Coming into the season, LSU’s offense was preparing for a transfer of power.
Alfred Blue emerged as the new No. 1 running back; former quarterback Jordan Jefferson handed the reins over to Zach Mettenberger; and Odell Beckham Jr. was set to fill the massive shoes of Rueben Randle, who took off for the NFL.
Beckham had all the credentials for the position, tallying 41 catches, 475 yards and two touchdowns as a true freshman in 2011. But the beginning of the 2012 campaign didn’t quite go as planned.
Beckham did rack up 286 yards in the first five games, highlighted by his 128-yard, two-touchdown performance against Towson, but the 5-feet-11-inch sophomore struggled with dropped passes throughout much of the first-half of the season.
“I’ve watched the film over and over,” Beckham said. “It was all just a lack of focus and not looking the ball all the way in. When you have confidence in your hands like I do, you sometimes don’t look the ball all the way in. As soon as it hits your hands, you think you caught it. There were some plays earlier in the earlier in the year where it just didn’t happen that way.”
Beckham removed himself from the media spotlight, enforcing a self-imposed ban from interviews after the Florida game, when his frustrations came to a bitter climax. He fumbled away a 56-yard reception in the third quarter of the contest, leading to Florida’s eventual game-winning touchdown drive that delivered LSU a 14-6 loss.
Beckham said he has not felt too much pressure on him this year, but he called the Florida fumble the low point of his season.
“I was fine after the fumble, but it seemed like for the team, it just dropped them,” said Beckham, who was speaking to the media for the first time since the Florida game. “After losing that game, I honestly just felt like it if I would have made that play, then this wouldn’t have happened and that wouldn’t have happened. It was just not a good experience.”
Beckham denied that he was ever in a slump, per se, but followed up the Florida game with performances of 21 yards and 35 yards and hasn’t cracked the 75-yard mark since Towson.
Beckham still leads the team with 561 receiving yards this season but has relinquished No. 1 wideout duties recently to his roommate and fellow sophomore Jarvis Landry, who has reeled in 245 yards and two touchdowns the past four games.
“Watching him and all the things that he has done within these two years, it makes me look at myself and say, ‘What do I have to do? Get better, get better,’” Landry said. “I think that brings motivation or fuel from both sides. Looking at both of us and my success and him feeding off that and him bouncing back and me feeding off his success, it’s just one of those things that kind of carries over with us.”
Just because the numbers haven’t been what Beckham may have hoped for doesn’t mean his success has faltered. He ranks No. 5 in the conference in punt returns, averaging 10.3 yards per return and is second in the SEC with two touchdowns — one of which came Saturday.
Beckham hauled in a 51-yard punt from Ole Miss punter Jim Broadway and scooted 89 yards into the end zone, being windmilled home by Landry, reminiscent of Patrick Peterson waving in Chad Jones on his punt return against Mississippi State in 2009.
“You have no idea how long I’ve been waiting to do that,” Landry said with a laugh. “He knows me for cracking back on people and making that big block. There’s times where he’s ona punt return and as I’m coming down to block for him, we kind of lock eyes and he knows to run my way, or I’ll point to come this way. It’s a connection that we have.”
Beckham called the return a confidence booster, and he’s hoping it’ll get him back on track as the Tigers close out their season. The early season struggles may have put a damper on Beckham’s mentality, but he never lost the confidence the rest of the offense.
“He’s responded well, he’s worked hard in practice every day, and he’s continuing to get better,” junior quarterback Zach Mettenberger said. “I’m looking for a lot out of him these next two games.”
Beckham’s time to shine may come quickly, as LSU will face an Arkansas squad ranked last in the conference in pass defense, giving up 292.1 yards per game through the air.
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