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LSU Tigers need to ask more of Brandon Harris

LSU can’t continue to waste Leonard Fournette. Les Miles can’t afford to. After all, no one wants to be the guy that had a once-in-a-generation player and still couldn’t contend for a conference or national championship.

Granted, this isn’t basketball. One player can’t carry a team in the same way.

But that’s where a coach and his staff should come in. There should be a way, some way, to take the pressure off Fournette. To maximize his talent, rather than become totally dependent on it. And it starts with further developing the passing game.

Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron should learn from the Alabama game. Fournette isn’t infallible. If you run essentially the same play over and over -- one receiver split out wide, hand off or toss to No. 7 -- you can’t expect good results. A quality defense like the Crimson Tide’s will find a way to make you do something different.

Which is what Alabama did. They brought a safety into the box time and time again, daring LSU to throw the football. And Brandon Harris rarely did. In a game where it was obvious from the start that LSU would have to throw to set up the run, Harris attempted only 19 passes. He finished with 128 yards, one touchdown and one interception through the air. Eighty-five FBS QBs had more passing yards last week, including Auburn’s Jeremy Johnson and Florida’s Treon Harris.

That’s just not going to cut it.

“To recap the game, we were inefficient,” Miles told reporters in Baton Rouge on Monday. “We got behind in downs. We took time to snap the ball offensively. Seemed like our field position in the first half that we could not improve on was backed up and we certainly did not play well in the first half.

“It was certainly our position to come out of the locker room and go down the field and score and take the lead, 17-13. That didn't happen. The opening play of the second half we turned the ball over, and we really just could not get in sync offensively.”

Because he felt compelled to do so, Miles said, “For Leonard Fournette, it certainly wasn't his fault in any way. We didn't get him loose. Safeties were making tackles and they were making them very close to the line of scrimmage.”

It’s no secret what you do in a situation like that. Any armchair quarterback could tell you that you have to keep those safeties from cheating up. You don’t have the hurl the ball deep and hope for the best. Instead, a screen, a quick pass out to a receiver, even a delayed handoff could have been used to keep the DBs honest. Mixing up tempo and alignments wouldn’t have hurt their cause.

Harris might develop into a more capable passer in the future, but for now he is what he is. And Miles and Cameron need to work with that, whether it’s calling for more high-percentage passes, rolling him out or dialing up a few more designed QB runs. Anything to take the focus off of Fournette.

It’s great that Fournette leads the country in rushing yards. It’s not so great that there’s not a receiver on his team that ranks in the top 100 nationally in receptions. There are 23 receivers in the SEC alone that have more catches than LSU’s Travin Dural (26). If balance is the goal, then the Tigers are failing to achieve it.

Here’s a crazy idea: If handing the ball off to Fournette isn’t working, why not throw him the ball instead? But no, he’s been targeted in the passing game just 13 times this season while Florida State’s Dalvin Cook and Stanford's Christian McCaffery have been targeted on passes 22 and 34 times, respectively.

It’s not a matter of getting away from what you do best. LSU is built to be a power running team and should stay that way.

But they should learn from what happened against Alabama, ask Harris to do a little bit more and get creative with Fournette. If they don't, they could struggle down the stretch against Arkansas, Ole Miss and Texas A&M.

They’re not out of the playoff hunt just yet. It’s not too late to try something different.