Receiving Corps Steps Up For Tigers

All season long, it seemed as if LSU would have one particular receiver step up and become the focal point of the Tigers passing attack when it came down to crunch time.

Against Alabama, the trend was bucked, and Matt Flynn attacked the Crimson Tide by throwing to whoever was getting open instead of focusing on a single target.

Ultimately there may have been a drop or two, but they didn't prove to be drive killers. When it counted, LSU's receiving corps held onto the ball, outmaneuvered defenders, blocked downfield, and even completed a pass when called upon to do so. One receiver even gained a measure of redemption in the game's closing moments.

Following the Tigers' win over Auburn, some were probably wondering when or if Brandon LaFell would see meaningful playing time again this season. In addition to dropping critical passes, LaFell managed to scoop a pass to a defender. LaFell's receiving woes even prompted one trick-or-treater to lampoon him on Halloween night. Sporting a No. 1 jersey – LaFell's number – the youngster decked out all 10 of his fingers with Butterfinger candy bar wrappers. Suffice it to say, when LSU took over with 4:53 remaining in the game at its own 16 and down by seven points, seeing Flynn repeatedly going to him was a bit of a surprise.

"I felt we had a good matchup on the inside with him," LSU offensive coordinator Gary Crowton said. "He was fresh, and (Demetrius) Byrd had done such a good job on the outside. So now, he just gave us such a good matchup. I just kept trying to milk that matchup as long as I could do it."

On the drive, LaFell caught passes for gains of 19, 14, and 6 yards. Facing a third-and-four, Flynn went back to LaFell again, but that proved to be one time too often as LaFell failed to haul in the catch with Alabama's Marcus Carter defending. Facing a fourth-and-four on the very next play, Early Doucet took a short pass the distance for the tying score. Crowton is confident LaFell's miscues will become a forgotten footnote.

"I think sometimes when you're playing and you're trying to make plays you get the drops, so to speak," Crowton said. "You get those and then you start thinking about it, and he's thought about it a little too much. And really, if he just pushes it out of the back of his head and plays like he did today and plays, he's going to get over that."

Both Doucet and Byrd felt LaFell gained a measure of redemption.

"He's been working hard," Doucet said of LaFell. "Everybody's been kind of down on him, because of the drops. But I always tell him, ‘You know, it happens. You're a wide receiver. So, they're always going to notice the drops.' He did a lot of little things as far as blocking, and he also made some great catches on that last drive that just kind of gave us more confidence in him. He's going to continue to get better and better each day. So I'm real proud of him. Not only LaFell, but the whole receiving group as a unit."

Byrd was offering words of encouragement to LaFell during the course of the game against Alabama.

"I was like, ‘Hey,' when I went to the sideline. ‘That's what you do. You come in and you make big catches. We needed you to come in and make them catches right there.' So that's what he came in and did," Byrd said.

Byrd was actually LSU's leading receiver for the game. Two weeks after making a nearly improbable catch to seal Auburn's fate, Byrd caught six catches for 144 yards. That included a 61-yard strike from Flynn for a touchdown that put the Tigers within three points of Alabama just 59 seconds after the Crimson Tide had gained a 10-point advantage.

According to Byrd, he altered his route on the play.

"I had a simple out route, but he came and pressed me, so I was like, ‘Man, I know I can beat him deep,'" Byrd said. "I just took it deep and threw my hand up, and Matt read it and threw a perfect ball to me."

As for Doucet, the elder of the receiving corps, he contributed with five catches for 67 yards and two touchdowns – the 18th and 19th of his career to tie him for third place on LSU's career receiving touchdowns list. Even down by 10 points, Doucet was confident about the Tigers' chances.

"Knowing that we've been down before and we were able to come back and continue to fight, no matter what challenges we were faced with, just goes to show a lot about our team's character," Doucet said. "Coach Miles just preaches to us to continue to just play hard for four quarters. We come out each Saturday and do that. Tonight was a night where we had to continue to fight."

Doucet certainly continued to fight and made a few cutback moves on his game-tying touchdown that impressed his younger cohorts.

"That was nice," Byrd said of the play after chuckling. "I like the move he gave. I told him, ‘I'll have to steal that one day.'"

One play Byrd said he won't be stealing, however, is Doucet's reverse pass back to the quarterback. It was a play that only worked about half the time last week in practice, according to Crowton, and one Doucet was excited to see called. It was his first career pass as a Tiger and went for 35 yards.

"It kind of brought me back to my high school days when I played quarterback back then," Doucet said. "I was just trying to get it there, because I overthrew him a few times in practice, so that was something I didn't want to do tonight. It was kind of a low ball with no air under it, but I got it there and he caught the ball."

As for Byrd, he expects to remain on the receiving end of passes for the remainder of his LSU career.

"I don't think I could get in that position because the ball won't make it there," Byrd said with a laugh. "Matt (Flynn) probably wouldn't have even gotten that ball."

So, don't look for Byrd to throw any passes; but just as they have for the majority of this season, look for the Tigers receiving corps as a whole to make plays when they need to in crunch time.

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