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.