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. He did allow Wednesday night on his first weekly radio show of the season that he “won’t be surprised” if Harris takes the first snap.
Knowing Miles is the Minister of Vague when it comes to specific questions about his Tigers, it was almost the equal of a pronouncement chiseled on a stone tablet.
So sometime shortly after 6:30 p.m. next Saturday, Harris will take the snap from redshirt freshman Will Clapp, turn and put the ball in Leonard Fournette’s breadbasket.
What, you thought we’d say he’ll throw a play-action pass? Come now.
“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 was concerned the sea shift was already underway.
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 limbo. That advantage and Harris’ 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 benched him against New Mexico State and got the start the following week on the road.
At Auburn, Harris was cast as the anti-hero in a story called “High Plains Dreadful.” Harris looked like he never heard of the LSU playbook, running the wrong way, going 3 of 14 passing for 58 yards and getting yanked midway through a 41-7 thrashing. He threw all of one pass (that was intercepted) the rest of the season.
Indications seeping out of preseason practices and scrimmages are that Harris has improved, but that he doesn’t need to rent a tux for his College Football Hall of Fame induction just yet.
For those reasons, 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.
“He needs to make sure he does all the things that make the other 10 guys more capable,” Miles said.
“We have competition there. I would not be surprised to see Brandon Harris take the first snap. But as for who takes the last snap at the back end of the season, I’ll withhold my judgment.”
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.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.