BATON ROUGE – Just in time for the meat of LSU’s schedule, the Tigers are getting tailback Leonard Fournette back as well as starting left guard William Clapp after each missed multiple games with injuries.
Also returning to the fold is wide receiver Malachi Dupre. He has not been hurt, but his game had been hurting.
After leading LSU in receiving touchdowns last season with six and in receiving yards with 698, the junior from John Curtis High in the New Orleans area did not catch his first touchdown until game six Saturday against Southern Mississippi. He was also eighth on the team in average receiving yards per catch with 9.1 entering the USM game after averaging 16.2 last season. There were several drops as well.
That changed Saturday when Dupre became the first Tiger to post 100 or more receiving yards in a game this season as he caught three passes for 100 yards with two touchdowns – 63- and 23-yard catches from quarterback Danny Etling in the Tigers' 45-10 win.
“He was fired up about it,” LSU interim coach Ed Orgeron said. “He has been waiting for this. They've all been waiting for this.”
No. 22 Ole Miss (3-3, 1-2 SEC), which is 11th in the SEC in pass defense with 233 yards allowed a game, now has three wide receivers to deal with when they play at No. 23 LSU (4-2, 2-1 SEC) at 8 p.m. Saturday in Tiger Stadium on ESPN. Senior Travin Dural leads LSU with 20 catches for 198 yards with a touchdown and 9.9-yard average per catch, followed by Dupre with 18 receptions for a team-high 236 yards and two touchdowns and a 13.1-yard average and junior D.J. Chark, who has 13 catches for 224 yards and two touchdowns with a 17.2-yard average, including an 80-yard touchdown against USM.
“I’d be lying to you if I said it didn’t feel great,” Dupre said. “It’s a long time coming. We started off slowly, myself especially in the passing game. It felt great. In games early in the season, I wasn’t doing my best job. I played the way I was supposed to this time. It was a great feeling getting into the end zone again. It felt like it would never come.”
Forget touchdowns, Dupre just wanted to catch some passes early this season. Through the first two games, he had three catches for 24 yards and found himself in a rare slump.
“My confidence never wavered. I knew the ability I possess the whole time,” said Dupre, who was the No. 1 prep wide receiver in the nation in 2014 by ESPN.com. “It was nothing like I doubted myself or anything like that. But I will say, I had 15 targets in the first two games and only three completions. So I knew that wasn’t acceptable. So, I think it’s been a more focused me and knowing I had to do a better job for this team and for myself.”
Playing more slot with Dural and Chark wide in recent games has also helped Dupre.
“The slot’s fun. I enjoy it,” he said. “You have to be ready to go across the middle more, but there is more room and space in the slot, so it makes your job a little easier.”
Getting open could be easier for Dupre and company Saturday with Fournette back after missing the last two games with an ankle injury.
“It gives the team that we’re playing something more to prepare for and something else to think about,” Dupre said. “Having Leonard back does a lot for our offense. You have to stop Leonard, so I know it will keep that defensive coordinator (Dave Wommack) on his toes.”
Ole Miss is last in the SEC in total defense with 446 yards allowed a game and 13th of 14 in points allowed with 30.3 a game. It is also 12th in the league against the run with 212.8 yards allowed a game. Wommack and co-defensive coordinator Jason Jones also have to worry about tailback Derrius Guice, who leads the nation with 9.1 yards a carry and is fifth in the SEC with 94 yards a game in Fournette’s absence with 564 yards on 62 carries in six games. Fournette has gained 386 yards on 67 carries in three games.
Meanwhile, Etling is coming off a season-high 276 yards on 11-of-18 passing.
“We’ve got everything coming together going into this difficult part of the season,” Dupre said.
After Ole Miss, LSU plays four more ranked SEC opponents in a row – No. 1 Alabama (7-0, 4-0 SEC) on Nov. 5 after an open date on Oct. 29, No. 17 Arkansas (5-2, 1-2) on the road on Nov. 12, No. 12 Florida (5-1, 3-1) on Nov. 19 and No. 6 Texas A&M (6-0, 4-0) on the road on Nov. 24. It’s a murderer’s row the likes of which LSU has not played back-to-back in this fashion since 2012.
“We know what’s ahead. We know,” Dupre said. “But the main thing is to take it week by week. We know where we have to go, but if you start looking ahead, that’s when you stumble. With the way we’ve been playing, we can go a long way.”
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