By Trey Mongrue
For at least one windy and overcast day in April, football returned to Tiger Stadium for the first time in 2014 last Saturday in the form of LSU’s annual National L-Club Spring Game.
With the entire LSU roster split into two full squads, the White team pulled out a 42-14 win over the Purple team. However, for head coach Les Miles and his players, the score itself did not really mean much to them. Rather, the Tigers’ first and only public scrimmage of the year signified the end of a rigorous month of workouts with the goal for the upcoming season being the same as it always has been at LSU – winning championships.
“I really think the Spring Game went as it should have gone,” said Miles afterwards. “We really think that we’ll develop quite nicely.”
Freshman quarterback Brandon Harris was someone that everybody was interested in seeing, and he did not disappoint. Splitting time under center for both teams with presumed starting quarterback Anthony Jennings, the first-year signal caller from Parkway High School accounted for a total of 270 yards of offense and four total touchdowns.
“He made some really big plays and nice passes, but he also made some mistakes,” Miles said of Harris, who was one of two early-enrollee freshmen that were eligible to participate in the spring practices and game.
While Harris did lead all five LSU quarterbacks with 195 yards, he only completed 11 of his 28 passes. However, Miles and the coaching staff remain excited about Harris’ potential
“It was certainly reviewed very positively by us,” added Miles. “If we can eliminate the mistakes, that’s something that we’re looking to do.”
Between the two squads, the Tigers combined for 622 yards on Saturday. As has been the frequent case with these games, the defense seemed to be a step quicker than the offense. Junior linebacker Ronnie Feist tallied a game-high 14 tackles while defensive end Danielle Hunter led with two sacks in addition to two quarterback hurries.
Linebackers Kwon Alexander and Deion Jones each returned an interception for a touchdown.
“I felt like certain guys tackled well,” said Miles. “It felt like, defensively, we were a little vanilla, if you will.”
Miles and the rest of the Tigers will disperse for now, but the individual preparations for the 2014 season will continue through the summer with the team reconvening for another string of preseason practices in August. For Miles, the Spring Game provided just a taste of what is to come.
“It was a very productive day,” he said. “To end the spring with the Spring Game, this is just what we needed.”
Dural’s Big Day
The last time LSU fans saw wide receiver Travin Dural, he had just caught a pass from Jennings and was streaking down the sidelines for a late go-ahead touchdown in the Tigers’ final regular season game against Arkansas.
In his first season at LSU, Dural totaled just 145 receiving yards and two touchdowns, while Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry both eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark. With those two gone for the NFL, Dural entered spring practices knowing that the receiver depth chart was wide opened.
Aspiring to be LSU’s next go-to receiver, he showed his capabilities on Saturday, catching five passes for 150 yards and two touchdowns.
“By far, I would say this was by best day during the spring,” Dural said. “I was thrown a lot of balls and got a chance to make a lot of plays and that’s what I did.”
With the two top receivers in LSU’s 2014 recruiting class, Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn, watching the game from the stands, Dural capped off the first half by hauling in a 21 yard fade in the corner of the end zone from Harris for his first score of the game.
He then connected with Jennings for 13 yard a score early in the third quarter.
“Travin Dural had a hell of a day,” said Miles, “with a couple of nice receptions and a couple of big plays.”
After the game was finished, it quickly became apparent just how far ahead Dural was compared to the rest of the receivers. In fact, while Dural finished with his five receptions, the quarterbacks targeted only two other receivers – John Diarse and Rob Bolden. They finished with just one catch apiece.
Dural now hopes that the momentum from the Spring Game is something that he can carry into the new season.
“It’s very nice to have this confidence going forward,” he said. “But, I have to keep working and keep growing to get better as a receiver.”
Solidifying the Secondary
After getting their feet wet as freshmen last season, Rashard Robinson and Tre’Davious White are ready to assert themselves as shutdown cornerbacks this season. The duo showed glimpses of that in the Spring Game.
With both on the same team, White finished three tackles while the quarterbacks seemed hesitant to throw to Robinson’s side of the field for much of the afternoon.
“We still have some small things that we have to work on,” Robinson explained afterwards. “But you can tell that everybody out there is getting better and learning.”
Last season, LSU allowed an average of 197.5 passing yards per game. That included games against Georgia, Mississippi State and Ole Miss where they allowed more than 250 yards through the air. But with a season under their belts, White believes that he, Robinson and the rest of the LSU secondary are ready to take that next step.
Allowing the opposing quarterbacks to complete just 42-percent of their passes in the Spring Game is a good starting point.
“We are better than we were last year, but we are not where we want to be,” said White. “We have a better understanding of the playbook, know different techniques that we can use and things like that.”
For obvious reasons, Harris’ performance and the ignition of a battle between him and Jennings for the starting quarterback was the hot postgame topic and will likely last until the team meets back up in August.
However, second year offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Cam Cameron is not ready to buy into the hype just yet.
“You’ve got to temper [the expectations] a little bit,” Cameron said of Harris’ Spring Game outing. “It’s easy to get too excited, because we did recruit both of these guys for a reason.”
While many marveled at Harris’ elite arm strength, Cameron – just as any good coach would do in a scrimmage – focused on and pointed out what the young quarterback needs to improve on.
“Brandon would tell you that I chewed his rear end after his first three-and-out to start the second half,” Cameron recalled. “You have to be able to play a complete game and there are still so many things that he can learn.”