Time for LSU to give Brandon Harris a shot
All season, it feels like we’ve known little and less about LSU’s quarterback situation. No one gets to watch preseason practices, but Les Miles saw enough to name Anthony Jennings his starter. He also saw enough to say that Brandon Harris would get his time on the field. A two-quarterback system? It worked out okay in 2011, with Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson sharing time and LSU coming within four quarters of hoisting a crystal football.
The reps have not been equal, though, not even close. And, in all fairness to Jennings, who seems to have done the work to earn the majority of snaps and will remain the starter, that’s not fair. Because when Harris has gotten into the game, he’s performed.
That last statement does come with major caveats, of course. In his first extended action against Sam Houston State, a 56-0 LSU win, Harris was mostly playing in mop-up duty. He first entered in the second quarter, with a 27-point cushion, but he was impressive nonetheless, breaking off an athletically impressive 46-yard touchdown run. Later in the game, he was sharp in leading a touchdown drive that ended with a nice lofted pass to Malachi Dupre in the corner of the end zone.
If you need a reminder of what happened against Mississippi State, Harris took over late in the fourth quarter after Jennings suffered a shoulder injury and went to work against a Bulldogs defense whose only goal was to prevent long throws. And what did Harris do? Just that. His two scoring passes to Dupre were 30 and 31 yards, and he came within an intercepted bomb to the end zone of completing a wild comeback.
Garbage time is not the ideal way to learn about a player. The majority of Harris’ snaps came against a team that had already been beaten by the time he got in the game and another that was just doing its best not to blow the game. In LSU’s two other games, Harris has attempted 2 passes and has had 4 rushing attempts. That’s not fair to Harris, or to the team.
For the extra year of experience Jennings has, possibly a reason for Miles to continue to trot him out, it hasn’t helped him command the offense. Jennings has hit a few deep balls and has a great connection with Travin Dural, but other than that he’s not been good. He’s hasn’t seen open receivers, he’s missed throws. Jennings’ inaccuracy — he’s completing 51.3 percent of his passes — is a problem that’s hurting the team in more than just the passing department.
Teams are stacking the box against LSU, knowing that Jennings won’t be able to consistently beat them through the air. As a result, Miles and Cam Cameron are calling running plays that are facing 7- and 8-man fronts. No matter how talented your running backs are, no team is going to have sustained success on the ground when there are always more tacklers than blockers at the line.
Against New Mexico State, Miles will have the chance to make good on his promise of getting both of his quarterbacks real playing time. That doesn’t mean putting Harris in with the Tigers up four scores (no disrespect to the Aggies, of course, but LSU is the heavy favorite, as they should be). That means letting Harris play early, with the game still in the balance, maybe even on the second series of the game.
Jennings hasn’t yet played like a guy who deserves a stranglehold on all the meaningful snaps. Maybe he runs the offense much better in practice than Harris has shown, but his performances under the lights have left much to be desired. Meanwhile, Harris has leapt on every opportunity he’s gotten, backing up his cryptic tweeting about how “scary” it will be when he gets his shot.
This being college football, the fan base appears to have one opinion in mind. DandyDon.com, the longtime LSU blog, conducted a poll earlier this week, and 91 percent of the 9,000 respondents want to at least see Harris play equal snaps, if not start outright.
LSU doesn’t have long to figure this out. An offense that only scores 16 points in 57 minutes, as the Tigers did with Jennings last Saturday, isn’t going to keep up with Auburn next week, and it won’t be able to compete with Arkansas, Alabama or Texas A&M, either. Harris has put up points in a hurry, while Jennings hasn’t. LSU needs to know whether or not the freshman can do it with the game tight as well as with his team up or down big.
Saturday is the time for Les to let him back that up. Maybe after that, he’ll show the coach he deserves more than just a backup role.