BATON ROUGE, La. – Anthony Jennings is not LSU’s only problem, but he knows he is on the list.
Even before Saturday’s shutout loss at Arkansas, the sophomore quarterback was frank in admitting that he must do a better job if he is to remain the Tigers’ starter.
“I think that we had the potential to go undefeated this year. I think if I would have played better in a couple of those games, I think we would have won those games,” Jennings said last week, speaking to reporters after an LSU practice for the first time this season. “So we just have to continue to get better, and I think that if we continue to get better, we’ll be a great team.”
That is clearly not what the Tigers (7-4, 3-4 SEC) are today. Not after Saturday’s 17-0 defeat where an LSU offense was shut out for the first time in the regular season since 2002.
Much of the blame falls on an offense that accounted for just 123 yards against the Razorbacks while missing starting left guard Vadal Alexander for the entire game and starting center Elliott Porter for much of it. The resulting shuffle left the only aspect of LSU’s offense that has shown any consistency -- its downhill running game -- in shambles.
“Those starting five had a cohesiveness that they built throughout the season,” Jennings said after the game. “So having those two guys go down, it was big.”
Jennings’ inability to move the offense with the pass only compounded the problem, as the first-year starter passed for fewer than 100 yards for the second straight week. He completed 12 of 22 passes for 87 yards against Arkansas, a week after going 8-of-26 for 76 yards in an overtime loss to Alabama.
“[It was] subpar at best,” Jennings said. “I have to improve.”
In fairness to Jennings, he regularly had to run for his life after dropping back to throw. The reworked offensive line rarely gave him time to survey the field, but Jennings continued to struggle at delivering accurate throws even when the protection was adequate.
That’s why Tigers coach Les Miles said after the game that his biggest concern was not quarterback play, but the protection issues that occurred with Alexander and Porter out of the lineup.
Miles said Alexander will likely be back in time for the Tigers’ visit to Texas A&M (7-4, 3-4) on Thanksgiving Day, but Porter is doubtful. Thus, Miles and his staff have about 10 days to figure out a backup plan along the line -- and perhaps with the player taking snaps behind it.
“At this point in time, the guy sitting in my seat, we’re looking for answers,” Miles said after the Arkansas game.
It would be simplistic -- and probably incorrect -- to say that a quarterback change would solve the Tigers’ offensive problems. But earlier in the year when Jennings struggled against Mississippi State and New Mexico State, Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron turned to true freshman Brandon Harris, and he delivered positive results both times.
Harris has barely seen the field since making a lone disastrous start against Auburn (3-of-14, 58 yards), on a night when LSU failed to achieve a single third-down conversion. Whether angry fans like it or not, Harris clearly does not have his coaches’ confidence, as evidenced by Miles’ post-Arkansas explanation for why he never played Harris against the Razorbacks.
“What we’re trying to do is make 10 other players effective, as well,” Miles said. “But at this point in time, I think it’s a quality opinion. Could I get some other guys some playing time? I wouldn’t disagree with that. But I think we went with Anthony for the reasons that it gives us our best chance at victory.”
Perhaps the extra time between games will give Harris a better chance to steal snaps from Jennings. But if Miles and Cameron stick with the sophomore for the A&M game and the bowl game that follows, Jennings knows what he’s giving the offense is not good enough.
Not now, and not if he expects to become more than a one-year starter.
“I know that if I play better, the other guys around me play better and this team plays better, so I don’t know if [I’m taking the] blame,” Jennings said last week. “I know that I can play better, knowing my abilities to play football at a high level. So I just have to go out on the practice field, continue to get better and then when game day comes, I’ve got to continue to execute.”