A football game is dominated by ruthlessly hard realities.
A football scrimmage? Deciding how much is illusion and how much is reality is like separating fool’s gold from valuable ore.
This is the impression every pair of eyes left LSU’s spring game with Saturday: Freshman quarterback Brandon Harris had a great day; sophomore rival Anthony Jennings, the only LSU quarterback with any real-game experience, struggled. At times, badly.
Yet it is just one day out of 15 practice days this spring. And it’s against a defense that didn’t stunt, didn’t blitz, didn’t try to scramble the mind of young quarterbacks as every opponent LSU faces will try to do.
Perhaps the most predictable plays at Saturday’s scrimmage were the politically correct and temperate messages LSU coach Les Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron distributed about their two young quarterbacks.
“There’s some optimism surrounding the position,” Miles said. “They made some nice plays, but there are things that need to be corrected. We’ll let this competition continue.”
“We’re in the development stage,” Cameron said. “We’re focused on the process and the fundamentals.”
So, OK, no white smoke from the LSU locker room. None expected.
But a statement was made. A statement that says on the biggest stage of his infant college career so far, Harris came through impressively.
He flicked long passes downfield with seemingly effortless grace. He showed pocket presence enough to avoid pass rushes, especially from plundering defensive end Danielle Hunter, complimenting his 195 yards and two touchdowns passing with 77 yards rushing and a keeper for a score.
Miles wouldn’t name a winner in this race, but he did give a hint that he was thinking what everyone else was thinking.
“The things you do in a game are things you must recognize,” he said. “(Harris) made some big plays but also some mistakes. They will be reviewed very positively by us. But we’re a ways away.”
Whether Miles meant in LSU’s development as a team or in naming a starting quarterback he didn’t say, but both possibilities apply.
Train Dural — the only real veteran of the Tigers’ receiver corps, who definitely had the best day of anyone in his meeting room — said this was Harris’ best scrimmage of the spring. At the same time, he acknowledged how quickly things could change.
“He put the ball where it needed to be and showed up when it was his time,” Dural said. “(But) I’d say it’s one day and it doesn’t mean anything. Brandon could come out in the fall and have 14 straight bad practices, and Anthony could emerge as the leader. No one knows who will be the starter. We’re just going to work hard this summer and have a great fall camp and see who will emerge.”
One thing is certain: If Jennings suffers by comparison to Harris on many more key preseason days like this, he definitely won’t be LSU’s starter.
Jennings threw two interceptions for touchdowns, and we all know how much Miles is still haunted by Jarrett Lee’s pick-sixes from the 2008 season. He also threw a touchdown but overall was a combined 9-of-17 for 157 yards with the White and Purple teams.
“I’d have done some things differently” if he could have the day over, Jennings said. “Obviously those two picks. It’s not what you do it’s how you come back.”
LSU stuck with its policy of not allowing true freshmen to talk to the media, so there were no insights from Harris after the game. On the field, Harris quietly chatted with his family, saying he certainly thought LSU’s No. 1 defense was no joke and how he tried not to be overly aggressive.
“Brandon would tell you that I chewed his rear end after that first three-and-out to start the second half,” Cameron said. “You’ve got to play a full game, and there’s so many things he can learn and grow from.”
What about the prospect of playing two quarterbacks? Cameron dodged that one like, well, Harris dodged pass rushers Saturday.
“We’re going to need more than one quarterback this season — no question about it,” he said. “But we’re just going to let it play out.”
Now comes the offseason, a time of conditioning and seven-on-seven drills, and an oh-so-vital stretch of months for LSU’s quarterbacks.
One of those days, like Saturday, won’t decide the issue. But enough days like Saturday certainly will.