Brandon Harris, it’s your team now.
Late Tuesday night at a post-scrimmage news conference, LSU coach Les Miles, perhaps after gleaning the last bit of confirmation he needed from the Tigers’ final major preseason scrimmage, allowed what has seemed increasingly obvious: Harris has the lead in the quarterback derby with Anthony Jennings.
Miles didn’t come out and say verbatim that Harris will be his team’s starter next Saturday when No. 14-ranked LSU opens in Tiger Stadium against McNeese State. But knowing Miles delights in being vague when it comes to specific questions about his Tigers, it was almost the same thing. So sometime shortly after 6:30 p.m., Harris will take the snap from redshirt freshman Will Clapp, turn and put the ball in Leonard Fournette’s breadbasket.
What, you thought I’d say he’ll throw a play-action pass?
“We like both of our guys,” Miles said. But, “Brandon Harris is certainly the leader at this point.
“He’s put himself in position based on a summer’s body of work.”
That he has. What looked coming out of the spring game like a tight battle that might go this deep into preseason drills or longer evolved over time into a growing gulf between the two quarterbacks. The wedge between them was driven in June when Jennings was suspended after his arrest for unlawfully entering someone else’s apartment.
The charges were dropped and Jennings was reinstated in time for the start of preseason drills, but as far as the quarterback race the damage was apparently done. Nature abhors a vacuum, and that applies to quarterback derbies as well. Harris developed chemistry with LSU’s receivers and running backs during summer seven-on-seven drills while Jennings was in exile. That advantage and his ability apparently trumped Jennings’ vast edge in experience (Jennings has 13 career starts in 22 games to Harris’ one start in nine).
This doesn’t mean Harris is invulnerable. He was in a similar position midway through last season. He nearly led a miraculous comeback against Mississippi State, did resuscitate the Tigers’ offense after Jennings’ many miscues against New Mexico State and got the start the following week at Auburn. What happened there was a football Hindenburg. Harris was 3 of 14 passing for 58 yards and got yanked midway through a 41-7 thrashing. He threw all of one pass (that was intercepted) the rest of the season.
For that reason, in a sense it isn’t that important who starts against McNeese State. No offense to the outmanned Cowboys, but LSU could choose not throw a single pass in that game and, barring a rash of turnovers, still win in a rout.
What matters most is the start that follows, Sept. 12 at Mississippi State. That’s when things get real for LSU and its quarterbacks. And Jennings – who we assume will also see the field against McNeese – will have a chance to make another comeback if Harris struggles to move the offense like he did at Auburn.
So LSU’s quarterback derby isn’t over. But it has a leader. A man who simply has to play at a competent level to stay in front for good.