By Trey Mongrue
“We’ll see if we can bring the quarterbacks play up with competition.” – LSU coach Les Miles
Who’s going to play quarterback?
That’s the million-dollar question that LSU has been peppered with for the better part of the past seven years. Those six words are rearing their ugly head once again as the Tigers put their Thanksgiving plans on hold to take on Texas A&M this Thursday.
Following a 17-0 loss to Arkansas in what was the worst offensive showing in his LSU coaching tenure, Les Miles announced during the Tigers’ bye week that he will give equal practice reps to embattled starting quarterback Anthony Jennings and freshman backup Brandon Harris.
“We’ll see if we can bring the quarterbacks play up with competition,” said Miles.
Should Jennings remain the starter – which is likely – he will be looking to break a streak of two games where he has failed to pass for more than 100 yards despite throwing more than 20 times on both occasions.
Not so coincidentally, the Tigers found themselves on the losing end both time.
However, Miles has continued to look on the bright side when it comes to Jennings by pointing out things that may not necessarily be seen by the untrained football eye.
“For the most part he played okay, but he still needs to play better,” Miles said of Jennings. “He takes care of the ball and makes 10 other players better. That really is the significance there.”
If Miles is to go against the grain and put Harris back under center, it will be the true freshman’s second start on the road.
The first one was almost two months ago at Auburn where Harris hit on just three of his 14 passes. He was eventually pulled in the second half for Jennings and LSU went on to lose 41-7 – its biggest defeat since 1999.
Harris has been on the field for exactly 15 plays since that night in Auburn. But his talent is undeniable, and Miles is aware of this.
“We like him a lot,” said Miles regarding Harris. “There are things that will get him to the field because he has a natural arm, he can run and he’s competitive.”
Regardless of who is running the offense for LSU on Thursday, it will be a far cry from what Miles and the Tigers had last season with Zach Mettenberger – now plying his trade in the NFL with the Tennessee Titans.
Unfortunately for LSU, that 2013 season of stellar quarterback play was more of the anomaly than the norm under Miles.
Following LSU’s 41-3 win over Kentucky last month, the LSU head coach fielded a question regarding playing a quarterback now to prepare him for the future.
“We’re going to have to play that position next year, too?” deadpanned Miles. “Damn, I thought we were going to get away with it.”
Obviously, Miles was being far from serious with that comment, opting to add to his always-expanding portfolio of one-liners. However, there was some truth to the statement.
Whether it has been by design or circumstance, the offense that LSU runs under Miles has greatly diminished the role that his starting quarterback plays.
Even with the handful of offensive coordinators that have come in and out, LSU has always been a team that likes to run the ball out of heavy sets to effectively move the ball and control the clock.
Call it boring, archaic or another adjective, it has largely been a recipe for success.
Just look at LSU’s win over Ole Miss – a 10-7 victory in which the Tigers ran for 264 yards while Jennings threw for 142. Take away his two interceptions and the scoreboard would’ve shown just how much LSU dominated that game.
Looking at the last five Southeastern Conference champions, LSU in 2011 was the only team that averaged less than 400 yards per game. Despite that, the Tigers still scored 35 points per game, which falls close to the 37 points that the other four SEC champions combined to average – In fact, only Alabama in 2010 averaged more than 40 points per game in that span.
While the gaudy numbers that Mettenberger and JaMarcus Russell produced were aesthetically pleasing, LSU’s two most successful seasons under Miles (2007 and 2011) saw Matt Flynn throw for roughly 200 yards a game, while the Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee combo four years later never had a game that totaled more than 225 passing yards.
A hard-nosed rushing attack and stellar defense (two things LSU has this season) just requires the LSU quarterback to throw for 160 or so yards and not turn the ball over.
The present problem, though, is that Jennings hasn’t been able to consistently meet those low requirements, while Harris hasn’t had much of the chance to try. If that will change against a weak Texas A&M defense remains to be seen.
“It’s an encompassing position,” Miles said of quarterback play. “It will take some time.”
After a brief respite, the hot button topic of who the LSU quarterback should be has returned to Baton Rouge and it doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon.