AUBURN, Ala. — Brandon Harris’ high school starting career began ugly, too.
His high school coach, Parkway’s David Feaster, remembers it well.
“He was thrown into a tough ballgame,” Feaster said. “Things did not go well.”
Harris, LSU’s true freshman quarterback, struggled in his first collegiate start Saturday as the Tigers floundered during a 41-7 loss at Auburn — the worst defeat for the program in 15 years.
The 18-year-old heavily criticized himself following the loss, calling his play “awful” and “terrible” and comparing the thrashing at Jordan-Hare Stadium to a nightmare.
Harris turned around a dismal first start as a sophomore in high school to win 24 games and lose just three the rest of his career. This is college, though, and Harris’ ugly outing at Auburn has, once again, thrown LSU’s quarterback situation — Harris vs. Anthony Jennings — into a tizzy.
Out of both major polls for the first time in six years, the Tigers (4-2, 0-2 Southeastern) head to Florida (3-1, 2-1) on Saturday for a 6:30 p.m. kickoff in Gainesville with a bevy of questions at the most important position on the field.
Who starts? Who plays? What’s the game plan?
“We have complete confidence in our guys,” right guard Vadal Alexander said. “Both of our quarterbacks have the capability of doing well. We just need to improve on some things.”
What are those?
“Executing better, getting the plays that help the offense, knowing assignments better,” Alexander said. “Starting off stronger, which we struggled to do at times.”
The quarterback woes might not be as severe as a defense that has now allowed 1,136 yards in its two SEC games — the most since at least 1965 in consecutive league games. But it’s a focal point heading into another rowdy road trip.
In his postgame news conference Saturday, coach Les Miles declined to name a starter at Florida. Harris suffered an ankle sprain, Miles said, late in the first half of the loss to Auburn. Harris called it a “bruise” and wore a walking boot on his right foot during postgame interviews.
Healthy or not, he seemed rattled in the tough road environment. With another ahead, his starting status is uncertain.
“I’m going to get over it,” Harris said. “I get over things really fast. We had the Wisconsin game, and I didn’t play too good in that game, and I got over it the next day. It’s that simple. You’ve got to get over things like that.”
This one, though, leaves a mark, right? Harris completed 3 of 14 passes for 58 yards — 52 of which came on one play.
“It’s going to help him in the long run,” Alexander said. “He’s going to learn a lot from this. This is probably the most hostile environment you can have as a player in the country. It’s a learning experience.”
Communication seemed to be an issue at times.
“Coming into a road game like this, it’s a hostile environment,” receiver Malachi Dupre said. “Communication is a lot more different on the road. It just wasn’t our night.”
Auburn’s defense had one objective early in Saturday’s game: Keep Harris guessing.
“Coming in, we wanted to get after him and make him nervous,” Auburn defensive tackle Montravius Adams said.
Auburn used a number of tactics to confuse the rookie.
“It was part of the plan coming in,” Auburn defensive back Jonathon Mincy said. “We wanted to disguise schemes, and we all came out and did our jobs.”
Jennings, replaced by Harris in the win over New Mexico State last weekend, completed 5 of 10 passes for 84 yards, but the Tigers offense failed to score with him on the field.
LSU hasn’t had a seesaw quarterback ordeal like this since, arguably, 2008. That year, Jordan Jefferson, Andrew Hatch and Jarrett Lee started at least two games each.
Now the Tigers have a pair of QBs who have suffered confidence-deflating moments; Jennings was booed during the win over New Mexico State.
“Every guy’s been supportive. Every guy’s told me, ‘Hey, it’s your first one. You’ve got a lot more down the road,’ ” Harris said. “That’s what I like about being around this team. I think everyone understands we have to get better as a team, better as a unit. We have the best quarterbacks coach and the best offensive coordinator in the country. He coaches us unbelievable, and we’ve got to translate it on the field.”