By Joe Trinacria
That’s it! Stop the fight, Les! Brandon Harris is your starting quarterback moving forward. I feel like Apollo Creed’s trainer in “Rocky IV” – screaming for Rocky to “throw the damn towel!” in that fateful exhibition fight against Ivan Drago. This quarterback controversy is over, and it got ugly in a hurry.
A largely inconsistent 2014 campaign presumably came to its catastrophic end for sophomore signal-caller Anthony Jennings, who was pulled in the second quarter of LSU’s 63-7 win over New Mexico State in favor of the true freshman Harris. An almost clairvoyant head coach Les Miles preached change in his weekly news conference on Monday, and that change finally came for the Tiger Stadium boo birds following an abysmal first quarter performance by Jennings – finally settling the on-again, off-again LSU quarterback battle.
Jennings never appeared completely at ease in the pocket on Saturday night, and he looked to have trouble reading the Aggie defense. His hesitation not only exhausted options down field, but it also led directly to a sack that killed an early Tiger drive before it even got started. This isn’t the first time Jennings has been gun-shy this season, which has been a growing concern given the power and quickness of SEC defenses.
Ball protection is key for success at a high level of competition, and Jennings turned the ball over three times in the first quarter alone. He finished the game 2 of 5 for 11 yards with two interceptions and a fumble lost.
“Anthony Jennings is going to have to get better, and we are going to insist on it,” Miles said following the game. “I hope he has not lost his confidence.”
Sorry coach, but I think those “We want Harris” chants emanating from the student section already took a major shot to his confidence. Or maybe it was how he was grossly outplayed by Harris, who gave fans the friendly reminder that the Tigers were in fact playing New Mexico State and not the 1985 Chicago Bears.
The offense runs differently when Harris is in the game, and it looked that way last weekend when he almost completed an improbable comeback against Mississippi State. Jennings led just one scoring drive (and I use that phrase loosely) against the Aggies, in which four running plays were called to one pass – a short wide receiver screen that went for seven yards.
LSU will not have success moving the ball against quality opponents if protecting its shaky quarterback is the main focus of the offensive play calling.
Meanwhile, Harris stepped in and ushered seven straight scoring drives. He was dynamic, hitting the throws he needed to make and keeping the defense honest with his own rushing ability. Jennings has been too quick to use his feet this season, while Harris remains calm under pressure and lets the play develop.
“Brandon came out and showed his ability tonight,” fellow freshman Malachi Dupre said. “He made the best opportunity out of what he was given. That was his capability, and he showed everybody what he could do.”
“He his growing every game; he is being more vocal in practice each week. He is more involved with the team chemistry,” wide receiver Travin Dural said of Harris.
Harris ended his night 11 of 14 for 178 yards with three touchdown passes, in addition to two more scored on the ground. Harris was the first Tiger freshman quarterback to toss three TD’s in a game.
It’s clear that if LSU were to have any shot at running the table the rest of the season, Harris needs be under center in Auburn next week and every game after. While coach Miles was hesitant to name Harris the starter immediately, he did perhaps give him the best praise one could ask for: “Brandon came in and did just exactly what we needed him to do.”