LSU vaults into nation's top five in passing

LSU vaults into nation's top five in passing

September 10th, 2019 by David Paschall in Sports - College

LSU wide receiver Justin Jefferson (2) catches a pass and runs for a touchdown against Texas during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Photo by Eric Gay

During LSU's turbulent 2016 football season that included the firings of head coach Les Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and the eventual naming of defensive line coach Ed Orgeron to guide the program, the Tigers possessed a passing game that ranked 101st nationally.

LSU now ranks among the top five in that category, having torched Texas for 471 aerial yards in last Saturday night's 45-38 triumph in Austin.

"This is the vision I always had when I took over, and we finally got there," Orgeron said in a news conference moments after LSU notched its first-ever nonconference road win against an Associated Press top-10 team. "It took a couple of miscues, but we have the coaches to do it and the receivers to do it and the quarterback to do it — and we're going to keep getting better in this system."

Senior quarterback Joe Burrow, a graduate transfer from Ohio State in his second season as the LSU starter, completed 31 of 39 passes, tallied four touchdowns and had the second-highest passing output in program history. The Tigers also had three receivers surpass 100 yards in the same game for the first time ever.

LSU wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase (1) catches a pass over Texas defensive back Jalen Green (3) during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

LSU wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase (1) catches a...

Photo by Eric Gay

LSU's aerial assault overshadowed its running game, but junior running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire rushed 15 times for 87 yards to average 5.8 yards a carry.

"This offense is so good," sophomore receiver Ja'Marr Chase said. "We have a lot of different options and a lot of different weapons. Everybody eats."

Chase had eight catches for 147 yards against the Longhorns and was LSU's leading receiver until Burrow connected with junior Justin Jefferson for a 61-yard touchdown with 2:27 remaining that put the Tigers up 43-31. A 2-point conversion from Burrow to Chase made it 45-31.

Jefferson racked up nine catches for 163 yards and three scores, while sophomore Terrace Marshall added six catches for 123 yards and a touchdown.

"We just played the ball we've been playing," Jefferson said. "We've been saying that this offense is going to be dangerous. We've been saying we've got the best receiving corps in the nation, and we've proven it with all of us going over 100 yards. We're just going to continue to dominate and do what we've got to do.

"This new offense is going to be crazy for us. Having that connection with Joe and having that vibe with him is going to make us even more dangerous."

In LSU's 55-3 opening rout of Georgia Southern, Burrow completed 23 of 27 passes and threw for five first-half touchdowns.

There was no hesitation to throw last Saturday once Texas pulled within 37-31. Burrow's 61-yard scoring strike to Jefferson converted a third-and-17 situation and went against LSU's thought process of recent seasons gone by.

"It's definitely different from how we would have done it last year," Burrow said. "Last year we would have pounded the run game to eat up that clock."

LSU didn't go from 2016 to 2019 overnight. Orgeron had Steve Ensminger run the offense on an interim basis in 2016 before bringing in Matt Canada for that role in 2017, but that marriage lasted only one season.

Ensminger has been the offensive coordinator the past two seasons, but aiding him this year is 29-year-old receivers coach and passing-game coordinator Joe Brady, who came over from the free-wheeling New Orleans Saints. Brady has helped LSU complete its transition from a pro-style offense into a spread attack and has plenty of powerful pieces with which to work.

Chase and Marshall were top-100 national prospects in the 2018 signing class, while Jefferson is the younger brother of former LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson and former Tigers safety Rickey Jefferson, who had a brief stint with the Saints.

The Tigers have vaulted to No. 4 in the country and own the Southeastern Conference's most manageable month ahead with Northwestern State, Vanderbilt, an open date and Utah State comprising the next four weeks. The back half of their schedule, however, contains No. 9 Florida, No. 8 Auburn, No. 2 Alabama and No. 16 Texas A&M.

"To win a game in that type of atmosphere gives us a lot of confidence in our football team," Orgeron said Saturday, "but we're going to go up against some opponents who are just as good or better. I am just so proud of this offense.

"We were able to get them the ball in space and let them make plays."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.