Some things in Louisiana never seem to change. Politicians always will be embroiled in controversy. Mardi Gras always will be a wild party and lately, LSU almost certainly will be looking for a quarterback.
To the final point, LSU has finished better than 10th in the SEC in passing only once in the last six seasons — when it finished sixth in 2013. This is true despite the fact the Tigers have been a hotbed for elite receivers. Pro Bowl wideouts Odell Beckham Jr. of the New York Giants and Jarvis Landry of the Miami Dolphins both played at LSU during these lean statistical years, and Brandon LaFell, a six-year veteran who recently signed with the Cincinnati Bengals, and Rueben Randle, a four-year veteran who just inked a deal with the Philadelphia Eagles, also spent all or part of their time at the school during lean times.
How is it that a program with this much talent at wide receiver has struggled so much to find a quarterback?
Frankly, LSU fans have gotten tired of trying to answer that question. Presumably, what they’d rather do is look to the future with the hope that the passing game will improve. This season, that hope might be justified: There are a few reasons to expect a better performance from returning starter Brandon Harris.
Harris isn’t sharing time
Harris recently told ESPN this is the first spring where he isn’t splitting reps with the first-team offense during practice. In both of Harris’ previous seasons, he was involved in a seemingly never-ending competition with Anthony Jennings for the starting spot, but Jennings — convinced that Harris had finally won the job for good — decided in March to transfer. Harris undoubtedly should reap the benefits of the extra practice time provided by Jennings’ departure. And while Purdue transfer Danny Etling will do his part to challenge Harris for playing time, the smart money’s on Harris emerging once again as the clear No. 1.
LSU is changing its practices
Tigers offensive coordinator Cam Cameron told the Baton Rouge Advocate last week that he has returned to some of the coaching tactics he used to lead LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger to success in 2013 — including less focus on zone-read concepts and more reps throwing from the pocket. This seems like an appropriate next step for Harris, who is a naturally gifted runner but unpolished as a passer. Cameron is also instituting more walkthroughs and less video work to give Harris and the other quarterbacks the kind of hands-on experience that will pay off once the actual games begin.
Experienced quarterbacks usually get better
Maybe the changes at practice will make Harris a better quarterback. However, there’s also a chance Harris will improve for an entirely different reason: He’s simply more experienced. Last year as a sophomore, Harris threw 13 touchdowns and six interceptions. Those numbers are actually better than what former Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott did in his second season in 2013, when he had just 10 touchdowns compared to seven interceptions in a time-share with Tyler Russell. It was as a junior that the light really came on for Prescott. In 2014 he threw 27 touchdown passes and amassed 3,449 passing yards — 1,509 more than the year before. There’s no reason Harris couldn’t experience the same kind of growth this season.
In fact, Harris actually might be a more likely candidate for that kind of evolution now than Prescott was then. Harris will be able to lean on an LSU roster with a lot more talent than what the Bulldogs had under Prescott. The Tigers have — according to 247Sports — the No. 3 recruiting class in the country for 2016, as well as running back Leonard Fournette, one of the favorites for this year’s Heisman Trophy. Harris also will benefit from the fact LSU gets home-field advantage for its toughest game of the season, when defending national champion Alabama comes to Death Valley on Nov. 5.
Truly, LSU seems to be only a quarterback away from being a legitimate playoff contender. It’s a familiar story for Tigers fans, but maybe this is the year Harris gives that old story a surprisingly happy ending.