LSU head football coach Ed Orgeron began touting the talents of freshman wide receiver Malik Nabers as early as fall camp. He fully expected the native of Lafayette to be a key contributor to the receiving corps when an injury sidelined him for the first two weeks of the season.
There have been small sample sizes of Nabers’ ability, which included a semi-breakout performance in LSU’s loss at Ole Miss where he caught four passes that included a touchdown.
Then Nabers, the same player Orgeron talked about in glowing terms, showed up and displayed his immense skill in LSU’s lackluster 27-14 victory Saturday over UL-Monroe.
Nabers matched his career-high in catches, but easily surpassed his career-best in yards receiving with 143 and electrified an announced crowd of 92,790 at Tiger Stadium with a 67-yard catch and run that gave the Tigers 17-0 lead midway through the second quarter.
The scoring play from Nabers, who flipped to LSU from Mississippi State in the late signing period in February, was the longest for team this season.
“He beat a lot of one-on-one coverages,” Orgeron said of Nabers’ success. “They were zero blitzing us and he beat one-on-one coverages. And at other times I guess he (Max Johnson) got tired of throwing the ball to Jack (Bech). Jack’s been our main target and finally we found Malik and Brian. Those guys are excellent receivers.”
Nabers delivered the first 100-yard receiving game in six games since Kayshon Boutte put up 127 yards on Oct. 2 against Auburn.
Nabers’ entire production came during a first half in which LSU (5-6) led 17-7 at halftime.
Sophomore quarterback Max Johnson completed 22 of 33 passes for 319 yards with two touchdowns to Nabers and freshman wide out Brian Thomas Jr. – another example of the Tigers’ talented young wide receiver group. Thomas wound up with four catches for 61 yards and a TD.
“I think those guys are going to be superb, I really do,” Orgeron said. “It’s a shame Malik got hurt. He would have probably started for us since the beginning of the year and Brian’s coming into his own. Those two guys are going to be elite receivers for LSU. The future’s bright for them.”
Bech, another freshman receiver, led LSU with five catches for 46 yards. He took over the team’s lead for the season from Boutte, who was lost for the year after suffering a season-ending injury in a loss at Kentucky.
It took five weeks for someone to overtake Boutte which Bech did and he now leads the Tigers with 42 receptions for 498 yards and 3 TDs. Thomas was fifth on the team before adding four catches for 61 yards and a TD.
Nabers missed the first two games of season with an undisclosed injury before showing signs of breaking out with back-to-back three-catch games against Kentucky and Florida, taking it to another level a week later at Ole Miss.
Nabers was a focal point of Johnson’s in the first half with all of his four catches and 143 yards, highlighted by his career-best 67-yarder, going for a score and 17-0 lead midway through the second quarter.
“Just putting the ball in their hands, they did the rest for us,” Johnson said. “I think they are at their best when the ball is in their hands, and they are making plays.”
There were other examples of Nabers’ elusiveness. He turned a short screen into a 48-yard gain on LSU’s first possession which led to Johnson’s 3-yard TD run. He also later added a 21-yard catch on a crossing route and wound up averaging 35.8 yards per reception.
Thomas was held without catch in the first half but emerged with his four grabs for 61 yards and his longest play of the season – a 42-yard TD from Johnson for a 24-7 lead with 1:29 left in the third quarter.
Johnson eluded one defender and found Thomas ,who made a man miss at ULM’s 30. He then weaved his way through a couple of other defenders and pulled away from another to complete the scoring play.
Bech, who had two catches for 19 yards at halftime, had his longest catch of the game – a 16-yarder – that came on third-and-4 and helped fuel the drive where Johnson eventually found Thomas for his second score of the season and continued a central theme for the Tigers’ wide receivers corps.
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