Harris, Dupre's bond continues to grow

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Travin Dural noticed a difference almost immediately after Malachi Dupre's breakout performance.

Early in the season, the trick to shutting down LSU's passing game was essentially that if you limit the damage from Dural -- he ranks third in the SEC with 106.8 receiving yards per game -- you'll be fine. But in last Saturday's 63-7 win against New Mexico State, a week removed from Dupre's 120-yard, two-touchdown effort against Mississippi State, Dural realized he wasn't getting as much of the opposing defense's attention.

"For the most part, we came out for the Mississippi State game and I was being doubled from the jump," Dupre said. "We came out in this game right here [against NMSU] and it wasn't as bad. So I'd say because he started making plays and he was on the other side of the field from me, that helped out a lot."

That's exactly what No. 15 LSU (4-1, 0-1 SEC) needs from Dural's mates in the receiving corps, and exactly what the Tigers expected when Dupre -- ESPN's No. 1 receiver in the 2014 recruiting class -- signed with the program in February. The freshman missed the Tigers' opener against Wisconsin with an injury and didn't do much until late in Game 2 against Sam Houston State, but he has played a prominent role in the past two weeks, much to Dural's relief.

"I've been preaching to him all year, 'We need you. We need you to step up and make those plays,' and the past couple games he's been doing it," said Dural, whose team visits No. 5 Auburn (4-0, 1-0) on Saturday. "I feel like coming into this game this week, teams are going to have to respect him because there's a threat that someone else can make a play."

Perhaps it's no coincidence the majority of Dupre's recent production has come with fellow freshman Brandon Harris playing quarterback. Thanks in part to a bond that dates back to their time as high school prospects, Harris has targeted Dupre with eight passes and completed seven of them for 138 yards and four touchdowns.

Initially, both freshmen played the majority of their snaps in mop-up duty, but their roles in the offense have steadily grown. Against NMSU, Dupre caught three passes for 54 yards and became the first Tiger not named Dural to lead the team in receiving yards in a game this season. Dupre made his first career start against NMSU and reigning SEC Freshman of the Week Harris is set for his starting debut on Saturday.

"It's very rewarding when we both do well," Dupre said. "It seems like every touchdown I've caught from [Harris], he was the first one there to celebrate with me even though he was a long distance away."

Dupre and Harris are from different parts of Louisiana -- Harris hails from Bossier City in the northwest corner of the state and Dupre is from New Orleans along the southeastern border -- so they didn't begin to develop a relationship until meeting as recruits. Initially Dupre cozied up to Harris in an effort to bond with his potential future quarterback, and they soon discovered their personalities meshed well.

"We're both alike. We're not shy people. We both want to make big plays in big-time games. I guess since our personalities are alike, that's why we gravitate to each other so much," Dupre said. "Yeah, we spend a lot of time with each other off the field and not because he's the quarterback and I'm a receiver. If he played D-line, we'd still be close."

Likewise, Harris was initially impressed by Dupre's receiving skills -- he recalled thinking, "This guy's insane" while watching him compete at an LSU prospect camp in the summer of 2013 -- but now believes their time together has helped them develop legitimate chemistry.

"Me and Malachi worked out together in California this offseason. We work out a lot," Harris said. "There's chemistry between all of our receivers. We stay after practice and throw all of the time. I think it's important. You can't go out there and dream stuff up. You've got to be on the same page."

He and Dupre definitely seemed to be on the same page the past two games, and their comfort level will likely continue to grow as they gain on-field experience together.

"I sense a level of comfort, a level of confidence -- and that's with any young player coming in and getting some reps and getting some time on the field," receiver John Diarse said. "The more you play, the more balls you catch, the more plays you make, you start getting comfortable and getting confident in your game."

Dupre played in a run-oriented offense where he rarely touched the ball at state football power John Curtis, but he always knew he had the ability to become a difference-maker at receiver in college. Lately things seem to be going according to plan.

"I came here to make plays and help us win," Dupre said. "Now that I'm getting that opportunity and chance, it feels good. But I can honestly say that it is something I envisioned and thought about before I came. And now that we're doing it and being successful at it, it helps."