Two-QB system? LSU’s Brandon Harris and Anthony Jennings could share job

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIGLSU quarterbacks Brandon Harris, left, and Anthony Jennings look to throw to receivers during practice earlier this month.
Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIGLSU quarterbacks Brandon Harris, left, and Anthony Jennings look to throw to receivers during practice earlier this month.

Harris, Jennings could continue LSU tradition of sharing top job

Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson weren’t best friends, but they got along, helped each other and worked together for four years as LSU’s two-headed quarterback position.

At some point, they both came to a realization: They were immersed in a two-quarterback rotation of sorts, and there wasn’t much either could do about it.

“We instilled in our minds, ‘This is how it’s going to be,’ ” Lee said in a recent interview.

The back-and-forth two-quarterback routine between Lee and Jefferson is arguably the most scrutinized and criticized of any in LSU football history. It’s also the most recent example of what this program has used since coach Charlie McClendon’s first season in 1962.

During 25 of the past 50 seasons, LSU has used two quarterbacks. Through gritted teeth and furrowed brows, fans have watched as one of the oldest LSU traditions marches on.

Signs point to it continuing this season.

LSU coach Les Miles admitted this week what many close to the program already knew — both sophomore Anthony Jennings and true freshman Brandon Harris will play in the season opener against Wisconsin.

The starting quarterback derby that began in the spring — that carried into the summer, that waged heavy during fall camp — will bleed into the season.

This isn’t expected to be your ordinary two-quarterback system, where each brings a different quality than the other.

This isn’t Matt Flynn and Ryan Perrilloux, Tim Tebow and Chris Leak or, even, Jefferson and Lee.

Or maybe it is.

Miles has at least twice this preseason mentioned that LSU doesn’t yet know “how” it plans to use the quarterbacks. Jennings, about 20 pounds heavier than Harris, might be the ball-toting runner. Harris, who’s displayed a more crisp vertical passing game, could be the deep threat.

Still, the two don’t seem to bring enough drastic styles to alternate, right?

“That’s the interesting part,” said T-Bob Hebert, a radio host in New Orleans and a former LSU offensive lineman from the days of Lee-Jefferson. “It seems on the surface a little tougher to make that dual-QB system to work with them. They run well, they’re young and inexperienced and they can make the throws.”

Maybe this isn’t as much a two-quarterback system as a two-quarterback competition.

LSU’s had its share of those as well. In 2004, JaMarcus Russell and Marcus Randall battled during fall camp.

Randall won the starting job, but Russell’s talents plunged the two into a rotation.

It’s similar in some ways to this competition, though Randall had much more playing experience than Jennings. He started one game and threw 29 passes during his true freshman season last year.

Either way, Harris is believed to be another hotshot freshman talented enough to eventually win the job outright.

For offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, this isn’t anything new.

“Ultimately, I’ve never been a place where there was only one guy capable of starting,” Cameron said.

He’s preaching to the proverbial choir, LSU fans might say.

McClendon started the two-quarterback trend in the 60s. McClendon used a pair of quarterbacks in more than half of his 18 seasons as coach.

Only about half of the time was one of the two QBs a much bigger running threat.

Remember Pat Screen and Billy Ezell (1963-64) or Mike Hillman and Fred Haynes (1968)? Heck, McClendon made All-American Bert Jones split time with Paul Lyons, and current LSU tight ends coach Steven Ensminger shared the role of quarterback with David Woodley for three straight seasons.

Coach Bill Arnsparger had Tommy Hodson take at least two to three drives off a game so Mickey Guidry could see time under center. From 2002-2011, LSU had two quarterbacks see substantial playing time six of those seasons.

Just call this place Two-QBU.

“LSU famously had two quarterbacks for a long time,” said Herb Vincent, former LSU associate athletic director who now works for the Southeastern Conference. “McClendon did that by design. It wasn’t popular with fans, but he had a lot of success.”

The two-quarterback system can be successful. Lee and Jefferson proved that. LSU went 41-12 over their four seasons, including a 13-1 run in 2011.

Lee, who was released by the Canadian Football League and is now living in Baton Rouge as a medical salesman, said the 2011 season stemmed from Lee and Jefferson accepting their roles.

Lee said he thought about transferring before and after the 2009 season. Instead, he stayed and came off the bench in 2010 to lead LSU to a couple of game-winning drives.

With Jefferson suspended after a bar fight, Lee led LSU to its first eight wins of 2011 before struggling against Alabama and never seeing the field again.

Hebert, who was on those teams, calls it one of the “mysteries” of the 2011 season. Jefferson and Lee rotating, as they did heavily in 2010, was a good thing.

“I think the problems with dual quarterbacks are overblown,” Hebert said. “I think people run into issues if you mismanage it.”

Longtime coach Jackie Sherrill agrees. Game planning for playing two quarterbacks can be time consuming and difficult.

“They going to swap every possession?” Sherrill asked. “If you swap every possession, does that take away from one getting into the flow of the game?”

More of a believer in one QB, Sherrill mentions an old phrase that may make LSU fans shudder: “The old saying is, ‘You have two, you don’t have any,’ ” said Sherrill, now a college football analyst.

In a story published about a decade ago in The Oklahoman, former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer may have accurately pegged LSU’s situation.

“You always wanted someone to separate themselves before you teed it up,” Switzer said, “but when two players of similar talent and ability haven’t separated, then they earned the right to play.”

That’s when everyone finds out who’s best.

For many LSU fans, the quicker Miles and Cameron trim the quarterback battle the better.

“Sometimes you have to let them play out in true competition,” Sherrill said, “when the bullets fly at full speed.”

Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv. For more coverage of LSU football, follow our Tiger Tracks blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/tigertracks/.