AUBURN, Ala. — Late in the third quarter of Saturday night’s game with fifth-ranked Auburn, LSU freshman quarterback Brandon Harris stood on the sideline at a chilly Jordan-Hare Stadium — his arms folded and a headset on.
The picture nearly told the whole story of Harris’ first collegiate start, which ended with 5:28 left in the third period when he was replaced by the man he replaced a week earlier: sophomore Anthony Jennings.
Exactly one week after coming off the bench to ignite a sluggish offense, leading his team to seven touchdowns in as many possessions in a 63-7 demolition of New Mexico State, the shoe was on the other foot for Harris’ much-anticipated starting debut in Auburn’s far-too-easy 41-7 victory.
To be sure, it wasn’t a memorable starting debut for Harris.
After the game he limped to the locker room following a brief meeting with Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, who unsuccessfully tried to recruit Harris out of Bossier City’s Parkway High last fall.
LSU coach Les Miles said Harris, who was wearing a walking boot when he met with reporters, sprained his right ankle. Harris said he suffered a bruise on a 32-yard run on the second-to-last play of the first half and will have treatment Sunday morning.
Yet the ankle injury was nothing compared to the pain that came with his uneven performance.
“From the start to the finish, everything about it was awful,” the 18-year-old freshman said as he faced a horde of media seeking answers for his performance. “The thing is, I hope nobody underestimates our coaches. … They do a great job preparing us for each opportunity.
“I flat-out came out and played terrible. I can’t even put a grade on it, but it was awful … awful. I told the guys (on the sideline) to wake me up and tell me it was a nightmare, because it was terrible.”
It was a nightmare, indeed.
After going into the game with 22 completions in 30 pass attempts and six touchdowns in his first four games, Harris was 3 of 14 for 58 yards with one sack.
Harris left in favor of Jennings shortly after Auburn extended a commanding 31-7 halftime lead to 27 points midway through the third period.
Even though the numbers didn’t look good, it wasn’t all Harris’ fault even though he fumbled the snap from center Elliott Porter on LSU’s second play from scrimmage and later had a busted play late in the first quarter that resulted in a 2-yard loss.
That was just the tip of the iceberg for LSU’s offense.
Behind the eight-ball almost from the start, LSU managed just 170 total yards on 33 snaps in the first half, while Auburn piled up 247 yards in the first quarter and 379 yards in the first two periods.
LSU started the game with three three-and-outs and Auburn led 17-0 before Harris’ team could pick up its initial first down of the game on a 10-yard run by Leonard Fournette on its fourth possession.
Ironically, that series produced LSU’s only touchdown of the game. After three runs by Fournette moved the ball to the LSU 47, Harris rolled right and threw a deep pass for freshman wide receiver Malachi Dupre.
Dupre out-jumped an Auburn defender and came down with the ball for a 52-yard completion to the Auburn 1, which led to Kenny Hilliard’s scoring run on the next play.
But even that failed to get LSU’s offense going as it had to punt on its next two possessions after Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall pushed the lead to 24-7 on his second touchdown pass of the first half, a 9-yard pitch to tight end C.J. Uzomah.
Again, Harris tried to shoulder most of the blame after the LSU defense stopped Auburn on two straight possessions where the offense could have cut into the sizable deficit.
“Obviously, you have to stay smooth and be in a rhythm and handle things the right way,” said Harris, whose 32-yard dash got his team to Auburn’s 25 before failing to connect with wide receiver Travin Dural in the back of the end zone on the final play of the half.
“I missed some throws that I normally make. It’s just not acceptable as the starting quarterback at this university. Obviously, the standard has been set high by Zach (Mettenberger) and the quarterbacks that came before him. Again, the overall performance was terrible.”
Many of Harris’ incompletions sailed on him, but he denied that he was nervous going into his first start in front of 87,451 fans.
“I didn’t feel nervous at all; the crowd didn’t get to me or anything like that,” he said. “A quarterback (whom he politely declined to identify) texted me and said even the great ones have bad games. Guys were open and I usually hit them, but I just missed them tonight.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.