Different Year, Same Questions for QB Harris and LSU

We are not even 3 months from the start of the 2016 season, and Brandon Harris is entrenched as the starter for LSU.

Purdue transfer Danny Etling was brought in to push Harris for the starting position, but it seems that Les Miles is comfortable with Harris taking the field against Wisconsin on September 3rd in Lambeau Field.

Quite honestly, Harris being the starter should come as no surprise.

He took all of the first team snaps in spring practice, and he has developed chemistry with the wide receivers (especially Malachi Dupre) and now has two years worth of experience within offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s system.

Nov 28, 2015; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers wide receiver Malachi Dupre (15) reaches for the ball in front of Texas A&M Aggies running back Brandon Williams (21) in the first quarter at Tiger Stadium. The pass was incomplete. Mandatory Credit: Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

LSU was predicted by some to win the SEC West and compete for a National Championship in 2015. Three straight losses to division rivals Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss saw that opportunity consequently fall by the way side.

There was plenty of blame to go around after those losses, but no one position felt the wrath of fans and media more than Harris did as the team’s QB.

As it is, among LSU faithful there have been lingering questions surrounding the quarterback position for the Tigers since Zack Mettenberger left for the NFL after the 2013 season.

Les Miles actually thought he had his answer two years ago, in sophomore Anthony Jennings. LSU went 8-5 in 2014, and had a carousel at quarterback with Jennings being benched on multiple occasions in favor of Brandon Harris.

Harris won the starting job prior to the start of last season, but questions still swirled as people doubted whether he had the chops to be an every day starter in the SEC. Harris quietly silenced his critics in the first half of last season by leading LSU to an impressive 7-0 start.

Once the Tigers got to the meat of their schedule, it was on Brandon Harris to prove that that he could effectively lead LSU’s offense against top ranked defenses.

Unfortunately, Harris and company were unable to do just that.

Against Alabama, Harris only completed 6 passes for 128 yards, with 1 touchdown and 1 interception. Alabama shut down the running game, and Harris was unable to create plays down the field.

Harris played decent in the losses against Arkansas and Ole Miss, but the offense still struggled to produce points.

Nov 14, 2015; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers quarterback Brandon Harris (6) fumbles as he is hit by Arkansas Razorbacks linebacker Dre Greenlaw (23) during the second quarter of a game at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The LSU offense was able to rebound and get a win in the season finale against Texas A&M. Harris played well in the Texas Bowl with a victory over Texas Tech. He went 13-of-22 for 254 yards with 1 touchdown, 1 interception and a QB rating of 161.98.

His personal stats do not jump off the page, primarily because he has one of the best running backs in all of college football behind him with Heisman Trophy candidate Leonard Fournette.

Through those 7 wins last year, his completion percentage was only 57 percent and he only had 3 games with over 200 yards passing. Again, that’s because LSU is a “run first” team.

Last year, Harris seemed to have a problem throwing with touch on intermediate passes over the middle. Lack of touch on these throws led to incompletions that could have helped the offense with field position on later downs.

Of the 93 attempts Harris made on 3rd down, 36 of them were from 10+ yards. Improving efficiency on earlier downs will allow for more short yardage situations.

Harris also needs to push the ball down the field. Many people (myself included) see him as a game manager. The problem here is that opposing defenses feel the same way.

Nov 7, 2015; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; LSU Tigers quarterback Brandon Harris (6) looks to pass during the third quarter against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

They will stack the box against the Tiger offense and force Harris to make plays. In the 3 losses last season, Harris averaged only 6.9 yards per pass attempt. He is not exactly striking fear in the heart of secondaries.

Granted, not all of this is squarely on Brandon’s shoulders.

Cam Cameron and Les Miles need to feel the heat on the lack of offense here as well. Still, Harris is surrounded by talent on the offensive side of the ball, and he needs to make full use of his weapons.

Having a Leonard Fournette in the backfield is a gift. He is the focus of the defense. Brandon Harris needs to be able to use that to his advantage and make plays down the field.

Even with a star like Fournette, LSU will only go as far as their QB takes them. Harris holds the keys to LSU’s playoff hopes in his hands.

Nobody will deny that LSU has the pieces to compete in the SEC West this year, but the question still lingers:

Can Brandon Harris bring his game to the next level and help the Tigers win a National Championship?

Only time will tell……