Jennings takes lead in LSU QB race

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Unlike last week, there is no mystery about who will start LSU’s second game at quarterback.

After Anthony Jennings played nearly the entire way in the Tigers’ season-opening win against Wisconsin – and was at the helm as his team rallied from a 24-7 deficit for a 28-24 win – the sophomore holds an advantage over true freshman Brandon Harris entering Saturday’s game against Sam Houston State.

“It was obvious in [the Wisconsin] game that the opportunity for us to win was, certainly right now, to get Anthony Jennings comfortable in there and let him play, and he did very well,” LSU coach Les Miles said Tuesday.

That doesn’t mean their quarterback duel is over, Miles said. It means that he plans to show patience as Harris – who failed to move the offense in one possession against Wisconsin – learns to function as a college quarterback. And in the meantime, Jennings will be the guy.

It’s a good thing that the sophomore is coming off a game where he shook off an awful start to complete 4 of 6 passes for 119 yards and a touchdown in the second half. That made Jennings’ final passing line (9-for-21, 239 yards, 2 TDs) much more palatable as the Tigers allow Harris to develop at his own pace.

“After the half, you could see a change in Anthony,” receiver John Diarse said. “You could see the change in his eyes and you could really tell that he focused and he really relaxed and got comfortable in what we were doing and he trusted and believed in Coach Cam [Cameron] that he was going to put us in the right situation to make the plays.”

It was exactly the kind of confidence boost that Jennings likely needed. He was mediocre at best in his first career start – LSU’s Outback Bowl win against Iowa, when he took over for injured Zach Mettenberger – and followed that performance with a flat effort in LSU’s spring game.

But Jennings was able to complete more than just deep go routes to Travin Dural in the second half against Wisconsin, making a couple of nice throws that kept LSU drives moving and allowed the Tigers’ comeback to evolve.

“I feel like he did great,” running back Kenny Hilliard said. “He was able to go out there and make a couple plays for us and he led us to the victory. As a player and as a team, we feel like he got the job done.”

This was just a first step for both quarterbacks, however.

Jennings has more experience than his freshman counterpart, but he had only taken more than 100 career snaps when he took the field against Wisconsin. He is still extremely early in his development as a college quarterback, as well.

“I expect to be exponentially better,” Jennings said after the Wisconsin game. “I got this game under my belt and I’m getting more comfortable with the offense and those guys rallying around me. I’m just coming to practice every day and trying to get better.”

And Harris couldn’t have been satisfied with his playing time or with the results in his one series under center against the Badgers. He and Jennings have battled for the quarterback job since he arrived on campus in January, and Diarse made sure to remind him after the game that the battle is not over.

“We expect things and when we don’t get what we expect, we kind of get down,” Diarse said. “But like I told him after the game, I said, ‘Hey man, it’s not over. It’s just the beginning. Just stay in it, let’s ride it out and we’re going to win it.’"

In fact, if things go according to plan over the next couple of Saturdays – when the Tigers host Sam Houston State and Louisiana-Monroe in a pair of nonconference matchups – Harris could be in line for considerably more playing time.

The score was too close and the competition too stiff for LSU’s coaches to take many risks at quarterback against Wisconsin. But even if Miles said his staff won’t predetermine Harris’ workload for Saturday; he almost certainly has a greater opportunity ahead – particularly if the Tigers take control early.

“I think Brandon will come into his own,” Diarse said. “I think he’s very pumped about this week knowing that he has the opportunity to play. I think his confidence level’s going to continue to rise. We expect great things from him just like we do Anthony. I think this week is going to really let him know that, ‘Hey, I can do this. I still have a chance.’ ”