Harris stands out in spring game
LSU running back Kenny Hilliard tries to break a tackle by Jalen Collins during
LSU’s spring game Saturday at Tiger Stadium. Hilliard finished with 16 carries for 59 yards and a touchdown as a member of the White team. The White team rolled past the Purple squad, 42-14. Hilliard also was honored as one of the recipients of the Eric Andolsek Leadership Award for outstanding leadership in spring offensive drills as well as the Ralph Norwood Performance Award for outstanding performance in spring offensive drills. West St. Mary alum Jerald Hawkins also received both of these awards. Another St. Mary Parish product, Central Catholic’s Conner LeBlanc, was a member of the Purple and White teams as a snapper. (Submitted Photo/Courtesy of LSU Sports Information)
Brandon Harris’ first snap in Tiger Stadium went awry.
Starting at quarterback in LSU’s spring game for the Purple team, comprised mostly of backups, Harris botched a handoff and had to jump on the resulting fumble for a four-yard loss.
“Everyone’s a little jittery,” tight end DeSean Smith said. “Who’s not nervous at first? ... But after that first one, you don’t even think about that.”
Harris quickly overcame his inauspicious opening snap, passing for three touchdowns and rushing for another on Saturday to establish himself as a serious candidate for a starting job next fall.
Because of LSU coach Les Miles’ policy prohibiting freshmen to speak to the media, Harris was unavailable for comment. But the ninth-year coach wasn’t shy about both praising and critiquing his freshman’s breakout performance.
“He made some really big plays and nice passes,” Miles said. “He threw the ball at times extremely well. But he also made some mistakes. It was certainly reviewed very positively by us.”
Harris finished the afternoon 11 of 28 for 195 yards. He was also LSU’s leading rusher on the afternoon, gaining 61 yards on three carries. He wound up taking snaps for both the Purple and White teams in what wound up as a 42-14 victory for the White squad.
Viewed by many as the underdog in the competition to replace departed senior Zach Mettenberger, Harris outperformed sophomore Anthony Jennings, who started the Tigers’ 21-14 Outback Bowl win against Iowa in January.
Jennings struggled in the first half, regularly missing spots and badly overshooting receivers. He finished the day 9 of 17 for 157 yards and two interceptions — both of which were returned for touchdowns. Linebacker Deion Jones returned the first interception 67 yards. Fellow linebacker Kwon Alexander returned the other 26 yards.
“I came out, tried to do the best I could and give my team the best chance to win,” Jennings said. “I had two interceptions and those are throws I wish I had back. But I can’t take them back. I just have to overcome adversity.”
At times, Jennings did just that. He led a four play, 73-yard touchdown drive for the White squad in his only possession of the second half.
Harris responded by completing consecutive passes for 37 and 33 yards on the ensuing drive, finishing it off with a 4-yard touchdown scamper on a designed bootleg to end his day.
“I really think (Harris) made four to five major errors in the scrimmage, but he improved through the adversity,” Miles said. “If we can eliminate the mistakes and play to the advantages, that’s what he’s looking to do.”
Miles said both Harris and Jennings left him optimistic about his quarterback situation, but he stopped short of declaring a front-runner.
Jennings said he welcomes competition, which “brings out the best in everybody.”
Harris “pushes me to do better and I push him,” Jennings said. “He made a lot of plays with his feet and his arm so I commend him for doing that.”
Sophomore receiver Travin Dural made five catches for 130 yards and two scores. The receiver echoed Miles in asserting that Jennings’ shortcomings on Saturday, coupled with Harris’ talent, will make for a fierce fall run-up to fall camp.
“Everybody’s trying to be that guy,” Dural said. “No one wants to be on that bench, so the competition level is going to heat up. When we get to the fall, people are going to show out.”
On defense, Danielle Hunter stood out as an edge rusher with two sacks for the White team, while Purple linebacker Ronnie Feist led all defenders with 14 tackles.
Smith, who had three catches for 45 yards, gushed over both Harris’ and Jennings’ ability, explaining the duo gives LSU a more potent offense with their mobility and ability to create opportunities when the pocket collapses.
Smith also said watching Harris come into his own Saturday was something special.
“I saw Brandon click,” Smith said. “I saw him put everything on the money today and I was like ‘Man, you’ve got to keep doing this.’”