Brandon Harris impresses in LSU’s spring game

A year ago, LSU spent its spring game bombing away.

On Saturday, the Tigers checked down. Quarterbacks bolted from the pocket. And after relying on their receivers to take the top off defenses last season, Travin Dural was the lone deep threat.

“The offense has changed,” tight end DeSean Smith said. “Big time.”

Pulling back the curtain in front of 18,565 inside Tiger Stadium during a 42-14 victory for the White team over the Purple, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s attack mutated away from the days of Zach Mettenberger standing tall and chucking it deep.

Instead, freshman Brandon Harris, on campus just a little over three months, spent the second quarter showcasing the skills that made the Bossier City native the nation’s No. 5 dual-threat quarterback.

The Parkway product went 11-of-28 for 195 yards and three touchdowns along with 77 yards on six carries.

Need an example of his mobility?

Try the 41-yard gallop he took after the pocket broke down, a trot that set up a 5-yard touchdown pass to Connor Neighbors on a corner route in the second quarter.

“Nothing against Zach,” Smith said, “But Brandon and Anthony are more of those run-type guys.”

Harris’ big day stood in contrast to a rough outing for Anthony Jennings, who bailed LSU out last season against Arkansas and started the Outback Bowl against Iowa. He was 9-of-17 for 157 yards, a touchdown and interceptions taken back for scores by Deion Jones and Kwon Alexander.

“The competition brings out the best in everybody,” Jennings said. “I push him to do better, and he pushes me to do better. He did a great job this game, made a lot of plays with his feet and his arm.”

Coach Les Miles quickly quashed the notion that Harris, who was not made available for interviews, pulled ahead in a race for the starting job that will carry over into preseason workouts in August.

“Both guys are pretty good,” he said. “We’d like to think they’d continue to improve and be well beyond where they are today. Both guys are talented enough to be our quarterback.”

But the offense, whether it’s helmed by Jennings or Harris, has been tweaked for now.

Dural had five catches for 130 yards and two touchdowns, but only two other receivers had grabs. Instead, the bulk of the day’s completions went to men more accustomed to dishing out blocks.

On third-and-9, Harris flicked a dart to Smith over the middle for a 19-yard catch-and-run touchdown for a 14-7 lead with 13:17 left until halftime.

“I think I can be a big-time threat,” said Smith, who had three catches for 45 yards. “I can make those big-time plays. I just have to run crisp routes, have to give them something off the ball sometimes.”

In total, fullbacks were targeted for six catches, led by Neighbors’ three for 16 yards, and tight ends linked up with Tigers’ passers eight times.

Now, the looming question is whether those passes were the function of vanilla play-calling or a hint of what might be in store when LSU opens the season against Wisconsin on Aug. 30 in Houston. Jennings said the Tigers’ passing scheme emphasizes high-percentage throws to players like Neighbors and Smith, but wheel and flat routes still exist, largely as safety-valve throws.

“Some of those are first options, and some of those are checked-down routes,” Jennings said. “We have confidence in those guys that, when they get the ball, they can make something happen with it.”

Cameron emphasized that the Tigers haven’t altered a route tree inspired by the Air Coryell, one intent on pushing the ball downfield. Yet possessing options in Smith, who at 6-4 and 241 pounds differs from in-line blocking ends like Travis Dickson and Dillon Gordon, accentuates different facets of the offense.

“It’s a route tree that allows tight ends to do what they do best,” Cameron said. “We didn’t feature it last year for obvious reasons, knowing the talent we had on the outside.”

Miles also noted there are reinforcements arriving in Baton Rouge during August that need to be factored into any conclusions.

You know — blue chippers such as St. Augustine running back Leonard Fournette, the nation’s top overall prospect. And John Curtis wide receiver Malachi Dupre, the No. 1 receiver in the Class of 2014. And Barbe wideout Trey Quinn.

“Today’s opportunity is not necessarily the fall’s opportunity,” Miles said. “There’s going to be four to six guys that can step on that field and do different things. You’d have to look very closely at those guys.”

Harris has the arm strength to chuck the ball deep, lofting four throws in the first half that were a bit too long for Dural to reel in. Yet he also showed deft touch, including a nice back-shoulder throw to Dural — a sophomore and chief veteran for the nicked-up receiving corps — on a 21-yard touchdown at the end of the first half for a 28-7 lead.

Consider it a throwback, for at least a day.

“We’re using everybody this year,” Dural said. “We need the whole offense to do things this year.”