The three-week audition for LSU’s No. 1 wide receiver was a smashing success for Kayshon Boutte.
That was perfectly clear from the first time Boutte took the stage as the Tigers primary receiver and turned in his initial 100-yard performance against top-ranked Alabama.
With an LSU offense that twice lost its top receiving threat to opt outs during a tumultuous 2020 season from Ja’Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall Jr., Boutte injected a heavy dose of big-play ability and long-term stability at the position going forward.
Boutte put the finishing touches on a true freshman season in which he was elevated from quite possibly the team’s third or fourth best receiving alternative, to the Tigers’ best offensive player in a dramatic 53-48 season-ending victory Saturday over Ole Miss.
“I didn’t think I’d have it this year,” Boutte said. “I thought I’d have it next year. Being Ja’Marr opted out and I had to step up and when Terrace opted out, the goal to myself was to be wide receiver 1. Throughout the past three weeks I’ve worked hard in order to do that.”
Boutte’s final game produced school records in catches (14 in 20 targets) and yards (308) with three touchdowns – including the game-winning touchdown with 62 seconds left to help LSU (5-5) avoid its first losing season in 21 years.
“It’s a good feeling knowing I set an SEC record as young as I am,” said Boutte, who had 11 of his catches result in first downs. “Knowing I have two more years to progress.”
Despite deteriorating field conditions because of a constant second half downpour, coupled with an injured ankle, Boutte also broke the Southeastern Conference’s single-game receiving yardage record of 318 yards by Arkansas’ Colbi Hamilton.
Boutte’s herculean effort tied the 18th best performance in FBS history and was the second most by a freshman in FBS history behind only the 310 yards set earlier this season by Arkansas State’s Corey Rucker.
His 14 catches are tied for second on LSU’s single-record mark behind the 19 former Biletnikoff Award-winning Josh Reed had against Alabama in which he also had a school-record 293 yards in 2001.
“He’s a special receiver,” LSU senior safety JaCoby Stevens said. “The sky’s the limit for him. I told him after the game to get his body right and he’s going to have a hell of a career ahead of him.”
Boutte proved comfortable in a starring role over the final three games after Marshall opted out after the Texas A&M game with 27 catches for 527 yards (19.5 yards per catch) and four touchdowns.
The Tigers also lost the services of then leading receiver, freshman tight end Arik Gilbert, who opted out after the Alabama game.
Boutte had shown some flashes of what made him a four-star prospect out of New Iberia’s Westgate High School where he was the state’s top-rated receiver in 2019 and a member of ESPN’s Top 300 list at No. 52 nationally.
He had a catch in each of his first seven games with a high of five receptions for 49 yards at Missouri.
With taking a 3-5 record to Florida, Boutte exploded in his pairing with true freshman Max Johnson at quarterback and caught five passes for 108 yards and a TD in the Tigers’ 37-34 victory.
“When Max realized he was the starting quarterback, we put in more time after practice, catching balls, catching jugs (machine), running routes,” Boutte said. “All I can say is that hard work is paying off.”
Boutte’s record-smashing performance against Ole Miss began in rather pedestrian fashion with two catches for 31 yards after the first quarter and progressed to six grabs for 109 yards and a pair of touchdowns by halftime.
With Ole Miss’ offense catching fire and scoring touchdowns on four consecutive drives for a 41-40 lead on the first play of the fourth quarter, the combination of Johnson and Boutte were nearly single-handedly responsible for LSU’s late offensive surge in the face of challenging weather conditions.
Johnson went exclusively to Boutte during LSU’s final two drives of the game where the duo combined for six catches for 144 of the team’s 181 yards in the final quarter.
Boutte actually caught the last seven passes thrown by Johnson, whose last completion to a player other than Boutte was a two-yard pass to tight end Kole Taylor midway through the third quarter.
The Tigers trailed 48-46 with 5:31 remaining on Johnson’s 1-yard sneak when they got the ball back with 2:36 to play and 56 yards away from the end zone.
Johnson, who passed for an LSU freshman record 435 yards, opened the series with a 7-yard completion to Boutte and Tre Bradford’s 3-run yard resulted in a first down to Ole Miss’ 45-yard line.
Then on first-and-10, Johnson had plenty of protection in the pocket when he found Boutte coming open on a crossing route.
Boutte did the rest.
Despite playing on an injured ankle that he had to have rewrapped before the series, Boutte broke out of the tackle at the 33 and hit the sideline. He then cut back inside at the 7 and carried a pair of defenders the last three yards into the end zone for the go-ahead score with 40 seconds to play.
“He’s one of those guys you could see progress throughout the year, especially with people leaving and having to step up,” LSU senior linebacker Jabril Cox said. “Right there it shows you his potential in how far he can go. The sky’s the limit for him.”
Boutte wound as LSU’s second-leading receiver this season with 45 catches for 735 yards and five TDs, trailing Marshall’s final numbers of 48 receptions for 731 yards and 10 TDs.
Given the recent elevated standards LSU receivers are now gauged by Boutte, based on the productivity of his first season, is on a path to exceed some of his contemporaries.
Justin Jefferson failed to catch a pass in seven games as a freshman but finished his All-American career with 165 catches for 2,415 yards and 24 TD and was the 22nd overall selection by the Minnesota Vikings.
Chase appeared in 13 games as a freshman, catching 23 passes for 313 yards and 3 TDs that included a high of six catches for 93 yards and a score vs. Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl. His All-American career included 107 catches for 2,039 yards and 23 TDs and is projected to be a first-round NFL draft pick next year.
Marshall’s first season included 12 catches for 192 yards and no touchdowns where his 3-catch, 48-yard effort against Rice was his best game as a freshman. He concluded his career with 106 grabs for 1,594 yards and 23 TDs and like Chase and is projected to be a high-round – perhaps landing in the first round of next year’s NFL draft.
“I think he’s going to be one of the great players that we have here at LSU,” Orgeron said of Boutte.