LSU hopes to leave conservative play calling in the past

BATON ROUGE, La. – We’ve heard this story before, with LSU players claiming their offense is capable of spreading the ball around, only to see the Tigers remain conservative at crunch time.

So why should we believe things might change this season? Several LSU players explained the contributing factors in the offensive growth that they expect this fall:

The skill talent is a year older: Most of LSU’s key skill players were freshmen and sophomores who were still figuring out what to do at this point a season ago. Now they better understand their roles after struggling for much of 2014.

“We took it personal that we were at the bottom half of passing yards, completions, passing percentage, third-down percentage,” junior receiver Travin Dural said. “We took that personal and we worked on ourselves all summer, all spring and we showed it in fall camp.

“We gave the coaches a lot of confidence in us to where they want to throw it, as opposed to last year when they didn’t know if Malachi [Dupre] could do this or Trey [Quinn] could do that because none of those guys had game experience. Now that they’ve played, they’ve showcased what they can do and they’ve grown.”

The talent is certainly there. Keep in mind that Leonard Fournette was ESPN’s top overall prospect and No. 1 running back in the 2014 signing class. Dupre and Quinn were the Nos. 1 and 3 receivers. Quarterback Brandon Harris was the No. 2 dual-threat quarterback. They all took their lumps as freshmen and are ready for bigger roles as sophomores.

“Last year, Travin was the only guy that had played in a game going into last season,” Dupre said. “I feel like it affected some of the things that we were able to do last season. But this year, I feel like the sky’s the limit. We just have to go out and execute.”

They can step on the gas: LSU will still be able to ground and pound opponents with the run. That was the whole idea behind signing Fournette. But the Tigers have also worked on increasing the offensive tempo when necessary.

“In the spring and with the summer, it was wearing us out,” Fournette said. “We weren’t used to running fast every play, but our bodies got used to it/ We adjusted to it and we do it with a breeze now.”

The extra season of maturity helps, too. Only a couple of receivers could play multiple positions last year. Now several can, such as how Dural or John Diarse can slide into any spot or how Dupre switches from outside to the slot.

“We rotate so much that it’s not like me and Travin go in before everybody else in a specific set,” Dupre said. “D.J. [Chark] or Tyron [Johnson] or John or Trey, they’ll jump in, too.”

The spread suits Harris’ game: Fans were frustrated by the Tigers’ close-to-the-vest play calling last year. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s job, though, is to call the plays he believes his players can successfully execute, and that led to enormous doses of the running game.

The quick-footed Harris can change that with his speed and exceptional arm. His teammates claim the new starter has also grown into the job mentally.

“I feel like Brandon has just improved tremendously and mentally and it’s helping his physical abilities just shine,” Dupre said.

Harris starred in a shotgun spread offense in high school, and Cameron could incorporate more of those looks for him, balancing an offense that ran the ball 69 percent of the time last season.

“The quarterbacks and the receivers have matured together – not one more than the other. They’ve grown and we’ve grown,” Dural said. “It’s complementary right now. It’s making everything a lot more open. The run isn’t just stacked in practice anymore. They have to respect the pass.”

The offensive line is loaded with veterans: With Jerald Hawkins and Vadal Alexander returning to man the tackle positions and juniors Ethan Pocic and Josh Boutte apparently grabbing two interior spots, LSU’s offensive line will be loaded with upperclassmen.

It’s easy to focus on skill talent when discussing how the offense might become more potent, but the line’s experience is also a key factor.

“Because we have a lot more experience up front, you can do a lot more things as an offense as a whole,” Alexander said. “Because the more things you do, the more things you have to know as an offense. There’s different looks for every scheme and formation that you’re in.

“So the more experience allows us to do more with our offense and I look forward to seeing what we’re going to do. It’s up to Coach Cam to call the plays, but I’m ready for any one that he calls.”