No more smoke and mirrors, LSU needs a quarterback

Published 8:48 am Monday, November 17, 2014

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — A long, long time ago in a decidedly different era of LSU football, the Tigers exited to the opposite corner of Razorback Stadium from where they fled the Hog Party Saturday night.

It was one of the seminal moments of Tiger football history.

I believe it was 22 years ago, an even colder and far more miserable day than Saturday’s night’s hijinks. But on that dark day a lone Tiger fan, defiantly bundled against the hard, dank freeze, stood his ground and waited patiently for the Tigers to meander into the tunnel below his chilly perch.

Mainly, he was waiting on head coach Curley Hallman.

And, finally, he rose and let loose at full throat.

“Rock bottom, Curley!” he yelled. “We’ve … hit … ROCK … BOTTOM!”

LSU’s 17-0 loss to the Razorbacks wasn’t rock bottom. The program is overall in too good of shape for that.

But maybe it was the final straw.

LSU’s offense can’t keep living like this, not in this day and age.

This just can’t go on.

There is too much talent on this LSU team overall to let one factor drag the whole thing down.

Les Miles and his coaching staff can’t keep whistling past the graveyard thinking it’s just a matter of “cleaning up this” or “taking a view” at that, all a matter of forever working on those pesky mistakes that are, as Miles always says, “easily correctable.”

Arkansas’ first SEC shutout in 12 years should be an eye-opener — and it doesn’t matter if, as it appeared, the Tigers were flat with a post-Alabama hangover.

Here’s another way of putting it: LSU held a team that had not won an SEC game in two years to its fewest total yards of this season — and yet the Tigers were never really in the game.

Of course, the Tigers, playing a good but hardly man-eating Arkansas defense, gained fewer yards than any LSU team since 1975.

Even the Rock Bottom Team topped the paltry 123 yards the Tigers managed Saturday night.

And yet quarterback Anthony Jennings played on … and on .. and on.

It was excruciating to watch — LSU once held the ball for 5:47 and gained 16 yards — but afterwards Miles and several players were quick to say it wasn’t all Jennings fault.

Maybe. It’s too easy to blame everything on the quarterback.

But every other aspect of LSU’s game looks to be on par or better to with those in the discussion for the first College Playoff this year.

They just can’t generate even a hint of a passing game. As a result they’re not even ranked anymore.

I don’t know whether to blame Les Miles or call him a miracle worker for taking Alabama to overtime with 76 yards passing. Saturday they opened it up for 87 yards.

Offenses these days teams hiccup 87 yards passing. LSU has to get into a desperate, comeback mode.

If it was as simple as changing quarterbacks, you’d think LSU’s staff would have given Brandon Harris another look by now.

Instead, they’ve tried working the offense around Jennings. They’ve tried hiding him. They’ve tried coddling him. They’ve made excuses for him.

Mainly, it seems, they’ve hoped they could get by without a quarterback.

Saturday was the final straw.

Arkansas seemed to paying absolutely no attention to LSU’s passing game. Neither were the Tigers, however, and they couldn’t make the Hogs pay when they finally did.

The Tigers’ resurgence was largely credited to finding their true identity as a power running team.

That, and a defense that came light years from its early struggles, the key piece there apparently a change at middle linebacker (the, uh, quarterback of the defense) and vast improvement-by-experience of young defensive tackles.

But others noticed, too. The ploy of clogging up the immediate line of scrimmage certainly isn’t a new tactical game plan against LSU.

But Arkansas took it to ridiculous extremes — it looked like the Razorback team portrait all stacked up and smiling in the space of a sand box.

And yet LSU kept pounding its head against them. Hoping to break something. Seemingly desperately trying to keep its quarterback out of the game until it got to be third-and-10 — or, in two of the games’ more absurd, strange-but-true moments, third-and-25 and third-and-37.

The offense’s body language was not good, as you can well imagine.

It looked like an offensive attack that did not trust its quarterback.

This was LSU’s 11th game of the season.

In that time ­— think back to the Wisconsin opener — every aspect but one on this team is markedly improved.

Yet if anything, the offensive quarterback play has regressed — and you can’t blame it on inexperience any more.

This is the kind of stuff that was supposed to be smoothed over in September.

Why else would you make fans sit through games with Sam Houston, UL-Monroe and New Mexico State?

We don’t know that Harris is the answer, although it’s hard to imagine it could get much worse.

But, if he’s not and they insist on sticking with Jennings, at least let him play the position as it was intended.

If not, you might as well just draw straws.

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Scooter Hobbs covers LSU sports. Email him at shobbs@americanpress.com(Rick Hickman/American Press)