With LSU still holding a perilous 24-9 lead to open the fourth quarter against a plucky Towson team, sophomore wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. had a simple message for junior quarterback Zach Mettenberger.
“I’m taking the top off [the defense] here,” Beckham told him.
One 53-yard touchdown bomb later, LSU had finally sewn up a victory on a dreary night in Tiger Stadium in which Beckham was about the lone bright spot for LSU.
Outside of senior wide receiver Russell Shepard’s 78-yard touchdown scamper in the first quarter, LSU could barely run the ball, tallying a season-low 158 rushing yards.
Mettenberger seemed uncomfortable in the pocket for much of the early action, taking several sacks and losing a crucial second-quarter fumble that led to a go-ahead Towson touchdown.
Enter Beckham, who had curiously struggled the previous three weeks, fumbling an opening kickoff against Washington, drawing a personal foul at Auburn and dropping several passes.
While catching five passes for 128 yards and returning a punt 30 yards in the second quarter against Towson, Beckham looked more like the heir to former Tiger standouts Tyrann Mathieu and Rueben Randle that many expected him to be after an All-Southeastern Conference freshman campaign.
“I definitely had to get my confidence back,” Beckham said. “You have to catch balls to make that happen. Somebody needed to step up and get enthusiasm into our team. Whether it was the rain or whatever, the vibe on our bench wasn’t acceptable. You take it on yourself sometimes to change that.”
LSU coach Les Miles called Beckham a “guy we count on” and said the sophomore’s recent mistakes need to stay in the rearview.
“What [Odell] did is he regeared his game, took each practice with intensity and worked hard to get better in everything he did,” Miles said. “Where he was [Saturday], he needs to stay there and not change the formula ever.”
Like LSU as a whole, Beckham started slow against the visiting Tigers.
Towson sophomore punter R.J. Peppers was kicking away from him early. The LSU offense failed to score on five straight possessions in the first half, punting twice, missing a field goal and losing two fumbles.
With the home Tigers trailing 9-7 deep into the second quarter, Beckham finally made his move.
Towson sophomore safety Thomas Bradley bit on a play fake, and Mettenberger lofted a 27-yard throw Beckham hauled in with only feet to spare in the back of the end zone for the receiver’s first offensive touchdown this season.
“It was a play designed to draw that defender up, and it worked perfectly,” Beckham said. “I looked up, and the ball was just waiting.”
On the 53-yard fourth-quarter clincher, Beckham knew he’d be open.
He said the play called for sophomore wide receiver Jarvis Landry to run free at an intermediate depth, but he sensed Towson’s defensive backs looking to jump LSU’s typically shorter routes.
“That touchdown was the dagger,” Landry said. “It changed the nature of the game.”
Landry, who is Beckham’s close friend and roommate, has seen No. 3’s doubts first-hand this fall.
Whether on Twitter or in interviews, Beckham has sounded like a man possessed lately.
“Sept. 8 [the date of his fumble vs. Washington] is a dead day in history,” he tweeted the week after LSU’s game against the Huskies.
Landry said his friend’s game still wasn’t up to the level Beckham expects of himself, but it was a strong response to the doubts the first third of the season brought.
“It was us talking at home, and I told him it’s about how you respond,” Landry said. “Despite the drops, despite the poor efforts, he proved [Saturday] he won’t stay down. If you talk to our locker room, they’d probably say Odell carried this team tonight.”