QBs keep LSU from reaching full potential

Published 9:32 am Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Funny what one game can do. As you’re well aware, the LSU football program was going down in flames by the time it got back home from Arkansas early Sunday morning.

Meanwhile, I actually read this headline Tuesday: “Bret Bielema ahead of schedule in Fayetteville” — after improving Arkansas to 1-13 in his SEC games.

So today’s chicken-or-the-egg riddle concerns, as most idle discussion seems to these days, the LSU quarterbacking conundrum.

It has reached historical shades of bad, biblical proportions.

But, is it a matter of LSU not being able to recruit quarterbacks or is the Tigers’ staff incapable of developing them?

The first part is almost preposterous.

This is a program that recruits so well that its biggest problem is getting them to stick around until their senior seasons before turning pro.

Sunday was the first time in NFL history that two rookie backs from the same school — Jeremy Hill and Alfred Blue — both rushed for 150 yards on the same day.

Name a position. LSU’s recruiting talent is across the board … almost.

The Tigers stockpile talent in 24 of 25 positions. I’m even including deep snapper here, a position where twice in recent years the Tigers’ have recruited — solely for that job — the nation’s top-rated prospect at hiking long distance between his legs.

Teach your kid to do something, anything, really, really good in football and chances are he’ll end up a Tiger at LSU with Les Miles.

Except quarterback — the single-most important position in the whole wide, wide world of sports.

Maybe it was a perfect storm, maybe it had building for years. But it has culminated in the 2014 season when an otherwise really good LSU team is being relegated to mediocrity by one position.

LSU, with talent across the board, is stuck with playing a not-ready (and may never be) sophomore in Anthony Jennings, who hasn’t cracked 90 yards in the air in the last two games. He starts, and plays and plays, over true freshman Brandon Harris because, according to Miles, he “gives us the best chance to win.”

Really?

We have to take him at his word.

But is it that bad?

How can a team that stockpiles such talent be reduced to playing a sophomore who’s been so lost that he has fans clamoring for true freshman Brandon Harris in the hopes that he won’t be as bad as he was the first time he wasn’t ready to start?

Oh, but three older quarterbacks transferred after spring practice.

True. But guess what? It wasn’t because they didn’t like LSU.

That trio had spent enough time at a Flagship University to read the handwriting on the wall — they weren’t going to play in front of Jennings or Harris.

How bad must they have been?

Yet LSU recruited them in good faith, presumably with the idea they could play in the SEC.

That’s been a mixed bag ever since Miles took over at LSU 10 years ago.

Zach Mettenberger, who carved up the Pittsburgh Steelers Monday night, was the exception — he wasn’t recruited, but pretty much fell in LSU’s lap after the school that signed him, Georgia, reluctantly booted him from the team.

Otherwise, let’s review.

When Miles took over in for the 2005 season, he inherited redshirts JaMarcus Russell and Matt Flynn, and signed Ryan Perrilloux as one of his first big recruiting coups on the job.

Miles & Co. — specifically, then-offensive coordinator/quarterback coach Jimbo Fisher — developed Russell into the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft and Flynn into a national championship quarterback.

But Fisher went to Florida State. And when Perrilloux turned out to be a five-star knucklehead and was kicked off the team just as he was poised to inherit the job from Flynn, the LSU offense went through four years of Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson.

Maybe Miles’ most amazing accomplishment was going 13-0 in the 2011 regular season with those two back-and-forth options.

Two notable recruiting mishaps occurred in that time frame. LSU really thought Russell Shepard was going to be a longtime quarterback, but although an excellent athlete, he couldn’t throw a lick. They also signed highly touted Zach Lee, but he threw a baseball so well that he had $5.2 million reasons to pitch for the Los Angeles Dodgers instead.

Zach Lee probably would have been the real deal and, if he’d redshirted as a freshman, he would be a fifth-year senior on the current team. But he might well have canceled out Mettenberger, who likely would have looked elsewhere if Lee had been primed to be the next quarterback.

Which brings us to a true sophomore and true freshman.

Obviously Jennings hasn’t progressed much this season. If anything he’s regressed.

But the real puzzler isn’t how Miles and Cameron are developing Jennings, but how they’re using him.

He obviously has, at best, an average arm with erratic accuracy. Yet the Tigers seem to want him to be a straight drop-back passer (in the desperate moment when they let him pass).

It makes no sense. In talking with Miles over the years, I always got the feeling that his true vision for his offense was a dangerous dual-threat quarterback keeping defenses off balance.

Mettenberger was too good not to make allowances for his different talents, but I figured you’d seen the last of his stationary ilk.

And yet Jennings, who still looks baffled in the pocket, seems expected to do the same things Mettenberger did, only shorter and with less arm.

It’s not like offensive coordinator Cam Cameron could not get cozy with that kind of quarterback. As head coach at Indiana, he had Antwaan Randle-El, who went straight from dynamic college quarterback to NFL wide receiver.

So it has come to this, with the LSU coaches almost forced now to give Harris a shot he’s probably not ready for either.

Maybe one day he will be.

If not, another excellent team next year is going to have a ball and chain at quarterback.

l

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU

athletics. Email him at

shobbs@americanpress.com(Rick Hickman/American Press)