Is LSU's quarterback competition shaping up to be like last year's?
Last spring, LSU had an open competition for its quarterback job. Zach Mettenberger was gone to the NFL and Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris, then an early enrollee freshman, were set to battle it out for the starting role. That spring didn’t produce a definitive leader, and the battle bled into fall. The fall competition didn’t produce a definitive winner either, but Jennings wound up as the starter seemingly by default when Harris couldn’t prove he belonged on the field.
Is LSU in for more of the same this year? The coaching staff surely hoped one of the two would differentiate from the other, proving more worthy of first-team status. Now that spring ball is finished following last weekend’s spring game, it’s clear that hasn’t happened. Both quarterbacks indeed split reps with the first team, as Les Miles had said they would, and both played okay, neither really wowing anyone. (Harris was 11-for-17 for 178 yards with two touchdowns and an interception; Jennings was 13-for-20 for 242 yards with two touchdowns.)
Is there anything to read into Jennings getting an extra series with the White team (starters) in Saturday’s spring game? Jennings had the bigger numbers of the two, but did it mostly against a team that consisted entirely of backups. Harris played five of his eight series going against the White team defense, and while he wasn’t spectacular with the Purple team, playing against the defensive starters, he outproduced Jennings in two fewer series piloting the starters against the backup defense.
Cam Cameron seemed genuinely pleased with their efforts. One thing that Jennings struggled with while starting 12 games last year and completing less than half of his passes was deciding what to do with the ball. Cameron likes the way Jennings and Harris have improved in that regard.
“Other than a half-dozen plays, the quarterbacks made good decisions all day. It’s still a decision-making position. When you make good decisions and you have talent around you, it allows you to spread the ball around to make plays,” Cameron told NOLA.com.
Knowing what to do with the ball will be as crucial as anything for the Tigers. Despite having an excellent offensive line last year, the Tigers still gave up an incredibly high sack rate (13th in the SEC, per teamrankings.com) on the fewest drop backs in the conference. It was an issue that short-circuited far too many promising drives.
The knock on Harris last year was that he didn’t know the playbook, and he seems to have improved on that. He told NOLA.com after the spring outing that he “can play without thinking” now, while Jennings said he’s improved his “poise.” Neither of those escaped Cameron.
“I thought they really handled (the spring game) with poise. When things weren’t right, call time out. Let’s get everybody on the same page. They came over. I liked their body language, I liked their leadership, I liked their decision making,” Cameron told ESPN.com.
The good news is that both quarterbacks sound to be genuinely improved from where they were a year ago and where they were in the fall. The issue of figuring out which one is better still stands as a major roadblock in the Tigers getting to where they realistically could be with solid quarterback play.
Just like last year, LSU is going to go through fall practices before declaring a winner. If they want a chance to contend for a West title, they’ll need to have it actually settled before kicking off the season on Sept. 5.