Louis emerges as playmaker for Auburn

AUBURN, Ala. -- It was late in the fourth quarter, and Georgia had just taken the lead. Auburn wide receiver Ricardo Louis was having a career game with 58 yards receiving and 66 yards rushing at that point, but there was one play that he was going to be remembered for. It was a play he would rather forget.

The Tigers faced a 3rd-and-3, leading 37-24 and trying to put the game away. Louis came in motion at the wrong time and basically tackled Tre Mason as soon as the Auburn running back took the handoff. The play resulted in a loss of three and forced his team to punt.

“The timing on that play was messed up,” Louis said “I was a little too far, I came too quick and ran into Tre. That was on my mind the whole game.”

Louis knew he had to redeem himself. He had to make a play. A first-down catch would’ve done just fine, but instead, he decided to reel in a 73-yard touchdown off a tipped pass to win the game for Auburn.

“I’ve never been a part of anything like this,” Louis said after the game. “This is like a dream. This is a dream come true. I always dreamed about making a big play in a big game. Coach [Gus] Malzahn said in the beginning of the week, ‘Ricardo’s due for a great play in a big game.” He was right.”

Still, Louis was an unlikely hero for the Tigers.

In high school, Louis was a running back. He spent time at quarterback, wide receiver and everywhere else the team needed him, but he was primarily used out of the backfield. As a senior at Miami Beach High School, he rushed for 765 yards and 13 touchdowns.

When he arrived at Auburn, it was quite an adjustment when the coaches asked him to play wide receiver. He struggled at first, catching just three passes for 36 yards his freshman year, but the addition of co-offensive coordinator Dameyune Craig in the offseason was just what he needed.

“When we recruited Ricardo Louis, we felt like he could be an unbelievable impact player, and Coach Craig’s done a great job with him,” Malzahn said. “Each week, he’s gotten more and more confidence.”

This season, Louis is second on the team in receiving with 291 yards and has added another 161 on the ground. Louis credited his position coach for making the miraculous catch Saturday.

“It was unbelievable,” Louis said. “I thought I was going to drop it for real. Coach Craig always tells us to look the ball all the way in. He’s the reason I caught that ball.”

Louis will now be remembered for that final catch -- a catch that will go down in SEC lore -- but it shouldn’t take away from the impact he had already made in the game. He had career highs in both receiving yards and rushing yards long before that last drive.

Auburn had been looking for a wide receiver to step up opposite of Sammie Coates all season, and Louis had finally answered the call.

“Ricardo’s a great player,” Coates said. “With him, he’s always down to make a play when we need him, and he did real great [Saturday]. We’re proud of him. He kept fighting and made big plays when it was presented to him. He’s a playmaker.”

But despite his breakout performance through the first three quarters, Louis still needed that last catch to make people forget about his earlier gaffe. And that play might be just the thing to give him confidence for the rest of this season and beyond.

“It can really propel you,” he said. “The fact I’ve been working hard, playing wide receiver after playing quarterback in high school, it’s a big move. It’s all about working hard. I look at a lot of receiver film to see what I can do to become a better receiver.”

On Saturday, Louis gave a glimpse at his potential, but to his head coach, the young wide receiver can prove to be much more than one big catch.

“He’s got a chance to really be special, and I think this will kind of put him in the right direction,” Malzahn said.