The tradition of LSU wide receivers has been storied throughout the past decade. Starting with the phenomenal duo of Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, followed by the sizzling DJ Chark, and most recently the national championship-winning trio of Justin Jefferson, Ja'Marr Chase, and Terrace Marshall Jr., the LSU standard of performance at wideout has been one of the best in the country. Kayshon Boutte, another imposing talent, has already emerged as another candidate to carry on the legacy.
The two next heirs may have had their breakout games Saturday night against Central Michigan. Jack Bech and Deion Smith got their opportunities to shine and seized them, with spectacular touchdown catches as well as productive chunk plays. Bech caught five passes for 81 yards and a touchdown, while Smith crashed through the Chippewa defense with five catches for 135 yards and two touchdowns. The two have been performing well in camp and practice.
"It was fun to see them do it in Tiger Stadium," head coach Ed Orgeron said. "I've been seeing them do it all the time in practice. Now they finally got their chance."
Smith caught the first touchdown by jumping over the Central Michigan defensive back, reaching for the ball that Max Johnson slightly underthrew, and yanking it away to the delight of LSU fans. His second was a gorgeous 40-yard go the route where his speed ultimately created the separation needed to score.
The Jackson, MS product was the top-ranked receiver in the state of Mississippi in the recruiting class of 2021 and has widely been regarded as one of the shiftiest and quickest prospects in the year. Smith caught 43 passes for 1,059 yards and 19 touchdowns as a junior in high school before COVID-19 caused a cancellation of his senior season.
"He reminds me a lot of Justin Jefferson," Orgeron said. "A good route runner, great body control, can catch the ball, has deceptive speed. He's big, can get off a press, and has great hands."
On the other side, Bech consistently found holes in the Central Michigan pass coverage, where Johnson could deliver him the ball. Bech then could help the offense using his mobility to earn yards after the catch, leading the team with 40. But Bech also showed off his flashy skills with a circus, a one-handed 20-yard touchdown grab around the Chippewa cornerback for the best catch of the night. The crowd's amazement with just Smith quickly shifted to Smith and Bech together.
"Max threw the ball up, perfect ball right where it needed to be," Bech said of the touchdown. "The defender was holding my left hand, so I had to go with one. I made some things shake and bake, and I made it work."
This emergence is enormous for an LSU offense looking for talented recruits to step up and become everyday playmakers. The LSU staff desired In-state prospects like Bech, Brian Thomas, and Chris Hilton, and out-of-state performers like Smith and Malik Nabers were also great additions. Devonta Lee and Jaray Jenkins are still in the fold and competing as well. However, through two games, it was uncertain who exactly would be the one to get in and perform with an injury to Trey Palmer and a still inactive Jontre Kirklin. Smith and Bech are being applauded for their games, but Orgeron also made it clear that they'll continue to get everyone the opportunities to make plays like Smith and Bech's stellar scores.
There were a few factors that helped create the chances for the young receivers:
- The frequent use of Boutte in the slot to draw defensive attention across the middle of the field attracted many one-on-one matchups for the freshmen on the outside, where they created separation and completed big catches.
- The offense mixed up many pre-snap formations to confuse the defense and often sent men in motion before the snap to get defenders' attention.
- The offense as a whole played with a much faster tempo, opting for many no-huddle looks after first downs and when the defense appeared disorganized.
It helped the offensive line take better advantage of the defense and gave Johnson better comfort to get the ball to his playmakers fast.
"We started a little bit with the motions and the jets to get some eye candy, and then we got some up-tempo and some warps just to get the guys going to bring some juice and take some shots," Johnson said. "Our guys made some great plays. We have a lot of great athletes, and they went up and got it for us."
The ability of LSU to recruit these talented receivers is something they should be utilizing to win games. Maybe next week, it will be somebody new making springing catches over defenders and one-handed snags for touchdowns, but for now, give the props to Smith and Bech. They were given a chance and did not let it go.