Jacques Talk: Quarterback dynamic a tricky one for LSU
BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Many LSU fans feel it's time to hand over the reigns to Brandon Harris at quarterback. Harris of course engineered a late rally against Mississippi State Saturday night and gave the Tigers a chance to win on the game's final play.
After entering the contest down 34-16, with just 3:43 left to play, Harris fired two touchdown passes to fellow true freshman receiver Malachi Dupre and then unleashed a hail mary towards the north end zone as time expired. That heave however was intercepted, as #8 LSU was upset 34-29.
So is Harris the real deal and deserves a start? Or did he simply thrive in a convenient situation?
That's for the LSU coaches to decide. And I don't envy them.
Harris also impressed in the LSU spring game several months back. But that too was a situation in which Tiger Stadium was mostly empty and there wasn't a ton of pressure to perform. "Street Ball" may not be the accurate term, but things were certainly loose. However in those same settings, incumbent quarterback Anthony Jennings struggled badly, throwing two interceptions and having both returned for touchdowns.
The media isn't allowed to watch LSU scrimmages in August. But for whatever reason, this coaching staff felt Jennings had separated himself enough from Harris to start. I quickly think back to that spring game, when Harris fumbled the first snap he took. He got the football back and there was no turnover. But it had me thinking - whoever starts against Wisconsin can't be losing the ball on the first play. The safer route, is probably the one head coach Les Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron will take. Let's also remember Miles scolded Harris for poor ball security and losing a fumble against Sam Houston St this season. Certainly growing pains, for a true freshman asked to play immediately.
Harris received one series in that season opener against Wisconsin, with the game well in doubt and the stadium rocking and filled to the brim. I was down on the field watching and the whole possession was soaked with uncertainty and lack of confidence. Not only from Harris, but the entire offense. There were communication problems and confusion, as LSU likewise burned a timeout. Is it fair to judge Harris on that one three and out? Of course not, but it deserves to be referenced. What will happen at Jordan-Hare Stadium and "The Swamp" in early October, when Harris won't be able to hear himself think? Will he be prepared to lead LSU on the road, against ear-splitting noise? I'm just asking the question.
Anthony Jennings, to his credit, is an even keel guy. His teammates have said repeatedly Jennings is steady - he's never too high or too low. It would appear Jennings, might deal with road chaos better. But who knows? His two starts away from Tiger Stadium were last season in a sparsely attended Outback Bowl and then this year in Houston vs Wisconsin, where a large majority of the fans were cheering for the Tigers.
There's little doubt Harris gives LSU more big play ability. He's got a cannon for an arm and can fire the football all over the field. Knowing what we now know about LSU's defense (Let's be honest, they've been mostly shredded by the two quality teams they've played), this offense is going to have to score a larger volume of points to win. You're not beating Auburn 12-10, like LSU did in 2012.
And sorry for referencing Nick Saban, but during wide receiver Michael Clayton's freshman year at LSU in 2001, Saban said of Clayton - "Teach him one play and teach it well". The point was - forget about getting bogged down remembering a ton of plays and schemes, let's just utilize Clayton's talent. Let's let him play football.
Teach Brandon Harris six plays. Put him in the shotgun with three or four wide receivers, with either Kenny Hilliard, Leonard Fournette, Terrence Magee or Darrel Williams at his side. Move Harris around in the pocket and let him play football. Perhaps that is LSU's best shot moving forward.
But Les Miles is obviously still the head coach and likewise a steadfast believer in I-formation football. And during his stay in Baton Rouge, which is now nearly a decade, Miles sure has won a lot more games than he's lost. He's forgotten more football, than we collectively will ever know.
And once you bench Anthony Jennings, what are the consequences moving forward? Does that shatter Jennings' confidence and make him unrepairable? What if Harris get's "nicked" during a game (his physique is amazingly slight, in case you haven't noticed) and you reach for the spare tire, only to find it's busted too?
Jennings missed his share of passes against Mississippi State and also apparently should've pitched the ball on his fourth and goal carry in the first quarter, for what would've been an easy touchdown. But in fairness to him, there were dropped passes and numerous poor protections also. Jennings in my opinion, showed tremendous toughness to repeatedly get up, from numerous poundings. And once again, many have been very critical of the offensive game plan, he was asked to execute.
I think both Jennings and Harris are quality young men. They both work very hard, have talents, are extremely respectful in media interviews and represent LSU well.
There's much to consider moving forward. And choosing between the two, isn't as easy, as some people may think.
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