Last Modified: Sunday, August 17, 2014 1:15 PM
BATON ROUGE — LSU has an epic, up-in-the-air quarterback battle going in the preseason so, predictably enough, talk has been of little else this August.
Pardon offensive coordinator Cam Cameron if he stifles a yawn.
Been there, done that. Got the T-shirt and has basically made a career out of it.
Oh, but the horrors — both Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris not only have next-to-no experience, they’re both barely shaving.
Usually a quarterback duel has a fourth-year guy or two who have patiently waited their turn and are trying to outwit the challenge of a touted and talented youngster.
Not this one. LSU will either start a true freshman (Harris) or a sophomore with redshirt freshman experience (Jennings).
“We have to have the youngest quarterback (meeting) room in the country,” Harris said.
But not to worry, at least if you listen to Cameron.
“Other than last year — and the year before — it’s been that way every place I’ve been,” Cameron said. “It’s a situation I’m pretty familiar with.”
Last year Cameron got a lot of the credit for Zach Mettenberger’s turnaround from promising but erratic quarterback into a big-armed star.
But Mettenberger was a fifth-year player who’d shown flashes during the previous year as a starter.
This is different.
Or is it?
“There’s really no room for growing pains here,” Cameron said. “This isn’t one of those places. LSU is not a program where you develop a quarterback in their first year and then you kind of get him going in his second year and then his third year he really takes off. This isn’t that place.
“Our quarterback is charged with winning whether he’s 18, 19 or 20. That’s the expectation.
“A guy puts on an LSU uniform, nobody really cares how old he is, if he’s right-handed or left-handed, 6-foot, 5-11 or 6-3. Just lead us to victory. This place is about winning.
“Our fans get that. Our quarterback is charged with winning — whether he throws for 100 yards or 500 yards. Our fans want to win. So we have to put a quarterback out there who knows how to win.”
That, Cameron said, is often different than just studying stats. LSU hasn’t released any from its scrimmages thus far, but perhaps that’s just as well for fans trying to handicap the race.
“That’s the trap some young quarterbacks fall into,” Cameron said. “They think it’s about stats. It’s not. It’s about winning. It’s about the win stat.
“I think our system lends itself to allowing young quarterbacks to play well against quality opponents because we believe in the running game.
“We’re not going to put our quarterback in a position where he’s a thrower or runner on every down , where our success is strictly dependent on our quarterback’s ability.”
Cameron views it sort of the way he reacted when Mettenberger went out with an injury late in the Arkansas game last year with the Tigers trailing the huge underdogs 27-24 with time for one more drive.
“We’re going to call the plays that we had seen him execute multiple times in practice over and over and over,” Cameron said.
It didn’t really change even when the Arkansas punt to set up Jennings’ pressure debut rolled dead inside the LSU 1-yard line — 99 yards from victory.
“We had a plan. He executed the plan and got us some breathing room,” Cameron said matter of factly. “Then we started noticing what the defenses were doing and got some plays to beat those defenses.”
Pretty simple. Jennings completed 3 of 4 passes in the drive and a had a key 21-yard scramble to set up his winning 49-yard scoring pass to Travin Dural.
And if that was all fans had to go on, perhaps they’d be excited about Jennings.
But, with a month to get coached up, he struggled as the starter in LSU’s 21-14 victory over Iowa in the Outback Bowl. He was 7-of-19 passing and he didn’t look comfortable in the pocket reading defenses. But it was also obvious that LSU coaches figured out early in the game that Iowa’s offense had nothing that really scared them and they weren’t going to keep the Hawkeyes in the game with rookie mistakes.
They basically took the game out of his hands — a luxury not likely through a rugged Southeastern Conference schedule. Or in the looming Aug. 30 season opener against Wisconsin, for that matter.
Enter Harris, a highly touted recruit who enrolled early in January and quickly made it obvious in the spring that Jennings would have a battle on his hands.
While he normally would have been preparing for his senior prom, he outplayed Jennings in the spring game when he threw for 195 yards and three touchdowns while also rushing for 77 yards.
Just as impressively, perhaps, he had a 3.6 grade-point average in his first semester of college.
“To be honest, I go back and look at that (spring) game all the time and I could’ve had 15 touchdown passes,” said Harris. “I told Coach Cameron if I had to grade that game it would probably be a C-minus.
“But now I feel like I know this offense stone cold, I feel like I can make plays. I feel like I’m more confident.”
So is Jennings.
“I come in with the mind-set that I’m a starter,” he said. “That’s what Coach Cam tells us to do. If my number is called first for the Wisconsin game I’ll be ready to go.”
Neither Cameron nor head coach Les Miles is giving any hints as to which quarterback leads the race.
It wouldn’t be a shock if the Tigers at least start the season with the position up for grabs.
“Anthony and Brandon are similar but completely different in some ways,” Cameron said. “I learned sometimes it’s cut and dry. This guy beats that guy. But if it’s not this guy or that guy, you realize … you just better focus on getting them ready to play.
“Somebody’s got to go out there and take that first snap. Sometimes you can’t quantify it.”
“Bottom line: our quarterbacks either individually or collectively have to find us a way to win.”