Randle helping LSU make big gains in passing game

Rueben Randle only has to make a few catches a game to have a

major effect on the way teams try to defend LSU.

With an offense defined mostly by its powerful running game, the

top-ranked Tigers do not have to rely on their 6-foot-4, 208-pound

star receiver as much as other teams might.

Yet when opposing defenders cheat up to play the run or bite on

a play-action fakes, Randle can make them pay with a big play.

”We’re going to run the ball, and whenever the safeties come

up, we’re going to pass the ball deep, so we’ve pretty much defined

what we want to do,” Randle said this week, as the Tigers prepared

to play at Tennessee on Saturday. ”As a receiver, we’ve got to

take advantage of the times we do get the ball and just make the

play.”

Randle is certainly doing that.

He had four catches for 127 yards against Florida last weekend,

including a 46-yard score and a 57-yard reception that set up

another touchdown.

When asked about Randle’s influence on a game, Tennessee coach

Derek Dooley gave an animated response in which he essentially

sounded like a coach who wasn’t sure how much could be done beyond

hoping LSU quarterbacks Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson make bad

throws when Randle gets open.

The problem, Dooley said, is that LSU’s running game, which is

averaging nearly 184 yards, forces defenses into tighter formations

along the line of scrimmage.

”Then they fake (the handoff) and all of a sudden their fast

guy is about 50 yards down the field,” Dooley said. ”It looks a

little bit like what (LSU’s 41-11 victory over Florida) looked

like. One (defender) out there, man (coverage), grinding coffee,

hanging on, `Please, don’t be an accurate throw. Please, don’t be

an accurate throw.”’

Given Randle’s size, speed and good hands, he was a highly

sought recruit coming out of Bastrop High School in Louisiana. If

his primary concern had been the number of times per game that

plays would be designed for him, he might have been better off in

another program that runs a spread offense.

Yet, Randle was aware of LSU’s recent record of sending

receivers on to NFL careers. Also, staying close to home and

playing for a team that seems to contend for a national title every

few years made sense.

LSU coach Les Miles gave Randle a chance to play as a true

freshman, but the receiver offered only glimpses of his true

potential, finishing 2009 with 11 receptions for 173 yards and two

TDs. As a sophomore last season, Randle raised his totals to 33

receptions for 544 yards and three touchdowns, which ranked second

on the team in each of those categories.

Perhaps most importantly, he demonstrated for the first time

what a game-breaker he could be with three catches for 125 yards,

including a 75-yard touchdown, in a closely contested victory over

Alabama.

Only halfway through this season, Randle already has a

team-leading 23 receptions for 446 yards, an average of 19.4 yards

per catch. The junior also has four touchdowns.

”He is a big play-maker for us,” Miles said. ”He’s maturing

into one hell of a receiver.”

Randle said his improvement over previous seasons stems in part

from learning how to use his strength and size, in addition to his

speed, to get open.

”I’m working to be more physical,” Randle said. ”On certain

routes I need to use my size a little more instead of trying to

lose everybody at the line of scrimmage.”

Lee said Randle is a good enough now to beat multiple defenders

on a play, never mind his dominance against single coverage.

”There’s a couple times he has been double-covered and he has

gotten open this year,” Lee said. ”Rueben’s a special player. He

makes plays and works hard in practice. We’re going to keep going

to Rueben, so I think he’s determined this year.”

Randle, who played quarterback and receiver in high school, sees

the trust Lee shows in him as a high compliment.

”I’m proud to have a quarterback like Jarrett Lee that has the

confidence in me to throw it in double coverage because I work on

that in practice,” Randle said. ”Whenever the ball’s in the air,

I just go up and attack it. And no matter how many guys are around,

I try to make the play.”

AP Sports Writer Beth Rucker in Knoxville, Tenn., contributed to

this story.