LSU football: Why Brandon Harris will thrive at quarterback in 2015


Much of LSU football’s success in 2015 will hinge on the play of its quarterback. Here is why Brandon Harris will finally succeed in the starting role.

Next: LSU football: 10 best players of the Les Miles Era

Watching the last few seasons of LSU football has brought back memories of the Smoke Laval-era of LSU baseball.

They are teams that won enough to keep most fan bases across the country happy, with football staying in the national spotlight most of the season and baseball making a couple trips to the College World Series. Neither lived up to their earning potential, however, causing much frustration among the Tiger faithful.

It would be easy to peg Les Miles or Cam Cameron as the Smoke Laval in this analogy, but in my eyes, it’s Anthony Jennings. For the sake of bringing another title to Baton Rouge, Brandon Harris could be the Paul Mainieri for this LSU football team.

Since watching Harris play in the 2014 Under Armour All-American Game, I’ve been waiting to see the 6-foot-3 Louisiana native dance around and sling the ball downfield just like the rest of you. When he was announced as the starting quarterback for last September’s highly-anticipated matchup at Auburn, I was ecstatic, yet still approached the game with cautious optimism.

While I had supreme confidence that he would lead the team to a key victory, it was hard to fathom a true freshman in his first career start waltzing into Jordan-Hare Stadium and knocking off the reigning SEC champion.

Unfortunately, my optimism got the best of me. Harris struggled tremendously, completing a mere three completions for 56 yards in an embarrassing blowout defeat.

During the spring, Miles admitted the coaching staff did not prepare Harris enough for the big stage in 2014. Harris also said many times that he did not know the ins and outs of playbook last fall, which appeared obvious at times.

Following the painstaking first half at Auburn, Harris threw only one pass the rest of the season, coming in a blow-out win against Kentucky. Harris sightings were rare for the remainder of 2014, with no sign of meaningful playing time, even when the team could not move the ball against a mediocre Arkansas team, being shutout 17-0.

According to Harris, a nagging high ankle sprain was to blame for most of his disappearance from the rotation.

It’s now 2015, and those excuses are out the window. Over a year of learning under former NFL coach Cam Cameron, and plenty time to rehab his ankle, the time for Brandon Harris to live up to his No. 2 dual-threat quarterback ranking has come.

However, to say that Harris will thrive as the quarterback of the LSU football team has less to do with his overall skills, and is more of a testament to the elite tools he will have at his disposal.

Even after losing La’el Collins and Elliott Porter to the NFL, the LSU offensive line returns arguably the best lineup of any team in the SEC, and possibly in the entire country. Outland Trophy Watch List tackle/guard Vadal Alexander and Jerald Hawkins should provide comfort to any quarterback who sits in the pocket, and Rimington Award Watch List center/guard Ethan Pocic should be able clear holes in the middle.

The receiving corp is nothing short of an embarrassment of riches as well. There is simply no team in the country that has enough skilled defensive backs to keep up with the likes of Malachi Dupre, Travin Dural, John Diarse, Trey Quinn, DJ Chark and highly-touted incoming freshman Tyron Johnson.

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Sep 6, 2014; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers wide receiver Travin Dural (83) celebrates after a touchdown with wide receiver John Diarse (9) during the first half of a game against the Sam Houston State Bearkats at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

And if those two units aren’t enough to put teams on their heels, LSU should be able to dominate the running game with Heisman hopeful Leonard Fournette, along with bruiser Darrell Williams and incoming freshmen Derrius Guice, David Ducre and Nick Brossette.

How could any quarterback NOT thrive with that talent around them? Just ask Anthony Jennings, who managed less than a 50 percent completion percentage last season, taking a total of 22 sacks while sitting around the pocket patting the football.

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If the history of progression at quarterback in recent years is any indicator, we will see significant improvement from Harris this season. If this occurs, we could see an offensive explosion from the Tigers in 2015.

In Zach Mettenberger’s first season as the starting quarterback, he threw for 58.8%, tossing 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Fast forward one season, and Mettenberger’s completion percentage jumped more than six percent, while throwing 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions in one less start.

With similar tools around him, Harris could be in for a monumental year after spending another offseason training with quarterback “guru” George Whitfield Jr. In 2014, Whitfield even went as far as saying that Harris reminded him of Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston.

Harris is no slouch when it comes to running the ball either. Though it is a small sample size, the dual-threat quarterback ran for 159 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries in 2014. While those numbers don’t necessarily jump off the page, the quality of his tuck-and-runs have been fun to watch. And if there is one thing we have learned as offenses continue to spread the ball out, it’s the ability of a quarterback to improvise that keeps defenses on their toes week after week.

While Tiger fans clamor for any indication of what is to come this fall at quarterback, the most recent development was Harris’ solid spring. However, any “developments” during spring practice should be taken about as seriously as preseason NFL games. After all, we would have probably given Richard Murphy two Heisman Trophies if Spring Game performances carried over to the regular season.

Unfortunately for the LSU faithful, we’ll probably have to wait until Sept. 5 to be certain who goes under center to start the 2015 season. Even with Jennings’ recent suspension, you never know what antics the Mad Hatter has in store for the fall.

Next: LSU football: 5 players poised for a breakout season in 2015

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