Several people came to Anthony Jennings’ side three weeks ago when the Tiger Stadium crowd rained boos down on LSU’s sophomore quarterback during his rough outing against New Mexico State.
Former coaches, his parents, teammates and friends. One person stood out among the group: Matt Flynn.
The ex-LSU quarterback called Jennings to offer advice and support.
“(He) said to keep your confidence high,” Jennings said. “Not about what they do; it’s what you do.”
Since that game, Jennings has done at least one thing as LSU’s starting quarterback: He has won.
That boo-blanketed, two-interception outing against New Mexico State in the past, Jennings captained a run-heavy LSU offense to back-to-back wins and now has a sparkling record as a starter: 7-1.
LSU’s 41-3 win over Kentucky on Saturday night, though, offered stark reminders that Jennings and the Tigers passing game are far from perfect.
Jennings threw too high for an open receiver on what would have been a touchdown, held onto the ball for far too long and failed to hit open targets in key situations against the Wildcats.
LSU’s air attack continues to struggle. The Tigers run the ball more than 68 percent of the time; that would tie for the highest mark of the Les Miles era. They throw an average of 20 passes per game; that ranks 120th out of 128 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
The offense has morphed into a one-dimensional unit heading into the nation’s premier matchup Saturday night in Tiger Stadium: No. 24 LSU (6-2, 2-2 Southeastern) vs. No. 3 Ole Miss (7-0, 4-0).
ESPN’s “College GameDay” is making the trip to Baton Rouge, the network announced Sunday. Meanwhile, the Tigers will prepare for a team that stops the run better than most.
The Rebels enter the 6:15 p.m. kickoff with the nation’s sixth-ranked rushing defense. Their most recent outing wasn’t too bad: They allowed 0 rushing yards to Tennessee in Saturday’s 34-3 home win.
“They’re a very good team. Tremendously talented and capable,” Miles said. “We’re going to have to play well.”
They might have to do more than just pound the ball and pop big passes to receiver Travin Dural. That has been Jennings’ go-to throw: Dural on a sideline go route.
If it’s not there, Jennings often has struggled to spread the ball around, and the coaches’ confidence in him isn’t at an all-time high. He attempted just 14 passes Saturday, completing seven.
LSU’s 68-32 run-pass split is the biggest spread toward the run in the SEC. Just three other conference teams run at least 60 percent of the time, and just 14 teams in FBS average more running plays per game than the Tigers (48).
The identity of this LSU squad is clear, and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron isn’t hiding from it.
“We want to lean on our (running) backs. We want to be physical,” said Cameron, who spoke to reporters for the first time this season after Saturday’s game. “I think we’re getting some continuity in the offensive line. I think all three fullbacks are healthy for the first time. ... We’re starting to establish that identity. It’s a physical one.”
The lack of a passing game, though, could be a blow against good teams. LSU gets a bye after the Ole Miss game before hosting No. 4 Alabama on Nov. 1. The Crimson Tide rank No. 2 in rushing defense.
What must change? It’s not mental, Jennings said.
“Mainly my thought process is right — just getting the physical tools down,” he said. “Putting the ball in (the receiver’s) body instead of putting it up high on that one to Connor (Neighbors). Just little things. Decisions are pretty good. Just getting physical tools.”
Miles said Jennings “can play better” than he did Saturday, and Cameron said Jennings missed “a couple of throws.”
True freshman Brandon Harris saw mop-up duty late in the win and tossed an interception. It was his first action since his rough first start at Auburn on Oct. 4.
Jennings appears to be LSU’s guy at quarterback — a game-managing, low-risk player whose primary job is to not turn the ball over.
Asked about the quarterback competition after Saturday’s game, Cameron shied away from calling it that.
“I don’t know that it’s a competition as much as it’s guys working to get better,” he said.