NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Amid the swirl of TV cameras and interviews and LSU players trying to find their room keys as they arrived at the Opryland resort on Saturday for the Music City Bowl, a small band of youngsters slipped in and took a picture with Tigers quarterback Anthony Jennings.
As they returned to their parents standing nearby in the vast Delta atrium — I’m convinced you can see this hotel from space — they asked them, “Who is that?”
Admittedly, they weren’t Tigers fans — just tourists drawn to the excitement of a Mardi Gras parade of LSU players sauntering through. Jennings looked like a likely target considering the swarm of media peppering him with questions, so they figured he was someone at least almost famous.
Infamous may be more like it, at least to a sizable contingent of LSU football fans.
Jennings has been the target of a heaping helping of abuse this season. This is not unusual treatment for LSU starting quarterbacks, who perennially seem to run second in popularity to the backup on the bench wearing a headset.
But the scorn directed at Jennings this season has been of a particularly virulent strain. He’s not only been ridiculed but has gotten physical threats via social media from “brave” souls who hide behind a keyboard and a fake name while he has to risk his hide every Saturday being pursued by real dangerous dudes like Dante Fowler and Preston Smith and Trey DePriest.
“Definitely I learned this season that nothing comes easy,” Jennings said. “You have to come in every day and work and not listen to anybody outside of what really matters: my coaches, my teammates and my parents. Not get into the social media or criticism of fans or anything like that.”
If this tumultuous season has left a mark on Jennings’ soul, his spirit, he doesn’t show it.
In fact, if nothing else three days before the final game of his sophomore campaign Tuesday against Notre Dame, he appears to have packed a suitcase full of quiet confidence.
Jennings has never been one to go around overtly telling people this LSU team is his team, like former Tigers and current Tennessee Titans quarterback Zach Mettenberger did when he took over from Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee. But that doesn’t mean his resolve should be underestimated.
Popular opinion is that Jennings is the inferior quarterback to freshman Brandon Harris, that eventually he will be caught and passed like a smoke-billowing junker on the interstate. You’ve expected it. I’ve expected it. Perhaps Jennings, in his heart of hearts or worst fears, has expected it, too.
And yet it hasn’t happened. And it’s not likely to happen Tuesday, either.
Quietly, unassumingly, Jennings dropped a stealth bombshell Saturday when asked whether he thought it was fair that he was still fighting for the quarterback job with Harris, whose one start at Auburn was as successful as the Titanic’s maiden voyage.
“I don’t feel like I’m in competition at all,” Jennings said. “I’m getting all the reps with the (first team). I’m coming in every day and running with the ones and continuing to get better.
“It,” Jennings said of the so-called quarterback battle, “is not really what everyone thinks it is.”
This of course could just be Jennings’ perspective of what he wants to see in his rearview mirror, but really, don’t the results back it up? Since the Auburn game, which represents the second half of LSU’s season, Harris has thrown one pass — an interception in relief against Kentucky — and has two carries for 15 yards.
LSU coach Les Miles keeps saying Harris coulda/woulda/shoulda gotten some more playing time by this time, but this is apparently a smokescreen by The Hat, who once described himself as deceptively honest.
The reality is Harris probably won’t play against the Irish unless it’s in mop-up duty, as has been the case the past six games.
In a lot of ways, that doesn’t seem to compute. Jennings is 12th in the SEC in passing yards with 1,460 and is the only quarterback among regular SEC starters who has completed less than 50 percent of his passes (48.8). A hall of fame season it has not been.
But there was reason for optimism last time out against Texas A&M. Jennings only threw for 107 yards, but he rushed for 119, operating the zone read wrinkles added to LSU’s offense like a savant.
“It helped us to run the ball better, more deception,” Jennings said of last game’s plan. “You can do everything off that, get ball in playmakers’ hands like Travin (Dural), get it to Leonard (Fournette) coming downhill. There a lot of things we can do out of that.”
OK, that’s this year. What about the next? What about competition between Jennings and Harris in the spring?
Jennings doesn’t seem overly concerned.
“Right now, I’m just thinking about this bowl game, and executing this game, but obviously it’s going to be big moving into next year,” he said. “Ending the season on a high note and going into spring and summer with things to work on.
“We’ll see what the coaches say. They will play the best man.”
One guess who Jennings thinks that is.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.