By Trey Mongrue
What was old is now new once again.
Exactly one year ago, thousands of fans congregated in Tiger Stadium for LSU’s annual National L Club Spring Game with the hopes of getting a glimpse of the present and future at quarterback.
It was a battle between Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris that day, and in the back of Les Miles’ mind, the plan was to have one of those two young arms to lead the team to victory. Obviously, the ensuing season showed that wasn’t necessarily the case.
So there they were again last Saturday. Jennings and Harris, with Miles and a handful of fans in attendance intently watching as another round of the battle ensued.
“I think our quarterbacks are more capable and more confident,” said Miles afterwards. “I think that they’ll continue to improve and continue to execute at a very high level.”
The final score of the glorified scrimmage was a very meaningless 45-6 victory for the white (made up mainly of 2014’s key contributors and veterans) over the purple (mostly freshmen, seldom used players and walk-ons). But in order to get as many reps as possible, Harris and Jennings were two of the four players that played for both teams throughout the course of the game.
Still, once the dust settled, Miles was not ready to name a starter.
“Who’s the best quarterback?” Miles rhetorically questioned to himself. “I’m going to defer and let the competition play out, but I think both guys distinguished themselves today.”
Like Miles pointed out, nothing that Jennings and Harris did on Saturday should go down as a negative mark on their respective résumés, with both running the offense without much hindrance.
Jennings got the nod to start out with the white team behind what is expected to be the starting offensive line. The junior-to-be quickly lit a spark, completing two passes for 70 yards – the latter being a 37-yard strike to Malachi Dupre for the game’s first touchdown.
Statistically, Jennings had the better day of the two, completing 13 of his 20 passing attempts for a game-high 242 yards and two touchdowns.
“I’ve come far from where I’ve started,” he said. “I kept my team poised, kept them lined up where they needed to be and got the ball where it needed to be at times. I wasn’t perfect in this game though. I didn’t complete every pass and that’s where I’m striving to go.”
The numbers were nice for Jennings, but heading into the spring practice season, his goal was not to find statistics. Rather, he wanted to regain some confidence after a tough end to the 2014 season for him.
He feels that he has regained that over the past few months, but that doesn’t mean the learning will stop.
“Even the best of the best still continue to study and to get better each and every day,” said Jennings. “That’s what I’m going to try and do, continue to work on my craft and mental state of the game and keep improving.”
But as Miles pointed out, neither really separated themselves, because Harris had a good outing in his own right.
““Who’s the best quarterback? I’m going to defer and let the competition play out…”
– LSU coach Les Miles
– LSU coach Les Miles
After running for his life from the likes of Davon Godchaux and Christian LaCouture for three series behind the purple squad’s makeshift offensive line, Harris switched over to white near the end of the first quarter and, like Jennings, connected with Dupre for a touchdown.
For the game, Harris hit on 11 of his 17 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns, matching Jennings. Kevin Toliver II picked him off in the third quarter, but that was more due to good coverage by the freshman cornerback as opposed to a bad pass.
“I’ve said it over and over again, we were the weak link last year,” said Harris. “It’s not real nice when people talk about our quarterback situation. I take that with a chip on my shoulder.”
This being Harris’ second spring practice and game, he certainly feels much more grounded this time around.
Even though he showed flashes of brilliance in brief appearances against New Mexico State and Mississippi State, issues with learning and executing the plays kept him on the bench for much of the season.
He doesn’t believe that should be a problem anymore.
“I wanted to show that I can come out here and run a complete offense,” Harris explained. “I’ve been working my tail off this offseason and doing everything that I could possibly do to increase my maturation process and be the best quarterback that I can be.”
According to Harris, a lot of that credit goes to offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.
“Whenever you can go outside and play without thinking a lot, it’s fun,” said Harris. “Just working with Cam and him giving more of a systematic process, an easier thought process.
“You come to college so you can learn and it has been beneficial just by me going and asking more questions to him.”
While it never appeared that Cameron was using different playbooks for each quarterback, Harris took the majority of his snaps out of the shotgun while Jennings was mainly doing his work from under center.
Overall, the third-year LSU coordinator and quarterback coach was pleased with what he saw.
“Good decision making,” explained Cameron. “The key to our success is decision making. The quarterback position is a decision making position. Our guys are tough enough, they’re athletic enough, they throw the ball well enough, now they just have to make good decisions.”
But as the team disperses for the impending summer before coming back together in August, both Cameron and Miles have the decision to make.
As cliché as it may sound, the ‘if you have two quarterback, you have none’ adage has been true more times than it has been false. In a perfect world, Miles will know for sure who his starting quarterback is when the open the season against McNeese State in September.
“I take nothing off the table, but I certainly would like to have that (one) guy that I could turn to and start getting the majority of the snaps,” Miles explained. “I look forward to Brandon Harris maturing and seeing how good Anthony Jennings can be.”