Give Anthony Jennings credit for this much: The guy has been a good closer.
LSU's sophomore quarterback has endured plenty of criticism this season because of his inconsistent play, and his first three quarters in Saturday's win against Florida gave his detractors additional fodder. But Jennings made a couple of crucial throws in the game's closing minutes -- most importantly a third-and-25 connection with Travin Dural that went for a 41-yard gain and an 11-yard fade where Dural made a one-handed touchdown grab -- that made the Tigers' 30-27 win possible.
"He's come through on some huge plays. If you remember that Arkansas play, he threw a deep ball," LSU coach Les Miles said, referring to Jennings' game-winning 49-yard touchdown pass to Dural with barely over a minute left in a 31-27 victory last season. "What we've got to do is get him comfortable throwing some of those intermediate balls that we would have liked to have him throw in there."
For most of the Florida game, Jennings didn't display much touch on any of his throws. Entering the final period, LSU was clinging to a 20-17 lead and Jennings was 6-for-12 for 37 yards, while Leonard Fournette and the Tigers' running game had essentially provided the Tigers' only offensive spark.
But with the game on the line -- as was the case last fall against Arkansas and in the Tigers' season-opening win against Wisconsin -- Jennings displayed a strong finishing kick.
He went 4-for-9 for 73 yards in the final period on Saturday, connecting with Dural on the Tigers' two biggest passing plays of the evening.
The 41-yard bomb to Dural looked highly similar to the Arkansas play, although Miles pointed out after the game that the Florida pass went down the right sideline instead of the left like the Arkansas throw. Either way, the result was nearly the same. Jennings and Dural got the Tigers out of a hole with the long pass and then connected again two plays later for a touchdown that helped LSU go back ahead 27-24.
"[I was] just going through my reads," Jennings told ESPN sideline reporter Maria Taylor of the big plays to Dural. "I have the utmost confidence in that guy."
It was not Dural, but redshirt freshman John Diarse who was the target of a key Jennings throw against Wisconsin. Diarse caught an intermediate throw from Jennings on third-and-21 early in the fourth quarter, then blasted through a host of Badgers defenders on the way to the end zone for a 36-yard touchdown that helped cut Wisconsin's lead to 24-21.
The Tigers relied on the run for much of its comeback in that game en route to a 28-24 win, but Jennings was 2-for-3 for 63 yards in the fourth quarter, including the big touchdown pass to Diarse.
In the four games where Jennings has appeared in the fourth quarter, he is 10-for-23 for 235 yards and two touchdowns and no interceptions on fourth-quarter passes. Half of his completions went for gains of at least 20 yards and eight of them achieved a first down.
His fourth-quarter passing efficiency score of 158.0 ranks 23rd among FBS quarterbacks, which is considerably better than his 130.5 score for all four quarters that ranks 69th nationally according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Of course, none of this resolves LSU's quarterback quandary between Jennings and freshman Brandon Harris. Harris didn't play against Florida after falling flat and injuring his ankle while making his first career start the previous Saturday against Auburn. Afterward, Miles hesitated to predict how much Harris might play when LSU (5-2, 1-2 SEC) hosts Kentucky (5-1, 2-1) on Saturday.
Jennings hardly gave a standout performance against the Gators -- his final passing line was 10-for-21 for 110 yards and a touchdown -- but Miles defended LSU's quarterback decision after the game.
"We'd like to have gotten Brandon Harris in the game," Miles said. "That was certainly something that we thought about because he does give us a very explosive piece and his talent there is pretty special. But in a game like this, we just couldn't miss serve and we felt like Anthony Jennings was the guy to stay with."
On this occasion, at least, Jennings and Dural combined to reward the coaches for their patience.