Receiver John Diarse pulled aside freshman quarterback Brandon Harris for a post-game talk after LSU beat Wisconsin on Saturday.
His primary message: “It’s not over,” Diarse said he told Harris.
No, it’s certainly not.
All indications are that LSU’s quarterback battle between Harris and Anthony Jennings will continue to rage heading into Saturday’s game against Sam Houston State.
Jennings will start the game, but the two quarterbacks are expected to split reps “50-50,” one source told The Advocate.
Harris saw just three snaps Saturday, a one-series outing marked by failure. Jennings, meanwhile, completed less than half of his passes and struggled on touch throws, but he helped lead the Tigers to a late rally with a handful of precise long balls.
Signs point to a continuing battle for the spot as LSU’s signal-caller.
The two quarterbacks remain listed as co-starters with an “or” between their names on LSU’s depth chart. Coach Les Miles admitted after Saturday’s game that he had hoped to Harris more snaps, and the coach said Tuesday that Harris is “coming on” and that coaches will “continue to bring him on.”
Harris, a five-star dual-threat quarterback out of Bossier City, is expected to get plenty of cracks over the next two weeks: two home games against lower-level squads.
“I think he’s very pumped about this week knowing he has the opportunity to play,” Diarse said of Harris. “I think this week is going to really let him know, ‘Hey, I can do this. I really have a chance.’”
Harris, as a true freshman, is not available to speak with reporters.
Jennings spoke to reporters after the win over Wisconsin, but he was made unavailable during Tuesday’s interview session. Miles allowed Jennings to speak just once during preseason practice, part of a gag order instilled around a tight quarterback battle that started in the spring and appears to be continuing another week.
Jennings proved on Saturday — for a second time — that he can lead a team back from a deficit with long balls to receiver Travin Dural.
The two hooked up for a 49-yard game-winning touchdown against Arkansas in Jennings’ first significant playing time last season. Jennings hit Dural for passes of 27, 80 and 44 yards against Wisconsin.
The 27-yarder, a crossing route, set up a touchdown from Diarse moments later. The 80-yarder went for a score on a broken play that saw Jennings scramble out of the pocket, and the 44-yard sideline-hugging throw on a go-route set up a field goal.
“He throws a great deep ball,” Dural said. “That’s something he does well.”
Jennings had his struggles, though. He misfired on at least a half-dozen attempts, many of them short or intermediate passes that needed touch.
He missed screen passes to running backs Leonard Fournette and Terrence Magee, and he appeared to get flustered out of the pocket instead of side-stepping pressure.
He targeted one receiver, Dural, much more than anyone else (seven to eight times in 21 attempts).
“I’m pretty sure he’s aware of the things he’s got to work on to be a better quarterback,” Dural said.
The receiver said Jennings, at one point, pulled him aside to apologize about a certain poor pass. Jennings was 5-for-15 in the first two quarters, something Diarse attributes to “first-game jitters.”
“After half, you could see the change in Anthony,” Diarse said. “You could see the change in his eyes. You could really tell he focused and he really relaxed and got comfortable with what we’re doing.”
Jennings completed four of six passes in the second half, helping the Tigers to the second-largest comeback of the Miles era, and he didn’t turn the ball over.
That’s key. Miles said Tuesday that Jennings played all but one series because he gave LSU the best shot to win against a team like Wisconsin.
“It was obvious in that game that the opportunity for us to win was to, certainly right now, is to get Anthony Jennings comfortable in there and let him play,” the coach said. “And he did very well.”
Harris’ time is expected to come Saturday, a week after his rookie debut finished in disappointment. Diarse said afterward that “you could tell (Harris) was kind of expecting more.”
Harris entered in LSU’s eighth series, playing three forgettable snaps. Trey Quinn gained 2 yards on a reverse, then Harris ran for 1 yard on a designed quarterback run.
On third down, Harris was sacked for a 10-yard loss when an unblocked player burst into the backfield.
There seemed to be some confusion with Harris in the game. His first huddle broke with some baffled faces from offensive linemen. They were reassured by Harris as players stepped to the line. Also, Harris had to call timeout before the third-down snap.
“He was kind of nervous, but that’s to be expected,” left guard Vadal Alexander said.
Harris gets another shot this week in a quarterback competition that has spanned a half year. Players believe he’ll produce a different result.
“When … if Brandon gets settled in and gets comfortable — it was just his first game — I feel like he’s a great guy,” cornerback Tre’Davious White said. “He’s preparing well this week. I feel like he’s going to see the field this week, and it’s going to be better for him.”