By CODY WORSHAM
Tiger Rag Editor
On paper, Saturday’s spring game wasn’t the best of Brandon Harris’ career.
On film, however, Harris believes he’ll see his finest scrimmage thus far.
In a 17-7 victory for Purple over White, LSU’s junior quarterback completed 11-for-15 passing for 105 yards, failing to throw for a touchdown for the first time in three spring outings. But those numbers – solid, if not spectacular – don’t tell the whole story, in Harris’ eyes.
“The last couple springs, I’ve lit it up,” Harris said. “But I feel so much more comfortable with this spring game, even though I didn’t throw a touchdown pass, because we were able to move the ball. The ball wasn’t just flying out of (my) hand. (I) was able to go through progressions, go through reads. And that was my main objective.”
Harris, the nominal starter entering his third year as a Tiger, teams up with offensive coordinator Cam Cameron to form just the third quarterback-coordinator tandem to return for a second season in the Les Miles era. That sort of continuity, Cameron hopes, will lead to the most necessary ingredient missing from LSU’s passing game a year ago.
“It’s all about consistency and stacking great performances one on top of the other,” said Cameron. “Consistency’s what we’re looking for. He’s growing, he’s learning, and he’s getting a lot of help.”
Some of that help is coming courtesy of junior Danny Etling, a Purdue transfer who ran the second team offense on Saturday, with varied success. Etling connected on 6-for-12 passing for 106 yards, including a 70-yard touchdown to freshman Dee Anderson on a perfectly weighted deep ball. But Etling was also intercepted twice – once, through no fault of his own on a dropped dump off to Darrel Williams, but the second an overthrow into the arms of freshman Saivion Smith.
Still, Etling’s overall spring performance earned rave reviews, and Cameron likens his and Harris’ relationship to that of two fairly successful signal-callers he coached with the San Diego Chargers.
“They’re pushing each other,” Cameron said. “Iron sharpens iron. (Harris) helps Danny, and Danny likes that. Danny helps Brandon. It reminds me of when I had Drew (Brees) and Phillip (Rivers). Those guys worked together. When they both went their own way, they would look back and say, ‘That guy really helped me.’ That’s what good quarterback rooms are like.”
Harris also credited new wide receivers coach Dameyune Craig, a former standout under center at Auburn, for helping him grow as a player. He’s also had an evident impact on the receivers, several of whom made difficult catches look routine.
“I keep raving about his dude, but Coach Craig has come in and set a mindset, and I think everyone is buying into that mindset,” Harris said. “He’s tough on the receivers, and he’s tough on me. I love his enthusiasm. Everything about him, I love. I’m glad he’s on our side.”
With much focus on LSU’s short passing game, Harris did his best work inside the chains. Against LSU’s first team defense alone, he was 8-for-11 for 56 yards, and he engineered two scoring drives, one capped off by a Leonard Fournette rushing touchdown, and another setting up a 42-yard field goal by Trent Domingue.
“He’s going to finally going into a season having rehearsed this once before, so he’s really going to be comfortable,” said Miles.
Etling, meanwhile, took several shots down field. Known more for his accuracy than his arm strength, the junior tossed the strike to Anderson in stride – Harris misfired on his own lone deep attempt – but put a little too much on the second, snared by Smith.
Overall, Miles leaves the spring pleased with where his quarterbacks stand.
“The quarterbacks were always throwing for percentages higher than they did a year ago (in practice),” Miles said. “That means two things. One, our receiving corps took a responsibility to catch the ball, and two, the quarterback room is just better. Danny coming in with the experience has helped him learn quicker. And Brandon is just a little more poised, a little more comfortable.”
– Fournette carried eight times for 49 yards and a score. Miles mentioned afterward he’d like to see Fournette “trim down” in the offseason. “To be at the speed he’s capable of, he’s going to need to be lighter.”
– LSU was down three starting offensive linemen: Ethan Pocic, Will Clapp, and Toby Weathersby. Maea Teuhema, the other presumed starting lineman, started at left tackle, K.J. Malone at right tackle, Andy Dodd at center, Garrett Brumfield at left guard, and Josh Boutte at right guard. Boutte, in particular, drew praise from his coaches. Cameron called him the most improved player on the entire offense.
– Both Harris and Cameron admitted that the offense was watered down, due to the fact that the game was televised nationally, so as to not tip their hands to opposing coaches. “You don’t want to show too much,” Harris said.
– Tyron Johnson led all receivers with 4 catches for 44 yards. Dupre added 3 for 30. Anderson led in yardage with 2 catches for 80 yards, including the score. In total, 10 Tigers combined for 22 receptions, with just two drops of note: one by Johnson, and one by converted DB Russell Gage.
– In a new spin, LSU’s quarterbacks wore gold, rather than green, to signify non-contact. Harris said he argued with the coaches to “go live” and play full contact, but they didn’t concede.
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