BATON ROUGE, La. — Stephen Sullivan and Drake Davis are always roommates. It’s tradition.
LSU’s sophomore wide receivers have made a two-year habit out of rooming together both for home and road games. It’s become a learning tool for both Class of 2016 blue-chip prospects to get a better grasp of the offense. That tradition has continued into this season and has really begun to rear its head in recent weeks as all three members of that 2016 recruiting class — including Dee Anderson — have emerged as role players in the Tigers’ receiving corps.
Sullivan finished second on the team with 2 receptions for 40 yards, including a 21-yard grab, in LSU’s home victory against Arkansas on Saturday. He was also responsible for laying down a critical crack-block on some Hogs defenders to spring Derrius Guice for his 33-yard touchdown run, which is a testament to his hotel film room study with Davis as he and his sophomore teammates emerge as staples in the offense this fall … and beyond.
Of course, the Tigers needed receivers not named D.J. Chark to step up this season. In Sullivan, they received just that, as well as a future blueprint for the position moving forward.
“Before the games, we say: ‘You’re going to come in and do this’ and ‘I’m going to come in and do that’ and we make it happen,” Sullivan said of his conversation with Davis last night. “Now it’s happening on Saturdays.”
“As a team, we come together and talk about the things we want do and what we want to accomplish,” he continued. “We know that we got some big roles coming up for next year. Those guys are leaving, so we’re going to help them leave on a good note and at the same time, we want to get our feet wet in the SEC and playing in big games.”
Sullivan’s two catches against Arkansas pushes the total number of receptions to four in the past two games. The Donaldsonville, La., native had four grabs through the team’s first eight contests.
Offensive coordinator Matt Canada and wide receivers coach Mickey Joseph have worked toward deepening LSU’s receiver rotation and interchanging Sullivan, Davis and Anderson in for Chark, Russell Gage and Derrick Dillon for different roles and packages. For instance, Sullivan has seen snaps outside, in the slot and as a wing. That’s helped the starting wide receivers fresher, but also allowed the trio of sophomores become more adept in the system and clearly, more impactful on the field.
“You could say we’re taking a little off D.J.’s shoulders,” Sullivan laughed. “He’s a senior and he’s got other plans going on. They’re trying to take care of their bodies. They’d do anything for their team, but me and Dee and Drake, we have series. If I’m tired, I tap out, and the same for Dee and Drake. We’re keeping everybody playing and everybody fresh.”
Sullivan’s early playing time — or lack thereof — was never a nuisance for the sophomore receiver, only a hurdle. In order to get on the field, he needed to study his playbook harder and learn from his earlier mistakes.
That has been a theme in Joseph’s receiving room this fall. Sullivan and Davis have played in each game, with Sullivan started each of the last six. After failing to see the field through the first five weeks of the season, Anderson has seen significant snaps out wide each of the past five games.
“They’re doing great jobs,” tight end Foster Moreau said of the young receivers, most notably Sullivan. “They’re stepping up and really helping us win football games. Those 20-yard catches on out route and catches on those nakeds, you can’t ask for much more than that. They’ve got to make plays when they’re asked to and they do.”
The results are undeniable.
With 8 receptions for 186 yards and a touchdown, Sullivan is LSU’s fourth-leading receiver and second in all of those categories behind only Chark. Davis ranks sixth in that department and right behind Gage for fourth among receivers, while Anderson — now seeing routine playing time out wide — hauled in his first reception of the season against the Razorbacks.
As staples in the receiver rotation, they are beginning to finally put their stamp on the offense.
“He’s working hard,” Chark said of Sullivan. “We all mistakes and whenever he makes a mistake, he’s never a guy that gets down on himself. That speaks for the whole room. Everyone has chances and he [Sullivan] makes the most of them. Stephen shows that every time he goes out and makes the plays that he can.”