Travin Dural doesn’t know how Brandon Harris does it. The fifth-year senior receiver couldn’t even think of the right word to describe it.
Expectations, pressure, constant critiques of his game — all the things that come with being the starting quarterback on a major conference team, especially in the Southeastern Conference.
Dural doesn’t know how his 20-year-old quarterback handles it.
All he knows is that Harris handles it as best he can. And Harris is his own harshest critic, Dural said, placing immense pressure on himself.
“He’s probably the most critical person of himself I’ve ever seen,” Dural said. “He can miss a throw in practice, and he’s beating himself up. He’s staying after practice, 20 and 30 minutes after, trying to make that throw to make sure he doesn’t miss the next one.”
Harris’ hyper-frustration was on full display following his game-sealing interception in last week's 16-14 loss to Wisconsin. Sitting on the bench between offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and redshirt freshman quarterback Caleb Lewis, Harris slammed his helmet on the ground at least twice.
After months of skepticism about LSU’s quarterback play — a position many felt was tied to the Tigers’ success this season — it was clear Harris didn’t take his critical error lightly. The giveaway encapsulated an inconsistent performance for Harris, as he completed 12 of 21 passes for 131 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.
Even if Dural is able to personally block out distractions at game time, he said he couldn’t imagine manning that oh-so-important spot on the football field. Harris must do it again at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in Tiger Stadium against Jacksonville State.
“I don’t know what it’s like to take snaps (in front of 100,000 people), so I can’t even tell you what goes through his head,” Dural said. “But the way he handles it, he never has a frown. I might see him mad, but he’s not mad for long. He gets over it and tries to move on to the next play or the next series. That way he doesn’t let what happened in the past affect what he has to do in the next drive.”
Players like Dural are often responsible for explaining the struggles from Harris and the offense. The quarterback has not been available to the media the past two weeks. Naturally, they say their confidence in the junior quarterback remains high, and they try to take the focus away from a player Les Miles says is effective in practice and scrimmages.
At the very least, Dural said he would never show frustration toward Harris, considering the quarterback’s work ethic and drive to succeed.
“Sometimes we might get a little mad because we’re losing or we lost,” Dural said. “But I wouldn’t say frustrated because I would never say I’m frustrated with Brandon because of the things he does. Because I know quarterback ... I don’t even know the right word for it.
"It’s not an easy position. And someone in that position, having that much pressure on them, I don’t want to put anymore pressure on him by being frustrated or being mad at him. I just to pick him up in anyway possible.”
Brandon Harris’ first pass flew high of receiver Malachi Dupre, careening off the receiver’s…
‘Getting that ratio’
LSU ranked 91st in the country in takeaways last season with 17. After the season opener, the Tigers are on pace to more than double the number of forced turnovers, which would be one more than the top turnover-forcing team from last year.
And it all came from the secondary.
Rickey Jefferson’s end-zone interception, Tre’Davious White’s interception return for a touchdown and Donte Jackson’s forced fumble were all consequential.
They either prevented Wisconsin points or led to LSU points in the season opener. That has been an area of emphasis under defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, safety Jamal Adams said.
“Coach Aranda, he puts that in our head as far as making turnovers, getting that ratio,” Adams said. “At least getting three to four turnovers a game, just to be put in a position to win.”
White’s interception, especially, appeared to be a momentum-shifter. Trailing 13-0 and with the Badgers at their own 10-yard line, White stepped in front of Bart Houston’s pass intended for Rob Wheelwright and sprinted across the field for a score.
“I wanted to match up against their best receiver, their best threat,” White said of the interception. “So I kind of tried to follow him, because I knew it was crucial third down.
"With them being backed up, I knew they were going to try to get him the ball. I just tried to follow him. I saw some things, and I saw within the set that I could kind of eliminate some routes. So I guess I guessed right.”
With pressure from nose tackle Greg Gilmore, Jefferson recognized the Badgers’ “Spot-7” route concept on a third-and-9 from the LSU 10-yard line in the second quarter. Unbeknownst to Houston, Jefferson said he peeled off his initial assignment to snatch the underthrown pass.
As it relates to turnovers, Jefferson said part of the secondary process for improved communication is sticking to the pre-snap calls made by him or White.
“We focus on that,” Jefferson said. “Me and 'Shaq' (White), we said we’re going to make sure we stick to what we call. It’s done after that. Sometimes we have the tendency to try change it up last minute. But it’s concrete now. All throughout practice, if we make a call, it’s that.”
LSU's offensive problems against Wisconsin overshadowed another issue: punting.
And Les Miles is well aware of that.
"We did not punt consistently. There’s some things we did extremely well," Miles said Wednesday on the Southeastern Conference teleconference. "Hitting the ball, we did not punt consistently."
Josh Growden, a redshirt freshman punting in a game for the first time, averaged just 32.6 yards. That would have ranked him well outside of the top 100 last season. The 100th-best average in 2015 was 38.7.
Growden, the Tigers’ third straight Australian-born punter, booted two of seven punts under 30 yards (23 and 25) and another two didn’t crack the 32-yard mark. He booted back to back punts of 25 and then 30 yards in the third quarter. The 25-yarder gave the Badgers field position at their own 42. Wisconsin scored its only touchdowns five plays later.
"I think Josh Growden in his first starting assignment, didn’t hit it like he wanted. I think he can be much more consistent," Miles said.