As the game against McNeese State on Saturday night turned into a game of waiting, some LSU players shed their pads and jerseys and tried to relax or even grab a nap.
Brandon Harris never got out of uniform. Or out of character. He wanted to be ready to get back on the field if the chance ever came.
He spent part of the 3 hour, 46-minute wait, a delay likely longer than an actual game would have been, tossing footballs in Tiger Stadium’s ready room with Travin Dural, John Diarse and backup quarterback Brad Kragthorpe. If only he could have thrown for as many yards on the field Saturday night as he threw for under the stands.
But finally the game was called off, canceled in fact. Harris’ two passes — one in the left flat for minus-4 yards to Derrius Guice that went nowhere because of a missed block, and a deep pass for Malachi Dupre that fell incomplete — were expunged from the record.
“I sat at my locker for five or 10 minutes” after the word came the game was canceled, Harris said Tuesday. He spoke to reporters for the first time since LSU’s media day a month ago. “It’s frustrating not getting to play. We prepared for McNeese all fall camp.
“You only get so many opportunities to play in Tiger Stadium. I really wanted to play that game.”
Now to experience his first start, he has to in essence start over. Starting on the road Saturday at No. 25-ranked Mississippi State, LSU’s first Southeastern Conference road opener since 2007 in Starkville, Mississippi.
That year, the Tigers crushed it 45-0, with savvy senior Matt Flynn operating the controls of the offense. Harris has exactly one start, last year at Auburn, and everyone knows how that went.
He was 3-of-14 passing for 52 yards and had eight carries for 36. It was a rough place for a freshman’s first start, and Harris looked green, confused, like he didn’t have a grasp of the offense. He got replaced by Anthony Jennings and attempted all of one pass the second half of the season.
But that was then. Experience in observing LSU coach Les Miles and the way he uses his quarterbacks says that it took some quality play on Harris’ part for him to earn and keep the starting quarterback back job over Jennings, even though the latter spent part of the summer suspended from the team.
Harris gave the briefest glimpse of his coach’s confidence in him against McNeese. He promises more and better this Saturday.
“I’m a different quarterback than I was last year against Auburn,” he said. “I’m focused on watching film every day, getting ready for Mississippi State.
“I’m excited to go on the road and show that we’ve grown up since last year at Auburn.”
Mississippi State will probably remember a much different Harris from their game with LSU a year ago.
The Tigers seemed to be hopelessly behind 34-10 early in the fourth quarter when Harris subbed for Jennings. Working in hurry-up mode, Harris led LSU on three touchdown drives, going 6-of-9 for 140 yards with a pair of touchdowns strikes to Diarse. Incredibly, LSU pulled within 34-29 and had a chance to pull out the win, but Harris’ final desperation heave was intercepted at the 1 as time expired.
Harris downplayed his showing against the Bulldogs.
“I’m not looking at last year’s film saying we did this or we did that,” he said. “Technically, it was a three-man, rush so there was no pressure on me the whole night. It’s like going outside to play in shorts and T-shirts.”
But the most effortless throwing motion for an LSU quarterback in the decade since JaMarcus Russell, the ability to escape the pocket and run the option, it’s these traits that have LSU fans salivating over what could be with Harris running the offense.
He must have matured, though, for this to really work. He must be better than the freshman freelancer who nearly authored a miracle against State.
Harris says the right things. He sounds confident, but self-deprecating. He talks enthusiastically about his team’s talent and explosiveness, but knows productivity and ball control also have to be part of the equation.
Enough talk. Enough false starts. It’s time for Harris to show what he can do.
He seems to feel that as much as everyone else.
“We’re going to play a team that beat us last year,” he said. “It’s exciting, but we’ll take our time, stay humble, and when the ball kicks off, we’ll be ready to play.”
More than ready.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.