By Trey Mongrue
It was quite an odd sight to behold.
In the immediate aftermath of LSU’s 34-29 loss to Mississippi State, the morale amongst the Tigers was obviously low. Not only did last Saturday’s defeat snap a series winning streak that was two years older than the iPod, but, scoreboard aside, LSU was flat out dominated in every single phase of the game, and on its home field no less.
There were an infinite amount of places that the Tigers wanted to be than on the Tiger Stadium turf after the scoreboard clock struck zeroes. They didn’t even stay long enough to sing the customary postgame alma mater.
But as the team rushed through the tunnel for the locker room, the smattering of LSU fans that stayed made sure to show an appreciation for Brandon Harris by chanting his name after the freshman quarterback almost led the Tigers on a comeback for the ages.
In his postgame press conference, Les Miles more or less did the same.
“He definitely gave a strong performance when he came in,” the LSU coach said of Harris. “He made some really great throws and showed his ability to move his feet. In the limited pieces that we asked him to perform, it was very positive.”
Before I go any further, lets make this clear: The Tigers were so badly outplayed by Mississippi State that they did not come close to deserving a win in that game. Had Trey Quinn somehow came down with that last second Hail Mary pass, it would have been the biggest heist pulled since the days of Bonnie and Clyde.
With that said, LSU could have conceivably stolen a win last Saturday and there are a couple of factors that led to that possibility.
With the Bulldogs up by three possessions and under four minutes to go in the game, Dan Mullen pulled his starters on both sides of the ball. On top of that, the team was already celebrating the assumed historic victory and was pretty much mentally coasting to the finish line.
However, the third – and most noticeable – factor was Harris replacing Anthony Jennings after the LSU starting quarterback hurt his left shoulder following a sack. But even before the injury, Harris was probably – hopefully – destined to enter the game because, quite frankly, Jennings was not getting it done.
Through 12 series under center, the sophomore completed just 13 passes with only four of those going for more than 15 yards, and he just didn’t exude the confidence that you’d want or expect from a starting quarterback at a Power 5 program.
Granted, a lot of that may be because Mississippi State’s front seven was making a living in the LSU backfield, but even when Jennings had time in the pocket, he still seemed afraid to throw the ball downfield.
Harris was the exact opposite when he came in.
He was not afraid to step up in the pocket when he felt pressure and was also not hesitant to let go of the football. Of his six completed passes on nine attempts, Harris averaged 23.3 yards per completion.
Most importantly, though, he kept everyone involved. In his three drives at quarterback, Harris targeted all four of LSU’s receivers at least once – it took Jennings three quarters to do the same.
What this all may mean for LSU’s immediate future? That is still unclear.
The problems that arose on Saturday run much deeper than the quarterback position. However, this was the first time since his performance in last April’s Spring Game that Harris showed off his full array of talents and reminded everyone watching why there was a quarterback battle this offseason.
It also showed us why Miles never fully closed the door on Harris despite Jennings looking like the better of the two during Fall Camp and through the first three games of the season.
In the beginning, it never quite made sense why Harris was eating up some of Jennings’ playing time. After all, it’s not like Jennings is some experienced veteran who doesn’t need the experience and Harris doesn’t possess an added skill that would change the opposing defense’s scheme upon his entrance into a game.
It is starting to seem like the reason was because the coaching staff sees Harris’ ceiling as a starting quarterback surpassing that of Jennings. We may have just seen a glimpse of that against Mississippi State.
If that is truly the case, I think you have to give Harris the nod as the starting quarterback this weekend against a New Mexico State team that LSU can afford to experiment with. Not because he unequivocally won the job due to his recent performance or any other rash decision like that, but just to see what LSU may or may not have in him.
It’s something that Miles is, at the very least, entertaining the idea of.
“He certainly made a case today that we need to look at a bit more seriously,” said Miles. “That, we see. We are going to make the collective overview decision.”
The LSU coach’s hand may even be forced, depending on the severity of Jennings’ shoulder injury.
We’ve seen LSU with quarterback questions before. It doesn’t produce gaudy numbers or something that is easy on the eyes. With the meat of the Southeastern Conference schedule and the Tigers’ first true road game against Florida on the horizon, they need someone – anyone – to end this ongoing competition at the most important position on the field.
Right now, Harris’ stock is the highest it has ever been. It’s time to see if those buying it are getting a deal or will soon be facing bankruptcy.