FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Brandon Harris stood on the LSU sideline, his black ski cap nestled on his head, a thick coat around his shoulders and headsets covering his ears.
That scene didn’t change much Saturday night during the Tigers’ 17-0 loss to Arkansas.
Harris, the highly rated freshman quarterback from Bossier City, never stepped onto the field — not even in the waning minutes of a hopeless defeat with starter Anthony Jennings and the offense struggling.
Why? Jennings gave LSU the best chance to win the game, coach Les Miles said.
Miles, though, suggested that the Tigers (7-4, 3-4 Southeastern) would give Harris playing time in the next outing, a meeting with Texas A&M (7-4, 3-4) on Thanksgiving.
“What we’re trying to do is make 10 other players effective as well,” he said when asked about getting Harris on the field, “but at this point in time, I think you (give a) quality opinion (on giving) some other guys some playing time. I don’t disagree with that.”
Off this week, LSU enters a regular-season finale with its worst record since 2008. The Tigers are in jeopardy of ending their nation-leading 13-year streak of winning at least eight games and are a defeat away from losing three straight games for the first time in Miles’ 10 years in Baton Rouge.
LSU’s passing game continues to struggle 11 games into the season — a fact never more evident than in the shutout loss to the Hogs (5-5, 1-5). It was the fifth straight game in which LSU and its starting quarterback failed to break the 200-yard mark passing — the team’s first such skid since 2002.
LSU finished with 123 yards of offense, the fewest in a regular-season game since the Tigers had 114 in a loss to Texas A&M in 1975.
“It’s tough,” running back Terrence Magee said. “Our defense goes out there and they make a few mistakes, but they play pretty tough the whole game, and they give us opportunities to score, and we don’t execute on them. We just got to do a better job of executing in the red zone. Coach Miles and (offensive coordinator Cam Cameron) … will get that corrected.”
Jennings misfired on a handful of throws, but LSU’s offensive line — playing without two starters much of the game — had issues in communication and chemistry, players said. They struggled to create holes for a running game that rolled up just 36 yards, and Jennings was sacked four times.
Jennings received threats on his Twitter page Saturday night and into Sunday. Fans fired off nasty messages to the quarterback on the social networking site. They compared him to a garbage can, told him to quit the team and threatened to fight him.
Jennings was 12-of-22 for 87 yards. He called his play “subpar” and said he’d remain positive.
“I want to be out there every single play,” the quarterback said when asked about possibly coming out of the game. “This is my team to lead. ... You have to remain positive. Remain positive and get better each and every series.”
Harris never got his shot — despite LSU having three possessions in the final 11 minutes trailing 17-0. One of those drives ended with a Jennings fumble inside the Arkansas 25-yard line, a turnover Miles mentioned after the game.
He never brought on Harris, though. The No. 3 dual-threat quarterback recruit in the nation last year hasn’t seen significant playing time since his ugly start in a 41-7 loss at Auburn on Oct. 4.
Offensive players didn’t expect a quarterback change late in the game, they said.
“I was pretty sure that Coach was going to go with Anthony,” Magee said.
Said receiver Travin Dural: “I didn’t expect it.”
Miles called Harris “a future” for his program last year and admitted over the summer that he had more natural talent than Jennings. He said last week that Harris will “have an opportunity in the next several games to show his wares and play some more.”
Harris only warmed up once or twice before slipping that black coat back over his shoulders and watching Jennings and the offense struggle to move the ball.
“Tell him to keep his head up and keep working,” Dural said he told Jennings. “Got one more game in the regular season to get better and show people we can pass the ball.”