Brandon Harris sat quietly in front of an LSU-logoed backdrop Thursday, giving measured, thoughtful answers to media questions in advance of Saturday’s spring game.
Voices around him swirled and mixed together with the weight of expectations for him that hung in the air two days before what could be one of the most pivotal days of the Tigers’ offseason.
Harris didn’t try to minimize what his play, and that of fellow quarterback Anthony Jennings, could mean to their race to take that first offensive snap when the Tigers open the 2015 campaign on Sept. 5 against McNeese State.
“It’s showtime,” Harris said. “In our stadium, in front of our fans. It’s an opportunity for the guys to see how much we’ve improved. It’s the next step to the 2015 season and I’m looking forward to it — I really am.”
Of course, no one knows better than Harris that being LSU’s spring-game star is a debatable honor.
Harris, the understudy, owned the spring game stage last year. He was only 11-of-28 passing as a true freshman, but it was the effortless-looking way he flicked his right arm and made the ball sail down the field.
He threw for 195 yards and three touchdowns, and rushed for 75 more and another touchdown.
Harris easily seemed to win the day against Jennings, who had started the Outback Bowl in place of an injured Zach Mettenberger and was clearly the man to beat. Jennings seemed to suffer by comparison to Harris despite completing 9 of 17 passes for 157 yards. He threw one touchdown for the offense but two for the defense, pick-sixes that tilted popular sentiment in Harris’ favor.
But while Harris won the battle, Jennings won the war. It was Jennings who ended up starting all but one game, against Auburn, when Harris got the start in front of a hostile road crowd and proved to be as ineffective as Jennings had been the week before against New Mexico State.
Jennings returned to start LSU’s last seven games, in which Harris attempted a grand total of one pass.
Despite Harris’ huge edge in experience, coach Les Miles declared the quarterback position an open competition this spring, one that could be captured by either quarterback.
Just how much Saturday’s competition will go toward determining an eventual winner, considering what took place in last year’s spring game, remains to be seen.
“Whatever it may hold, it may hold,” the junior Jennings said. “It’s not just one more day. I’ve got to execute the offense, get the ball into our playmakers’ hands and (focus on) ball security. Those are the kinds of things (offensive coordinator Cam Cameron) is looking for in this last practice.”
Harris said he won’t need Cameron’s critical eye or anyone else’s to tell him if he doesn’t measure up Saturday.
“I have high expectations for myself,” he said. “If I don’t go out and have a great day, I don’t need anybody beating me up. I beat myself up.”
LSU released White and Purple team rosters Friday for the spring game.
Most of the Tigers’ top players — like tailback LeonardFournette, cornerback Tre’Davious White and receiver Travin Dural — are on the veteran-laden White team.
But as if to intentionally add more intrigue to Saturday’s proceedings, Jennings and Harris are listed as quarterbacks on both rosters.
“Collectively the most important thing is to get better as a group,” Cameron said.
The quarterback position is hardly the only point of interest Saturday.
The defense is under new management with new coordinator Kevin Steele replacing John Chavis. And it’s a fair bet the deep Cajun voice of popular new defensive line coach Ed Orgeron will be heard in the stands in Tiger Stadium as well as on television.
“I think it’s been productive,” middle linebacker Kendell Beckwith, who will start for the White team, said of spring practice. “Real, real productive. It’s been a learning experience. I just want to make sure I get everything right, get everyone lined up and play as fast and physical as possible — having fun.”
There is no admission charge for the game, which begins at 1 p.m. following some on-campus festivities outside. The game will be shown online on SEC Network+ (and the WatchESPN app) and can be heard in the Baton Rouge area on WNXX-FM 104.5 and 104.9.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.