By Trey Mongrue
In recent years, the passing attack of the LSU offense has been largely hit or miss, and more times than not it was missing. That all changed last season when the likes of Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. were catching an abundance of passes from Zach Mettenberger.
For the first time in LSU’s illustrious history, the Tiger offense had a 3,000-yard passer and two 1,000-yard receivers in the same season. But just as quick as the dynamic air raid arrived in Tiger Stadium, the NFL swept it away in the blink of an eye.
After that lone season of passing bliss, it was largely assumed that LSU would return to run-heavy roots entering 2014. But with two games in the can, it’s not Terrence Magee, Kenny Hilliard or Leonard Fournette stealing the offensive headlines.
Nope, those have been reserved speedy wide receiver Travin Dural.
“I’ve put in a lot of hard work this summer to develop my game a lot more,” said the redshirt sophomore from Breaux Bridge. “Last year, I was behind two great receivers and I learned a lot from them. Now, I’m trying to carry on that tradition of the great receivers that have been at LSU.”
Possessing the speed to beat pretty much any man coverage and the hands and athleticism to catch any ball thrown within the vicinity, Dural has shown how much of a headache he can be for opposing defenses in just a short time in Baton Rouge.
He etched his name in the record books last week against Sam Houston State when quarterback Anthony Jennings found him streaking down the right sideline for a 94-yard touchdown reception – the longest in LSU history.
“Anthony made a great throw and I let my speed do the rest,” said Dural, cracking a smile. “You have to make plays every time that you get the ball because you never know when it’s going to be your last ball.
“Everyone knows that LSU is not a team that throws the ball 50 times a game, so when it’s thrown your way you want to make the most of it.”
It was the first of a three-touchdown day for Dural as the Tigers decimated the Bearkats, 56-0. While the win was nice, it was also expected; however, for the young receiver it was another important step in his progression to cementing himself as the Tigers go-to receiver.
“I’ve been waiting on this moment all my life,” he said of being LSU’s number one receiver. “I’m trying to take advantage of it in any possible way that I can.”
Beyond the novelty of a record and what it means for his potential going forward, Dural’s production to this point as a Tiger could not be much better.
Through the first 15 games of his career, Dural has caught 13 passes as a Tiger. Six of those were for touchdowns, the other seven were for first downs.
“Our coaches preach us to take advantage of every play,” said Dural. “It just so happens that every time I do that, it goes for a first down or a touchdown. I’ve worked really hard so that I can try and make the most out of my opportunities.”
In the season opener against Wisconsin, just as was the case against Sam Houston State, Dural opened LSU’s scoring on an explosive note – an 80 yard touchdown catch to start what would be a three catch, 151-yard day for him and, most importantly, an LSU win.
But even as a freshman last year when Landry and Beckham Jr. were getting the majority of the targets from Mettenberger, Dural still produced in a limited role.
Of course, everyone has his 49-yard touchdown pass that beat Arkansas last year etched into the memory banks. But even before that, he was averaging nearly 20 yards per reception. However, because of what the depth chart was, Dural never recorded more than one catch in a game last season.
Still, those who spent the most time with him saw what he could become.
“He takes flight when he is out there,” said Jennings who gave Dural the nickname “Flight 83” because of the receiver’s speed and jersey number.
“He’s a great receiver, but he just doesn’t do that on Saturday’s, he’s out here working hard every day.”
It is also pretty evident to those in the LSU secondary who went up against pretty much every day during Fall Camp.
“It’s his time now and we know that he is ready for it,” said sophomore defensive back Dwayne Thomas. “We know that once the ball is in the air and you are right next to Travin, he’s going to accelerate, separate himself by about ten yards and go and get it.
“It’s tough and it takes three phases to beat him. You have to get your hands on him at the line of scrimmage, stay with him and then decide to play his hands or play that ball.”
But while the art of hauling in a 20-yard pass comes pretty natural to Dural, the departures of Landry and Beckham Jr. – plus the arrivals of touted freshmen Trey Quinn, Malachi Dupre and D.J. Chark – meant that the receiving corps got young fast and were in need of a leader.
Dural has taken charge.
“It’s a little different from being the third guy last year to where I am now,” he explained. “Everyone on the team is looking at me now and asking me question opposed to how I was looking at Jarvis and Odell. I take everything those guys did for me and try to model myself after them.”
Whether he can put up the numbers that those two did last season still remains to be seen with not even the first third of this season in the books. However, the reported demise of LSU’s passing offense seems to have been greatly exaggerated.
You can thank Dural for that.