SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Three words scrolled through Travin Dural’s mind: Just get open.
Dural didn’t get open. In fact, a Syracuse safety and cornerback had him well covered as quarterback Brandon Harris’ pass floated down toward him.
But LSU’s athletic, nifty receiver made an adjustment on a pass slightly underthrown. He turned and slowed down, losing the two defenders and catching Harris’ pass as if it were a punt. The result: a 51-yard first-down completion in the fourth quarter.
“Gave Brandon a target to throw to,” Dural said after LSU’s 34-24 win over Syracuse on Saturday afternoon. “We needed to convert on third down, and that’s what we did.”
When LSU’s passing offense needed to make plays Saturday, Harris and his crew did it — from that 51-yarder on third-and-9 to an 11-yard touchdown completion to Malachi Dupre on the very next play.
Running back Leonard Fournette’s 244-yard day and the Tigers’ whopping 14 penalties overshadowed another efficient game from Harris, one in which he tossed some beauties.
Harris completed 8 of 16 passes. His receivers had four drops. John Diarse had two, Dupre dropped one after a midfield collision and Dural let one fly off his fingertips earlier in the game.
“If a couple of guys catch balls, probably see a bigger day,” coach Les Miles said. “Brandon Harris is coming. Quarterback is giving us the leadership we need. Recognizes things he can do and cannot do. He needs to continue to improve. I like his progress.”
Harris passed for 157 yards, and it could have been well more than 200 had his wideouts been more sure-handed. LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and Miles were clearly easing Harris into the season: He had 145 passing yards in the first two games combined.
They let Harris sling it downfield against the Orange — albeit on only about 20 dropbacks — and they threw more on first down, too.
He had the two longest passes of the season in the game: a 42-yarder to Dupre in the third quarter and that 51-yarder to Dural in the fourth. The 51-yard completion came with LSU up 24-17 and facing third-and-9 at its 38 with less than 10 minutes to go.
A play later, the fade to Dupre fell perfectly to the receiver’s outside shoulder. An outstretched Dupre hauled it in for a rousing score.
“Very good to see,” Dural said of the back-to-back completions. “Confidence booster, knowing that late in the game we can depend on the receivers and the quarterback.”
Harris, under pressure much of the game, was sacked twice. He avoided a third sack by flipping the ball to Fournette while falling to the ground. The running back raced for 48 yards to set up a first-half score.
Harris also had a 19-yard keeper around left end in the waning minutes, positioning LSU for Trent Domingue’s 37-yard field goal and a 34-17 lead.
“He can play, legitimately can play,” Miles said of Harris, who has not been made available to reporters for more than a week. “He’s making really good decisions now, scrambles out and gets some yards.”
Harris found Dupre for 12 yards and Trey Quinn for 14 on back-to-back first down plays on LSU’s second possession. On the next first down — a first-and-15 after a false start — Harris hit Diarse for 12 yards. That’s three straight passes on three straight first downs to three different receivers. It sent a message from Cameron early.
“Balance,” Dupre said. “Pass the ball, run the ball. We just showed today that we can do both.”
LSU showed a more consistent effort to throw the ball on first down than it has all season. Harris dropped back for passes on seven first downs, completing 4 of 6 tosses with a sack. LSU ran the ball on 14 first downs before the final two clock-milking drives. Those 14 rushing plays netted only 41 yards — a 2.9-yard average that fell well below of the Tigers’ overall mark of 6.4.
Is more downfield passing in store? LSU hosts lowly Eastern Michigan (1-3) on Saturday, another opportunity to polish a passing game that may be needed against the likes of future ranked foes Florida, Alabama, Texas A&M and Ole Miss.
At least one teammate wants to see Harris throw more.
“It’s good when you see an offense well-rounded,” linebacker Kendell Beckwith said. “I love to see him throw.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter: @DellengerAdv.