It’s official: Brandon Harris is LSU’s starting quarterback – for at least the first game.
Harris, the highly touted sophomore from Bossier City, will take the first snaps when the 14th-ranked Tigers open the season Saturday against McNeese State, coach Les Miles said Monday.
“Absolutely, you betcha,” he said when asked. “Unless something immaculate for some reason takes place this week. Right now, it seems like a foregone conclusion.”
Miles declined to say if both quarterbacks would play against the Cowboys, a Football Championship Subdivision squad out of Lake Charles, but added that both “can play.”
“Brandon Harris, he’s throwing the ball more accurately,” Miles said. “He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do.”
Harris took the lead in the battle during summer workouts while Jennings suffered through a six-week suspension for a June arrest. With Jennings out, Harris meshed with receivers and helped run 7-on-7, voluntary workouts, grabbing the lead in the competition and holding it through preseason practice.
Miles said just last week that Harris “certainly has the lead” over his more veteran competitor. Jennings, a junior from Georgia, started 12 of 13 games last season, completing 48.9 percent of his passes – the lowest for an LSU starting QB since 2002. The Tigers struggled through the air in 2014, finishing 116th out of 128 FBS teams in passing yards per game (162).
Harris will make his first start Saturday - and second of his career - since a 41-7 loss at Auburn last season, a low point in his rollercoaster of a true freshman season. Harris went 3-for-14 in that game and had a host of mental blunders that helped lead to LSU’s worse loss under Miles. Harris never received significant playing time in the last seven games of the year.
Coaches and players have raved about Harris’ maturity and growth over the off-season. He’s gained more than 15 pounds to reach about 210. Linebacker Kendell Beckwith said Harris flashed better leadership during the summer than last year.
He’s focused on mastering a playbook that bogged him down as a true freshman last year, spending hours this summer at the football operations building, said receiver John Diarse.
Players, earlier in the day Monday, told reporters they did not know who would start at QB.
“We’re playing it out with both of those guys until Saturday,” receiver Travin Dural said. “I know both of those guys have worked really hard and have grown a lot. They’re both ready to show how much they’ve grown.”
Miles said he told Harris on Saturday afternoon that he’d start against McNeese.
Since preseason camp began on Aug. 6, signs pointed to Harris as the starter. He took the majority of snaps with the first-string unit during practices and scrimmages. He put up better scrimmage stats than Jennings, and Miles has said over the last six weeks that he was “excited” about Harris this preseason.
The two quarterbacks have been withheld from interviews over the month-long preseason practice aside from a single day – Aug. 16 at the program’s annual media day.
At media day, Harris and Jennings didn’t provide any insight into the competition. Jennings said it was a disadvantage for him to miss summer workouts, and Harris indicated that his supposed lead in the competition might not last long.
“Even if I start Week 1 or Week 2 or if I start, it’s all about what have you done lately,” Harris said. “If I go out there and I don’t do very well — you saw last year against Auburn — I could sit the rest of the season. As a QB, you’ve got to get everybody lined up. It’s not all about talent.”
LSU’s preseason camp was shrouded in some secrecy – likely in part because of the QB battle and in part because of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s illness. Cameron was diagnosed with prostate cancer in July and underwent a procedure during camp. He received a “clean bill of healthy” about two weeks ago. Cameron said on Friday that he “should be completely 100 percent healthy by Monday.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.