By Glenn Guilbeau / GANNETT LOUISIANA
BATON ROUGE – LSU’s quarterback position has not exactly sprung forward.
Both Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris, the leading candidates to replace departed Zach Mettenberger, struggled in the LSU spring game on Saturday afternoon in front of about 15,000 fans at Tiger Stadium.
Jennings, who replaced an injured Mettenberger in the regular season finale as a true freshman last year and started the bowl game, completed 9-of-17 passes for 157 yards and threw two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns.
Harris, a true freshman January enrollee after graduating in December from Parkway in Bossier City, showed flashes of excellence with three touchdown passes. But he completed just 39 percent of his passes, going 11-of-28 for 195 yards.
“I understand the mistakes that were made,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “Certainly, we would coach against it. In a game, we won’t necessarily need to repeat the throws (the interceptions) that we threw today.”
Harris threw nicer deep balls than Jennings, including a perfect one of about 50 yards to wide receiver Rob Bolden on the second play of the game that Bolden dropped.
“He made some really big plays and nice passes,” Miles said of Harris. “He threw the ball at times extremely well. But he also made some mistakes. We’re a ways away. There needs to be improvement in both spots. He (Harris) made about six major errors, but he improved through the adversity. If we can eliminate the mistakes and play to the advantages, that’s what he’s looking to do.”
The White team of mostly first team players that alternated Jennings and Harris at quarterback beat the Purple team 42-14.
“I can play better,” said Jennings, who was just 3 of 10 for 73 yards with the Purple team. “I came out and tried to do the best I could. I had two interceptions. I wish I had those back. I have to overcome adversity.”
Outside linebacker Deion Jones, who played little last season as a sophomore, returned Jennings’ first interception 67 yards for a touchdown to put the Purple up 7-0 midway through the first quarter.
Harris found tight end DeSean Smith for a 19-yard touchdown and 7-7 tie at the 13:17 mark of the second quarter. Harris, who finished 9-of-24 for 125 yards in the first half, added a 5-yard touchdown pass to fullback Connor Neighbors for a 14-7 White lead with 9:55 to go before halftime.
White linebacker Kwon Alexander picked off Jennings again with five minutes to go in the second quarter and returned that one 26 yards for a touchdown and a 21-7 lead. Harris struck again for the White team on the last play of the first half with a 21-yard touchdown pass to Travin Dural of Breaux Bridge for a 28-7 lead.
“Brandon showed signs of being great,” said Dural, who led all receivers with five catches for 130 yards and two touchdowns.
Jennings, who was 6-for-14 for 78 yards in the first half, regrouped after halftime to take the White team 73 yards in six plays for a touchdown and a 35-7 lead. He hit tight end Dillon Gordon for 24 yards to start the drive before tossing a short one to tailback Kenny Hilliard, who turned that into a 42-yard gain to the Purple 14. Two plays later, Jennings hit Dural for a 13-yard touchdown.
“I came out in the second half and tried to score a touchdown,” Jennings said. “If you throw an interception, and you don’t come right back, you aren’t a good quarterback. It’s about how you respond.”
Hilliard led all rushers with 64 yards on 16 carries for the White team. His 3-yard touchdown run with 8:40 to play put the White up 42-14. Defensive end Danielle Hunter collected four sacks for the White team and several quarterback hurries. Linebacker Ronnie Feist led both teams with 14 tackles for the Purple.
Linebackers Jonathan Rucker, Kendell Beckwith, Lamar Louis, Christian Pittman and D.J. Welter, defensive tackle Frank Herron and defensive ends Tashawn Bower and Lewis Neal had tackles for losses.
Harris gained 61 yards on three carries with 57 of that coming on two scrambles. His 4-yard touchdown run around end for the Purple team cut the White’s lead to 35-14 with 4:50 to play in the third quarter.
“I think he had some good instincts there,” Miles said of Harris’ scrambles. “A couple of them opened up like the Red Sea, and he just went. One thing about him is when he goes north and south, he goes north and south quick.”
Since he is a true freshman, Harris was not available for interviews, so Jennings was asked often about his combatant.
“He played great – three touchdowns,” Jennings said. “The competition brings out the best in everybody. He pushed me to do better, and I pushed him to do better. He did a great job this game. He made a lot of great plays with both his feet and his arm. I commend him for doing those things.”
Advantage Harris for a day, but the battle will continue in August.
“We’re going to let the competition continue and see how this thing plays out,” Miles said. “There is some talent at that spot. We really think it will develop quite nicely. In the same vein, there were some mistakes made that need to be corrected for both. At times, I think the two guys played better in the spring drills. I think both guys are good enough to be our quarterback.”
SPRING AWARDS: Middle linebacker D.J. Welter of Crowley won the Jimmy Taylor Award for outstanding leadership, effort and performance, and he shared the Mike Miley Leadership Award with defensive end Danielle Hunter, defensive tackle Christian LaCouture, cornerback/safety Jalen Mills and safety Ronald Martin. Cornerback Tre’Davious White of Shreveport and Welter were two of six players to win the Toby Caston Award for best spring drills defensive performances along with linebacker Deion Jones, cornerback Rashard Robinson, Hunter and linebacker Kwon Alexander.
Linebacker Lamar Louis of Breaux Bridge shared the Overcoming Adversity Award with linebacker Dwayne Thomas and wide receiver Quantavius Leslie. Kicker Colby Delahoussaye of New Iberia won the Jerry Stovall Special Teams Award along with long snapper Reid Ferguson and White.
SPEARS, MCFARLAND NAMED ANALYSTS: Former LSU defensive end Marcus Spears of Baton Rouge and former defensive tackle Anthony “Booger” McFarland of Winnsboro, both of whom played in the NFL, were introduced in the pressbox before the game as new football analysts for the SEC Network that debuts in August.