the line.
Miles and LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron seem to be slowly bringing along a player who struggled as a true freshman. With his feet, they’re letting it rip.
Seven of Harris’ eight rushes against Auburn were designed runs. Three of those designed running plays came on third down, and two of them picked up a first down and a touchdown.
That 27-yard scramble must have had Miles smiling. The coach has said in the past that he hoped to get a couple of those a game from his slippery QB.
Through two games, Harris has scrambled three times and picked up 35 yards and two first downs. He has been sacked just once, and he had a 16-yard scramble against Mississippi State negated by a penalty that did not affect the play.
Meanwhile, he has gained 73 yards on nine designed rushing plays. Three picked up first downs, and two scored touchdowns.
LSU seems to have two running threats in the backfield: Fournette and Harris.
“I thought Brandon Harris did exactly what we asked him to do,” Miles said Saturday. “He was very accurate. He only overthrew a couple touchdowns. Those things happen, and that’s not an issue with me in any way. He managed the game. He managed the clock and the situations we asked him to operate for us with time bearing down on him.”
Harris misfired on those two attempts to Travin Dural in the end zone and on another pass, too. The handful of poor throws were a nonfactor in such a blowout.
They may prove costly in games against Alabama, Ole Miss and Texas A&M. And can LSU win championships having a passing game that doesn’t crack the 175-yard mark?
They’ve done it before. LSU averaged 152 passing yards during that undefeated regular season in 2011. The Tigers won the SEC title that season and lost to Alabama in the BCS title game.
Jordan Jefferson that season averaged about 40 rushing yards; that total doesn’t include sacks. He was the game manager type who made plays with his feet and occasionally hit a big pass.
“Coach Miles understands what I can do,” Harris said last week. “I think everybody on the team knows what I can do. Everybody knows I can throw the football (and) I can run the football.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter: @DellengerAdv.