Rabalais: Seeking white smoke as LSU’s lack of QB clarity drags on

If it wasn’t so vital, and if it wasn’t obvious how much he really wants to unearth one primary quarterback, you’d think Les Miles was enjoying all this quarterback chatter.

Here’s the CliffsNotes version of what the LSU coach had to say at Monday’s season-opening news conference about his quarterbacks, Messrs. Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris:

1. Both quarterbacks will play Saturday against Wisconsin. This is about as big a revelation as the fact the game will be played with a football and not a wedge of Wisconsin cheddar, but we’ll move on.

2. Miles knows who will start Saturday, though that announcement isn’t coming until Thursday. No doubt the LSU faithful will be sweating outside the football complex two days hence, waiting for white smoke from a small chimney on the roof.

“It’s either going to be one guy or the other,” Miles said, a mischievous twinkle in his eye. Thanks, Les.

3. He will play to the advantages of whatever situation benefits LSU best. If it’s one guy who can carry most of the game, that will be the plan. If playing two quarterbacks gives the Tigers the best chance to win, that’s the way to go.

This last point illustrates the inherent problem of playing two at this singularly important position.

Let’s assume for a moment, and it’s a fairly safe bet, that Jennings will take the first snap against the Badgers. Jennings has what passes for experience in the LSU quarterback derby, having made one whole career start in the Outback Bowl, and while Miles may have a well-earned rep as The Mad Hatter, he likes his bets hedged when it comes to his quarterbacks. At that position, the tried and true always trumps the great and possibly brilliant unknown to The Hat’s way of thinking.

Let’s also take it as a given that Harris will play. But do you chisel a plan in your playbook in stone or do you draw it up on a dry-erase board? If LSU’s offense goes nowhere for two possessions or a quarter under Jennings, then it’s easy to bring in Harris.

But what if Jennings leads LSU to a field goal on its first march and a touchdown on the second? What if the Tigers are pounding away successfully with the heavy artillery of their ground game and Jennings has ginned up some chemistry with his receivers? Do you risk altering that chemistry for the sake of The Plan?

A reasonable example: In the Saints’ second preseason game, former LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger played most of the night because of an injury to Tennessee Titans No. 2 quarterback Charlie Whitehurst. The Mett Show went 20-for-25 passing for 269 yards and a pair of scores. Nice job, and hardly the Titans’ plan going in.

So what if Jennings leads LSU into a couple of stonewalled possessions, and Harris comes off the bench to pull a Mettenberger? Do you pull him out just because your plan was to play Jennings more?

The implications for the offense are significant, though Monday running back Terrence Magee was trying to downplay them.

“From a running back standpoint, no major adjustments,” he said. “The biggest adjustment will be probably for the offensive line getting used to hearing a different voice in the cadence and all of that. I think (offensive coordinator Cam Cameron) has a great package put together for both of them. They’re going to be able to execute on game day.”

Just about every indication is that Harris is the better runner, a fact Magee seemed to confirm.

“I think Brandon’s a little faster than Anthony is on some stuff,” he said. “Just being able to know your personnel. Knowing Anthony is in the game, maybe can’t get out there as fast as you can with Brandon. For the most part, it’s going to be the same.”

They give me this space to offer my opinion on sporting things, so here’s mine on the quarterback battle: I think Harris is the future for LSU and that he will eventually work his way past Jennings to create that separation Miles and everyone (including the two quarterbacks) are seeking.

But Miles doesn’t need to listen to you, me or anyone else on the subject. And he won’t. Clearly.

“We are going to play the best player that gives us the best chance at victory,” he said. “I think the distraction can only be brought in by other people. Because the only opinion that’s worth a damn is that opinion that’s derived in our building.”

That’s as it should be, Les.

But the wait outside your building for the white smoke is becoming painful.

Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.