So with the 13th-ranked Tigers opening the 2014 season this Saturday in Houston against No. 14 Wisconsin, Miles said Monday that he’ll play two quarterbacks — sophomore Anthony Jennings and freshman Brandon Harris.
“Our team understands that we have talented quarterbacks,” Miles said. “But right now they have not separated themselves, and we are not certain. If we were certain, then I promise you, we would play the one guy that would give us all the advantage.
“But if two guys can give us greater advantage than one guy, then let’s certainly play two,” Miles added.
For the past two seasons, LSU has had certainty under center. Zach Mettenberger, now an NFL rookie with Tennessee, was the unquestioned starter and leader of the offense.
Jennings, the former Marietta High School star, was the clear No. 2 quarterback last season as a freshman, and took over when Mettenberger was hurt in the second half of the Tigers’ regular season finale against Arkansas. But while Jennings led LSU to a comeback victory over the Razorbacks, he was inconsistent in the Tigers’ Outback Bowl victory over Iowa, completing only seven of 19 passes with one interception and no touchdowns.
Harris enrolled in January, allowing him to challenge Jennings in both spring practice and fall camp.
For now, LSU’s offensive regulars are downplaying whatever inconsistencies may arise from a two-QB system, and playing up the potential benefits.
“It’s not disconcerting to me at all,” fullback Connor Neighbors said. “They’re having a competition and when you have a competition like that, they’re getting better and they’re pushing themselves.
“It doesn’t matter to me and I’m sure it doesn’t matter to the rest of the team because whichever one is in the game has to lead us and they know that,” Neighbors added. “They’ve been very assertive and very confident when they’re in the huddle.”
In recent weeks, Miles has not allowed Jennings or Harris to meet with media. While it is common for Miles to shield freshmen from media exposure, he has also silenced the sophomore, Jennings, in an effort to prevent one QB from becoming the voice of the offense over another.
Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen — who hasn’t announced a starting QB, either — said the approach of his defense would be similar for either Jennings or Harris, both of whom run well but remain unproven passers.
Andersen said he wants his defense focused primarily on executing its base scheme as well as possible.
“The base defense on paper should be able to react to any scheme and be able to handle any scheme, assuming the players get what they’re supposed to get and can tackle,” Andersen said.
Perhaps Andersen isn’t that concerned with who starts at quarterback for LSU because he expects the Tigers’ running backs to drive the offense. Terrence Magee, who was LSU’s second-leading rusher last season, is back along with fellow senior Kenny Hilliard. Miles said freshman Leonard Fournette, widely regarded as one of the top high school running backs in the nation last year, is expected to make his college debut against the Badgers as well.
“He’s going to want the opportunity to do everything that he can do. And certainly he’ll play a role in this game,” Miles said. “No reason for him to think about winning the Heisman (Trophy) tomorrow, OK. ... Just make a contribution. Do the things that you’re slated to do.”
Fournette was a physically overpowering rusher in high school, and it remains to be seen how well he’ll respond against bigger, stronger and faster defenders at the major college level. Yet Miles has been pleased by Fournette’s running against LSU’s highly regarded defense in scrimmages this month.
“There will be better players on the field; certainly, it’s going to not be the same,” Miles said of Fournette’s transition. “But it would be my suggestion that he’s one of those guys that have taken hits against pretty good defense, and he’s ready for that.”
Fellow LSU running backs sound impressed as well.
“Obviously it’s not high school, but I still think he’s going to be able to get out there and do some of the things he’s done in high school,” Magee said. “He’s that talented.”