LSU will start Anthony Jennings at quarterback Saturday night against Wisconsin in Houston, and the Tigers will be without four other key players for their season opener, multiple sources told The Advocate on Friday.
Jennings is expected to get the starting nod over true freshman Brandon Harris. Both will play, coach Les Miles said this week.
Cornerback Rashard Robinson, defensive tackle Maquedius Bain, center Elliott Porter and freshman receiver Malachi Dupre did not make the trip.
Robinson and Bain are believed to be suspended for the game, sources said. The source did not give a reason for the suspension. Porter’s absence is unclear. Dupre sprained his ankle during practice this week, multiple sources said.
The news Friday trickled out while the Tigers took a charter flight to Houston. At least three of the four players — Robinson, Porter and Dupre — were not seen with the rest of the squad arriving at the team hotel Friday.
Team spokesman Michael Bonnette could not confirm the news Friday night and said Miles would not comment on personnel until after the game.
No. 13 LSU meets No. 14 Wisconsin at 8:10 p.m. Saturday at NRG Stadium. The Tigers enter the game trying to keep alive a pair of streaks: They’ve won 11 straight season openers and 45 straight nonconference regular-season games. Both streaks date to LSU’s 26-8 loss at Virginia Tech to open the 2002 season.
Robinson’s absence doesn’t come as a real shock. He has been practicing with the second string for much, if not all, of preseason practice. Junior cornerback Jalen Collins is set to assume Robinson’s starting role opposite Tre’Davious White. He’s been practicing with the first string during August drills.
Bain, a redshirt freshman from Florida, was expected to be one of a handful of defensive tackles rotating on the defensive line. He is listed as the No. 2 at defensive tackle behind starter Christian LaCouture. Frank Herron and Quentin Thomas are listed as co-starters at the other defensive tackle spot.
Freshman Davon Godchaux and redshirt freshman Greg Gilmore are expected to slide into the backup role that Bain held.
Porter entered preseason practice as the starting center, but Miles said sophomore Ethan Pocic usurped him for the job. Porter started all but one game at center last season.
Meanwhile, Jennings and Harris have been locked in a tight battle for the starting job since spring practice began.
Jennings, a sophomore from Georgia, is the more experienced of the two. He started the Outback Bowl as a true freshman last season and played in nine games as the backup to starter Zach Mettenberger.
Jennings, a four-star recruit, was best known last season for leading LSU on a 99-yard game-winning touchdown drive against Arkansas. He replaced an injured Mettenberger in the game and marched the Tigers from the 1-yard line.
He struggled, though, in his first career start against Iowa in the Outback Bowl, completing just 9 of 17 passes and showing a somewhat shaky pocket presence at times.
Harris, the No. 3 dual-threat quarterback in the nation, enrolled early in January and immediately began competing for the starting gig.
Harris and Jennings separated themselves from others. Reserve QBs Stephen Rivers and Hayden Rettig both left the program.
Harris seemed to out-duel Jennings in the spring game, showing quick feet and a smooth vertical passing game.
Dupre, a highly recruited five-star player from John Curtis, is expected to return next week from his ankle injury. Dupre has not been practicing with the starting group at receiver. He has suffered multiple injuries through the first month of practice.
A member of the preseason All-SEC third team, Robinson came on late last season, starting the final two games of the year. A rangy and physical defensive back, Robinson and White have been lauded nationally this preseason as one of the best DB tandems in college football.
His replacement is likely Collins, a fourth-year junior who lost his starting job to White last season. Next in line on the depth chart is true freshman Ed Paris.