BATON ROUGE, La. — LSU fans have spent a lot of time in recent years screaming about how the Tigers need to do a better job in the vertical passing game — yells so fierce that they ultimately played a role in Les Miles losing his job midseason.
Saturday night, wide receiver Malachi Dupre was screaming too. Literally. Because the chance to show everybody that LSU can go downfield and threaten opposing defenses was unfolding right in front of him.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Dupre said. “I don’t know what the cornerback was thinking, because it wasn’t a blitz. He just ran in. (So) I started screaming.”
Quarterback Danny Etling had his back turned to Dupre, selling the defense on a play-action fake, so he had no way of knowing that Southern Miss cornerback Trae Collins had bitten badly and Dupre was as open as a football player could be. Until he heard the yells.
“I heard a ‘Yo!’ from Malachi,” Etling said.
Etling then heaved it up in the air for Dupre, who caught the ball near the 20-yard line and cruised in to finish the 63-yard touchdown, his first of the year and LSU’s first true long pitch-and-catch of the season. (D.J. Chark’s 80-yarder earlier in the third quarter looks long in the box score, but was a 15-yard route that Chark turned into a touchdown with his speed.)
“I was screaming at the top of my lungs, ‘Yo! Yo!'” Dupre said. “I’m glad he saw me. I’m glad my screaming work.”
That sentiment is shared by most residents of Tiger Nation at the present. But no one is happier than Dupre, who got off to a shaky start this season with more drops than catches through LSU’s first two games.
“It was a weight. I ain’t going to lie to you,” Dupre said of being scoreless this far into the season. “I was very excited to get into the zone finally.”
He said friends, family and teammates were key in never losing confidence as he struggled at the start of the season.
“I’m a mentally tough person. I’ve got a strong support system. At the end of the day, I know my abilities,” Dupre said. “I’ve got to keep working. Life continues around you if you’re doing great or you’re doing bad. I just told myself I’m going to work as hard as I can.”
In theory, any college receiver should be able to catch a ball when they are as wide-open as Dupre was on the 63-yarder, so it could be argued that his 23-yard fourth-quarter reception in the back of the end zone was even more impressive. Dupre had the concentration to hold on to the ball and get his feet down even as he was being interfered with on the play.
But to him, the long touchdown was the more satisfying one.
“I feel like the deep ball was more satisfying, because it’s something we’ve struggled with this year a little bit. The timing on those deep balls,” he said. “So not only satisfying for myself, but the team and the receiving room and the quarterbacks as a whole. That’s something we need to connect on to get Danny the confidence to keep throwing it out there.”
Dupre saw a parallel to the game — the Tigers went into the locker room with an uninspiring 10-10 tie before scoring the final 35 points — and the season as a whole.
“If you want to put it that way, for sure. We’ve got two losses right now that we don’t even want to think about. We want to learn from them,” Dupre said. “With the new coaching staff we want to say we’re 2-0 right now and flush the other two losses down the toilet. That’s the thing Coach O always says. Right now we’re just going to take this win and improve.”
Ultimately, that lesson may end up being the value of this mid-October non-conference game. Even if future opponents might not yet believe LSU can beat them through the air, the Tigers are starting to think they can.