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Freshman QB Brandon Harris learned tough lessons in first start for LSU

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Brandon Harris fell on the sword after Saturday's 41-7 loss to Auburn, which seemed noble for a true freshman who just made his first career start -- especially since it came against a No. 5 team that played for a national championship last season.

Without question, it was an awful debut for LSU's quarterback, who said he told teammates in the locker room afterward, "Wake me and tell me this is a nightmare." And while it was a painful experience in front of a prime-time TV audience, Harris still learned some valuable lessons in his 3-for-14, 58-yard performance.

"A lot of it gets back to technique, having a plan and using the right technique and not standing up like a wooden Indian," Harris said. "To play the quarterback position, you've got to play with your knees bent."

Quarterbacks make technique adjustments after every game, but Harris' issues went beyond making those simple corrections. He insisted after the game that he wasn't nervous and that the crowd at Auburn's Jordan-Hare Stadium didn't affect his play, but Harris clearly abandoned the pocket too early on a few plays, botched an early snap and generally played like a nervous freshman who was starting for the first time.

With that in mind, perhaps it's no surprise that LSU coach Les Miles delayed naming a starting quarterback for Saturday's visit to another of the SEC's toughest road venues: Florida's Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

"We have not decided on who's starting this weekend," Miles said. "We'll let them both compete through the week and make a decision as we get closer to game time."

The game was already out of hand by the time that Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron went with previous starter Anthony Jennings late in the third quarter, after Harris played most of the period with an injured right ankle.

Jennings played better (5-for-10 for 84 yards), but neither quarterback turned in a particularly impressive performance. And Jennings had already built an underwhelming body of work as the Tigers' starter through the first five games.

"I think both of them realize that they're both going to play better as they go forward," Miles said. "I think there's confidence that we will, that both quarterbacks will play better than they played in the last game."

In Harris' case in particular, that improvement will likely come with game experience.

Jennings started LSU's last six games prior to Auburn and got booed off the field two Saturday's ago at Tiger Stadium when he committed three turnovers in just over a quarter of game play against New Mexico State.

Despite winning SEC Freshman of the Week honors last week for his impressive work off the bench against NMSU, in hindsight Harris was not yet ready for prime time against Auburn.

He admitted as much after the game.

"I just think coming into the game we had a great game plan," Harris said. "Cam did a great job of game planning this game. Again he gave me safe throws and easy completions that you can hit with your eyes closed and I just missed them. It was a terrible, terrible performance today by me."

Then again, LSU's coaches made it immediately clear on Saturday that this would not be their most ambitious game plan. Auburn's staff might have expected LSU to open up its offense more after Harris' dazzling performance against NMSU, but by the end of the first quarter, LSU had run the ball 12 times and attempted just two passes (Harris was 1-for-2 with a 52-yard completion to Malachi Dupre that set up a touchdown) and trailed 17-7.

The run-pass split was 17 runs versus two passes -- and the Tigers trailed 24-7 -- by the time they ran more pass plays than runs in a series. In the coaches' defense, Harris threw five straight incompletions on that drive and the Tigers punted for the sixth time in seven possessions, so they could certainly argue that their early conservatism was warranted.

Nonetheless, LSU's coaches didn't ask Harris to be a difference maker very often, and he didn't do himself any favors when they did.

"You never could get in rhythm because you get a completion … and then you miss and then we get in third-and-1 and then you should have known it's third-and-1, we get out of the pocket before it's time to get out of the pocket and just miss throws," Harris said. "It was just terrible."

The good news, Harris said, is that he refuses to allow a disappointing performance linger. He seemed unfazed while answering reporters' questions after the game and said his first order of business on the trip home would be to grab his iPad and watch film of the Auburn game so he could evaluate his missteps in the loss.

"A guy who played here years ago texted me after the game and he said, ‘The great ones have bad games.' So like I said, I'm going to watch this film and we're going to get ready for Florida," Harris said. "Once we get on the plane, [Sunday], this game's over with. We lost. Obviously this is not what we wanted to come out here and do. And we've got to get better."