LSU’s Anthony Jennings strengthens grip on top quarterback job _lowres

Advocate staff photo by Bill Feig -- LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings is pursued by a host of UL-Monroe defenders after a good gain in the first quarter Saturday at Tiger Stadium.

Some observers entered the season believing LSU would employ a two-quarterback system. Others predicted true freshman Brandon Harris would eventually overtake opening-day starter Anthony Jennings.

Judging by Saturday night’s developments, it appears Jennings may be strengthening his grip on the QB job.

Jennings got his third straight start to begin his sophomore season, and unlike in LSU’s first two games, the young Harris was left on the sideline until the final minutes of the third quarter arrived and the 31-0 win was well in hand.

“The coaches decide that,” Jennings said when asked about his role. “I think they’re going to put the best players out there to win the game. If that’s me in the beginning, or that’s me late in the game ... anything to help the team win, I’m with it.”

Jennings finished 11 of 18 for 139 yards with no touchdowns and his first interception of the year. He also scrambled for 20 yards on seven carries.

Continuing to show a connection with sophomore Travin Dural in the passing game, Jennings found his fellow sophomore five times for 65 yards.

But the most telling aspect of Jennings’ fourth career start may have been that he wasn’t always impressive, especially during a first half in which LSU only mustered a 10-0 lead, and the coaches stuck with him anyway.

Harris had entered in the second quarter each of the first two weeks, taking three snaps against Wisconsin with LSU trailing 17-7 and then seeing significant time against Sam Houston State in a 56-0 whitewash.

Harris mostly looked impressive in the Sam Houston game, but caught the ire of LSU coach Les Miles when he lost a fumble late in the fourth quarter.

With the Tigers set to face Mississippi State in Tiger Stadium next week, it seemed the matchup with ULM — a 31-point underdog — would be a good time for Miles & Co. to start allowing the quarterback situation to take shape.

The last of LSU’s three “rent-a-win” games is Sept. 27 against New Mexico State, and every opponent after that is from the Southeastern Conference.

“If next week requires us to have two quarterbacks, that’s what it will be,” Dural said. “We’re going to need everyone. If next week we need Brandon, that’s just the way it’s going to be.”

Harris made his first appearance with 2:16 left in the third quarter, completing one of two passes for 14 yards and leading LSU on one scoring drive.

By then, Jennings had helped build a 24-0 lead.

Miles referenced an overthrow by Harris on the freshman’s first pass attempt when asked about him after the game.

“I think he’s coming,” Miles said. “I think we’re developing him. He’s got to get comfortable on the field. The adrenaline was pumping. There are some things he needs to clean up so he can step to the field with a little more confidence.”

The more veteran Jennings could give the Tigers what they need to match a running game that is churning and a defense that is dominating.

Consider the way he rebounded Saturday after forcing his final pass of the first half into a crowd of defenders and having it intercepted by Mitch Lane at the ULM 14 with 42 seconds left in the second quarter.

Consider his first pass of the second half, a 32-yarder to Dural that helped offset the first-half pick and pointed LSU toward the first of its three second-half touchdowns.

A series of plays that led to LSU’s first points — a short Colby Delahoussaye field goal late in the first quarter — also epitomized Jennings’ night.

LSU was set up first-and-10 from the ULM 22 before Jennings threw a pair of incompletions, and an intentional grounding call against him after the second sent the Tigers all the way back to third-and-22 from the 35. Jennings redeemed himself on third down. Finding nothing on the right side of the field, he used his feet to buy time, then looked to the left and connected with John Diarse for a 23-yard pickup.

“Everybody makes mistakes,” Jennings said. “That comes with the game, and that comes with the youth. Just getting better every day in practice is what I’m trying to do, and let the coaches decide.”