LSU football: Quarterback struggles of the Les Miles Era


LSU football has faced significant quarterback struggles under head coach Les Miles, but the team’s outlook at the position is as bright as it has ever been during his tenure.

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The LSU football team is widely considered one of the most talented football teams in the nation year-in and year-out.

The cliche phrase “reload not rebuild” has been mentioned by the media numerous times when referring to LSU’s ability to replace seniors and early entrants to the NFL Draft with young studs who, more often than not, seem to make a seamless transition from part-time player to full-time starter.

And in some rare cases, fresh-off-the-press Tigers make an impact directly from high school as true freshmen. This should come as no surprise, though, as LSU seems to pull in a top-10 recruiting class every year.

But one position the Tigers have not been able to consistently fill with future NFL stars is the quarterback position. For some reason, LSU has struggled to recruit and develop highly ranked quarterbacks out of high school.

During head coach Les Miles’ 10-year reign over the Tigers, three former Tigers have been drafted into the NFL at the quarterback position; Jamarcus Russell, Matt Flynn and Zach Mettenberger. Of those three, only Mettenberger was an actual recruit under Miles. Even then, he was a junior college transfer after being booted from the Georgia Bulldogs following a sexual battery incident after his freshman season.

Dec 14, 2014; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Matt Flynn (10) before the game against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Where have Miles and the Tigers gone wrong?

Part of it has to be the system and coaching.

They have no issues recruiting and producing talented running backs, receivers and offensive linemen, but not many highly-ranked quarterbacks have wanted to play for the run-heavy LSU offense.

Miles is known to have predictable, and sometimes questionable, play calls. First down: run. Second down: run. Third down: pass. Quite often it is as predictable as run up the middle, run to the short side of the field and, on third down, throw the ball to a receiver two yards short of the first down marker.

Part of it has to be player development.

LSU has not needed a superstar quarterback in order to be successful. During LSU’s most recent national championship seasons, in 2003 and 2007, the Tigers had game managers at the helm.

Matt Mauck and Matt Flynn did not wow anyone with their talent. What they did do was not make many mistakes and get the ball into the hands of their playmakers.

LSU has had other quarterbacks who were arguably more talented coming out of high school, and who had better physical tools than Mauck and Flynn. But for some reason, Miles and his coaching staff were not able to develop those quarterbacks into players who were able to not only succeed in college, but experience success in the NFL as well.

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Part of it has to be luck.

Miles landed one of the most talented quarterbacks to ever set foot on LSU’s campus on National Signing Day in 2005. Ryan Perrilloux had all-world potential, but the maturity of a five-year old. He had more legal run-ins and suspensions from the team than he did starts as an LSU quarterback. Consequently, Perrilloux was booted from the team in 2008 after only two career starts.

Miles landed another talented quarterback a couple years later, when Zach Lee sent his letter of intent to the Bayou Bengals. Lee had hopes of playing quarterback for the LSU football team and pitcher for the baseball team. He would leave the Tigers after just two weeks of practice, however, after being drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2010 MLB Draft and offered a signing bonus upwards of $5 million.

All of this left LSU with quarterbacks Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee. Although these two were able to lead LSU to the BCS National Championship Game in 2011, the quarterback position was easily one of the weakest links on that team.

Realizing the need for a change, Miles brought in long-time friend and former NFL and college head coach Cam Cameron to run the offense in 2013. In his first year as LSU’s offensive coordinator, Cameron made a noticeable impact, coaching Mettenberger to a highly productive senior season (64.9 percent completion percentage for 3,082 yards, 22 touchdowns and 8 interceptions).

In 2014, though, LSU’s offense mirrored that of the Jefferson-Lee era much more than it did Mettenberger’s senior year. Quarterbacks Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris, a sophomore and true freshman, respectively, struggled tremendously as the Tigers’ signal caller.

LSU ranked 10th in the SEC in total offense (387.5 yards/game) and last in the conference in passing (162.9 yards/game) in 2014. As we look to the future, 2015 could be just as much of a struggle at the quarterback position as last season was.

Jennings has already had a rough offseason. After getting arrested for breaking into someone’s on-campus apartment, he was suspended indefinitely by Miles, and will remain suspended until the legal process runs its course.

Harris, who flashed signs of athleticism and amazing talent in 2014, was unable to fully grasp the playbook last season, and flopped in his only start of the season against Auburn, completing just 3-of-14 passes for 58 yards.

Of the two, Harris is obviously the more talented player. Fans are hoping Harris can calm down and figure it out, because if he does, LSU’s offense could blossom.

Hopefully serving as the backup last season and having another year to learn under Cameron and Miles will prove beneficial for Harris. If Cameron can develop Harris as he developed Mettenberger, there is no telling how good he can be. Perhaps he could be Miles’ first high school quarterback recruit to not only shine at LSU, but also succeed at the next level.

Sep 13, 2014; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers offensive coordinator Cam Cameron prior to a game against the Louisiana Monroe Warhawks at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The Tigers also recently added another quarterback to the roster with college experience. Purdue transfer Danny Etling started 12 games over two seasons for the Boilermakers before transferring to LSU in June. Eltling will have to sit out a season because of NCAA transfer rules, but he will be eligible to play in 2016.

Looking forward to the 2016 season, Miles has a commitment from highly-touted quarterback recruit Feleipe Franks. Franks has been steadily climbing up the 2016 recruiting rankings. The U.S. Army All-American has been impressive during offseason camps, and his talents are being put on display again at the Elite 11 this week.

If Franks is as good as advertised, Miles could have an extremely talented predecessor to the Jennings-Harris era on deck.

Despite the struggles Miles has faced recruiting, developing and keeping talented, young quarterbacks at LSU, the Tigers have a very bright future at the position. If Miles and his coaching staff are able to develop Harris and Franks into national champion-caliber quarterbacks, it will go a long way in proving to recruits that LSU is a program where elite quarterbacks can succeed.

Next: LSU football recruiting: QB Feleipe Franks at Elite 11 (Video)

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