By Trey Mongrue
For LSU football, the subject of quarterbacks dominated many conversations for much of 2014 – and not in a good way.
Whether it was Anthony Jennings often failing to look past his first read on a pass play or Brandon Harris going one way while the other ten guys in purple and gold went the other on a run play, it’s safe to say that the play at the game’s most important position was severely lacking all season long.
As it stands right now, LSU is set to enter spring practice in two months the same way it did last year with Harris and Jennings competing for the starting job. The only difference being that they each have gained a year of experience under their belts. And make no mistake, this past season was certainly an “experience” for both of them.
Is it possible that, between now and LSU’s 2015 season opener against McNeese State, something clicks for either one and the Tigers find a steady hand under center?
Of course it’s possible and more so for Harris. He wouldn’t be the first college player to make a huge leap from his freshman to sophomore season and undoubtedly would not be the last.
With two years in the system, it’s unlikely that Jennings becomes much better than what he has previously shown, but who knows, crazier things have happened.
Former Georgia quarterback D.J. Shockley is someone who immediately comes to mind. As a redshirt-sophomore in 2003, Shockley made an appearance at LSU and was quickly flattened on consecutive plays. Two years later, he totaled three touchdowns against the Tigers in the SEC title game.
It can be done.
“This will be a very competitive spring,” LSU coach Les Miles said of his quarterbacks after the loss to Notre Dame. “It could be Anthony or it could be, certainly, Brandon. Competition will have to continue there.”
With that said, there aren’t many in and around Baton Rouge that are holding their breaths for the QB play to make a triumphant return with the present personnel that’s available.
Which leads us to an interesting surprise curtain No. 3.
Over the past week, reports have surfaced that multiple division I quarterbacks are listing LSU as a potential transfer destination – namely Ohio State’s Braxton Miller and, in a kind of ironic twist, Notre Dame’s Everett Golson.
Regardless of how reliable the sources in those reports may be, on the surface, the thought of either quarterback coming down to Baton Rouge is quite appealing just because it would be an injection of new blood.
Both would be eligible to play in the upcoming season and both have experienced high levels of success. As a freshman in 2012, Golson led the Fighting Irish to an undefeated regular season and a national championship appearance, while Miller posted consecutive seasons of 2,000 passing and 1,000 rushing yards with the Buckeyes in 2012 and 2013.
Dig a little deeper, though, and things get murky.
Starting with Golson, it seems a bit farfetched to think that he’d be a marked improvement over what LSU currently has. Following that run in 2012, Golson was suspended for a full season due to academic violations. Having returned in 2014, the playbook was opened up more for Golson and he didn’t exactly respond well.
After all, there is a reason that the Irish mainly relied on Malik Zaire against LSU in Nashville.
Golson was picked off 14 times this past season and if there is one thing that Miles detests, it’s turnovers.
As for Miller, he is a great talent and was certainly going to be a Heisman Trophy favorite entering the 2014 season. However, two surgeries in less than a year on his right shoulder – the one he throws with – are always tough to make a full recovery from.
But even when healthy, it’s not like Miller was slinging the ball all over the field.
In 2013, Ohio State with Miller averaged just 7.7 yards per pass. If that number sounds familiar, it’s because that’s the exact amount that LSU averaged with Jennings and Harris this season.
Now, Miller does present a much better threat of running with the ball, but coming into LSU’s smash mouth offense may make things a little harder compared to Ohio State’s fast-paced spread offense that Urban Meyer has brought in.
Plus, there is the future to think about, as in past the 2015 season.
Both Miller and Golson have just one year of eligibility remaining, meaning if either are brought in, it will be to start right away. If that happens, it would likely lead to Jennings seeking a transfer, and Harris may look around as well, seeing that the starting job is no longer up for grabs.
That sets up potential problems for 2016, where the cupboard for experienced quarterbacks could very well be dry. Sure, Feleipe Franks and – potentially – Shea Patterson are top high school prospects, but as LSU has seen all too often, starting young quarterbacks is not ideal.
Now, I’m not advocating that LSU turn down Miller or Golson sight unseen. After all, it has been well established by many that next season is a pivotal year for Miles and the Tigers. To climb back up the SEC mountain, LSU will need much better play under center – that’s not even debatable.
It’s just a process that, not unlike the current search for a new defensive coordinator, needs to be handled very delicately for it to lead to the results that everyone associated with the program is thirsting for.