The LSU Tigers benched Brandon Harris on Saturday night. But the play under center is just part of the issue for the Tigers’ offense.
The plug was pulled on the Brandon Harris experiment on Saturday night in Baton Rouge, but is it the last we have seen of the LSU quarterback?
The Tigers’ well-documented offensive woes carried over from their 16-14 season-opening loss to Wisconsin, as they had trouble out of the gate offensively in a 34-13 win over Jacksonville State. Harris, who was expected to make a leap in his development this fall, was replaced by Danny Etling on the team’s third possession. Fans in Death Valley were pleased, as they had booed the offense off the field after the first two possessions.
The former Purdue signal-caller led three straight scoring drives, giving the No. 21 Bayou Bengals a little bit of hope as they prepare for the start of SEC play.
But is Etling really the answer?
In West Lafayette, Etling never completed more than 55.8 percent of his throws in his two seasons, and he ended his Big Ten career with 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. While he completed six of his first eight passes for 100 yards, including a 46-yard scoring pass to tight end DeSean Smith, head coach Les Miles admitted to reporters after the game that Etling’s night was “not perfect by any means.” All six of his second-half passes were incomplete, he was picked off on a long pass intended for Malachi Dupre in the end zone, and he later lost a fumble when he was sacked and stripped. However, Miles said that he “absolutely” will be in the mix to start. The Tigers host Mississippi State next Saturday.
At this point, it will be tough for Miles to yank Etling, who also had a short scoring run. The LSU offense has looked abysmal thus far with Harris under center, as it gained 12 total yards and zero first downs on the first two drives against Jacksonville State. And it had nothing to do with Leonard Fournette getting the night off to rest his left ankle, as Derrius Guice stepped in and rushed for 155 yards.
LSU’s offensive problems are bigger than Harris and Etling. The blame falls squarely on the shoulders of Miles, who has seemingly—for a while now—handcuffed offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. We can look back at all of the Tigers teams under Miles, and it would be easy to see that he does not allow for enough creativity in scheming and play-calling.
The Tigers ranked just No. 105 out of 127 FBS teams in passing yards per game last season, and Miles said this past offseason that the team needed to be more productive through the air. With a receiving corps led by Dupre and senior Travin Dural as well as new wide receivers coach Dameyune Craig bringing a creative mind to the coaching staff, the emphasis was supposed to be on improving the aerial attack.
But, to this point, it has been the same old conservative, vanilla approach on offense.
Miles is as old-school as they come, and he believes running the football and playing defense is the best path to victory for his squad. But the college game has evolved, and even a unique talent like Fournette needs help. Just look back at the game that was the Alabama disaster last season.
At this point, it would be surprising if Harris was given the start next week against the Bulldogs. On the season he is 13-of-25 passing for 139 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. However, he is just part of the problem. Etling, quite frankly, will become part of it as well if he is indeed the starter. Decision-making falls on the quarterback, but this offensive staff often hasn’t put its quarterback in the best position to succeed.
Until a fresh approach is applied to the offense in Baton Rouge, it will be same as it ever was for LSU fans.
After all, you can’t teach an old tiger new tricks.