LSU Tigers: Brandon Harris

LSU freshman tracker

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
9:00
AM ET
Terrence Magee and the defense were the stars of LSU’s 41-3 win against Kentucky on Saturday, but several of the Tigers’ true freshmen still played key roles in the victory.

Here is a recap of some of their performances:

S Jamal Adams
What he did:
Statistics don’t adequately explain the ways Adams impacts a game, but he had his best statistical performance against Kentucky. He finished with eight tackles, one sack and 1.5 tackles for loss and also starred on special teams – particularly with a bone-crushing block on Tre’Davious White’s 67-yard punt return for a touchdown.

What it means: Adams continues to play a valuable role when the Tigers bring extra defensive backs onto the field and is developing into an exciting playmaker. Coach Les Miles described him as "electric" after the game. He still hasn’t started a game yet, but it seems clear that he’s a future star for the LSU defense.

RB Leonard Fournette
What he did:
Fournette ran nine times for 31 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter alone, but took off most of the second half with the game well in hand and Terrence Magee (9-127, 2 TDs) running the ball effectively. Fournette finished with 15 carries for 40 yards.

What it means: After he ran 27 times last week against Florida, LSU seemed prepared to hand Fournette another heavy workload on Saturday. Once the Tigers easily took command in the second quarter, it became unnecessary to feed Fournette, and the Tigers were able to save their star freshman for next week’s showdown with Ole Miss.

DT Davon Godchaux
What he did:
Godchaux started for the fourth straight game -- and fifth time in six games -- and posted two tackles.

What it means: Another freshman whose stat line isn’t a great indicator of his value, Godchaux continues to progress as an interior lineman. There is a correlation between his improvement and the Tigers’ effectiveness up the middle. Let’s see what happens against Ole Miss, though, before we declare the Tigers’ problems solved.

QB Brandon Harris
What he did:
Harris entered the game with a little more than 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter and LSU up 41-3. On his first drive, Harris floated a pass to John Diarse that Marcus McWilson intercepted in the end zone, and the Tigers ran repeatedly to milk the remaining time on the clock on his second drive. The interception was Harris’ only pass attempt, and he ran once for an 8-yard gain.

What it means: Harris didn’t play last week against Florida and only entered the Kentucky game once it was well in hand. It’s obvious which way LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has been leaning since Harris’ disastrous starting debut against Auburn. Anthony Jennings has not been particularly effective as the starting quarterback, but it’s obviously his job for now.

RB Darrel Williams
What he did:
Williams got most of his playing time in the fourth quarter and ran 10 times for 61 yards as the Tigers worked to run the remaining time off the clock in their blowout win.

What it means: Prior to the fourth quarter, Williams had only one carry for 5 yards. He did a nice job with his garbage-time carries, running nine times in the fourth quarter for 56 yards, but he’s obviously on the lower end of the tailback pecking order.

Key factors in LSU-Florida game

October, 10, 2014
Oct 10
9:00
AM ET
Florida (3-1, 2-1 SEC) and LSU (4-2, 0-2) might not be ranked, but Saturday’s meeting at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is still a key conference game -- particularly in the SEC East, where Florida is still in the running for a division title.

With an assist from ESPN’s Stats & Information database, let’s examine some key factors in Saturday’s game.

Defending the run: Stopping the run will be a key for both teams in this game, but it has only been a problem for one of them.

LSU ranks 89th nationally and last in the SEC in rushing defense, allowing 184.3 yards per game. This on the heels of surrendering 298 rushing yards in a 41-7 loss to Auburn, which was the third time in three games against Power 5 teams that the Tigers gave up at least 260 yards on the ground.

Thus, slowing down Matt Jones and Florida’s rushing attack will be the Tigers’ first goal Saturday. Jones is one of the SEC’s better running backs (he’s seventh in the league with 93 rushing yards per game), but the Gators have hardly been consistent in any aspect of their offense. They’re eighth in the SEC in rushing offense (189.8 ypg) and 11th in passing (215 ypg), so if LSU limits Jones’ impact in the running game, the Tigers have to like their chances.

On the other sideline, the Gators have been impressive against the run. They’re 15th in the nation and fourth in the SEC in rushing defense (103 ypg) and held Tennessee to 28 yards on 29 attempts last Saturday. Opponents are running for just 2.78 yards per carry against Florida, which ranks ninth nationally and trails only Alabama in the SEC.

Regardless of who plays quarterback for LSU on Saturday, the Tigers will likely stick with their run-first mentality. If they can’t move the chains more consistently on the ground than they have lately, this will be a tough game for the Tigers. There were times when they ran effectively against Auburn, but short yardage was generally a mess. They ran seven times in two-tight-end/two-back sets against Auburn and picked up just 9 yards, and on their 20 runs when the quarterback lined up under center, they totaled 55 yards.

Freshman Leonard Fournette (60.7 ypg) has led the Tigers in rushing in each of the last five games, but he’s averaging only 11 carries per game. In LSU’s two SEC games, he had seven carries for 38 yards against Mississippi State and 10 carries for 42 yards against Auburn.

Quarterback shuffle: The reason the running games are so important is because of the teams’ inadequacies at quarterback. Florida hoped this would be Jeff Driskel's breakout season, but he continues to struggle. Gators coach Will Muschamp removed him from the Tennessee game and freshman Treon Harris led the Gators to all 10 of their points in the 10-9 win.

But with Harris now suspended following a sexual assault complaint, the Gators are stuck with Driskel again. He ranks 103rd nationally in ESPN’s Total QBR metric at 40.8, just a point ahead of LSU’s Anthony Jennings (39.8), who was booed off the field by Tigers fans in his last start two Saturdays ago against New Mexico State.

Driskel’s QBR against Tennessee was an abysmal 14.3 after he went 11-for-23 for 59 yards and three interceptions. Unfortunately for LSU, its starter last week, Brandon Harris, was nearly as bad. In going 3-for-14 for 58 yards, Harris logged an 18.4 QBR against Auburn and Jennings replaced him late in the third quarter.

Since the quarterback position has been a problem throughout the season for these teams, Saturday’s outcome might rest on which club can get something approaching competence from its signal-caller.

Big-play vulnerability: From play to play, LSU’s defense hasn’t been awful this season. The disconcerting problem for the Tigers has been their vulnerability to explosive plays. The Tigers have already surrendered 26 plays that covered 20 yards or more, which is more than every team in the SEC except Mississippi State (26), Vanderbilt (29) and South Carolina (34). LSU opponents already have five touchdowns that covered at least 45 yards.

That said, Florida isn’t exactly a big-play offense. The Gators’ longest passing play against Tennessee came on a 15-yard grab by Demarcus Robinson. Their only run of 20-plus was a 32-yard Jones burst. Overall, the Gators have 13 plays of 20 yards or more, but six of them came in their season-opening 65-0 rout of Eastern Michigan.

One of the few areas where LSU’s offense has been consistent is in producing big plays. The Tigers have 37 plays of 20 or more yards, which is tied for ninth nationally. That includes touchdown passes of 94 and 80 yards to Travin Dural, who is third in the SEC with 95.7 receiving yards per game.

Considering how it has one of the best cornerbacks in the nation in Vernon Hargreaves III, it seems somewhat strange that Florida has already given up 17 pass plays of 20 yards or more, covering a total of 618 yards. Alabama alone hit the Gators for scoring passes of 87 and 79 yards as quarterback Blake Sims passed for 445 yards that day, averaging 13.5 yards per pass attempt.

Turnover turnarounds: Both of these teams are accustomed to winning the turnover battle, so that could become a deciding factor Saturday.

Florida leads the SEC and is fifth nationally with a plus-eight turnover margin. The only way it stayed in the Alabama game -- at least for a while -- was because it generated four turnovers and Keanu Neal scored on a 49-yard fumble return.

Only Florida (15) has generated more takeaways than LSU’s 13 among SEC defenses, which helps the Tigers rank fourth in the league and 16th nationally with a plus-five turnover margin.

Both defenses have scored twice off turnovers this season, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Saturday’s game swing on a similarly opportunistic play.

LSU freshman tracker: Week 6

October, 5, 2014
Oct 5
10:00
AM ET
Brandon Harris used words like “terrible” and “nightmare” when describing his first career start against Auburn on Saturday, but those descriptions actually applied to his entire team’s performance in a 41-7 defeat.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Fournette
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesLeonard Fournette was a semi-bright spot on a dark Saturday for LSU against Auburn.
Harris played like a freshman quarterback against Auburn before giving way to previous starter Anthony Jennings in the third quarter. The night wasn’t particularly memorable for LSU’s other true freshmen, either, but here is a recap:

S Jamal Adams

What he did:
Adams didn’t start Saturday, but he played plenty in place of injured utility man Dwayne Thomas, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last week against New Mexico State. Adams made a career-high seven tackles against Auburn, which tied for third on the team.

What it means: With Thomas out of the picture, expect to see Adams contribute in his old rushing and coverage roles in LSU’s nickel and dime packages. He was one of LSU’s most coveted defensive signees in this class and should get lots of playing time down the stretch.

WR Malachi Dupre

What he did:
Dupre started at receiver and made one catch for 52 yards late in the first quarter to set up LSU’s only touchdown of the night. He led the Tigers in receiving yardage against Auburn thanks to that single grab.

What it means: Saturday’s game marked Dupre’s second straight start at wideout, so he is obviously one of the Tigers’ top options at the position now. The passing game never got on track against Auburn, but expect to see plenty more of Dupre moving forward.

RB Leonard Fournette

What he did:
Fournette didn’t get his first carry until late in the first quarter, but he led the Tigers with 41 rushing yards on 10 carries. He also returned a pair of kickoffs for a total of 44 yards. LSU hoped it had turned a corner in the ground game with a productive outing against New Mexico State last week, but Fournette and the Tigers generated just 138 rushing yards on 36 attempts (3.8 ypc) on Saturday.

What it means: It doesn’t mean a lot, but Fournette quietly led LSU in rushing for the fourth straight game. The Tigers have a long way to go to become a good rushing team, but Fournette has done fine on the occasions where he has had room to run.

QB Brandon Harris

What he did:
Harris’ starting debut couldn’t have gone much worse. He was 3-for-14 for 58 yards and directed LSU’s offense to one of the least competitive performances in Les Miles’ decade as the Tigers’ coach. Harris left Jordan-Hare Stadium with his right foot in a walking boot after injuring his ankle late in the second quarter.

What it means: Assuming Harris’ ankle is healthy enough to play, it will be interesting to see whether LSU’s coaches let him start again Saturday in yet another difficult road venue: Florida’s Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The Gators aren’t nearly the team that Auburn is, but putting together a productive outing against Florida’s defense in The Swamp would be another tall order for Harris.

RB Darrel Williams

What he did:
Williams actually carried the ball before fellow freshman Fournette on Saturday but finished with just four rushing attempts for 19 yards -- 14 of which came on one carry. He also caught two passes for 6 yards.

What it means: It was a bit of a surprise to see him carry the ball ahead of Fournette, but Williams’ role seems largely unchanged. He remains part of LSU’s backfield rotation alongside Fournette and seniors Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard, but is not playing a leading role.

Three key factors in LSU-Auburn

October, 3, 2014
Oct 3
9:00
AM ET
Nick MarshallAP Photo/Butch DillContaining Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall will be one of LSU's main tasks this week.

BATON ROUGE, La. -- This will become a familiar scenario for No. 15 LSU (4-1, 0-1 SEC) for at least the foreseeable future. Entering Saturday's game against No. 5 Auburn (4-0, 1-0), LSU probably can't afford another division loss if it wants to remain in contention in the SEC West -- much less a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

That's a tall order this weekend, considering Auburn hasn't lost at Jordan-Hare Stadium since Gus Malzahn became coach last season (11-0) and LSU will have a true freshman quarterback, Brandon Harris, making his first career start.

LSU has won six of the past seven games in this series, but getting a win Saturday will be a major challenge. Let's look at three key factors as kickoff approaches, with some help from ESPN's Stats & Information group:

Who can run and who can stop it

Both starting quarterbacks -- Harris and Auburn's Nick Marshall -- are understandably getting plenty of attention ahead of this game. But it's the teams' respective running games -- and whether the defenses can slow them -- that might be the most important factors.

Auburn ranks 17th nationally with 260.5 rushing yards per game and boasts two of the SEC's most productive runners in Cameron Artis-Payne (86 carries, 468 yards, 5 touchdowns, fourth in the SEC with 97.2 YPG) and Marshall (42 carries, 273 yards, 2 touchdowns).

Meanwhile, LSU has struggled against the run, ranking 12th in the SEC and 70th nationally by allowing 161.6 rushing YPG. Coordinator John Chavis' defense is thin at defensive tackle, and its problems there were evident against Mississippi State, which rushed for 302 yards against LSU two weeks ago. Wisconsin also rushed for more than 250 yards against LSU.

Auburn is 13-0 when it runs for at least 250 yards under Malzahn and 3-2 when it does not.

On the other side, LSU's struggling run game got a boost last week when it picked up 363 yards on 54 attempts against New Mexico State. LSU is sixth in the SEC with 226.2 rushing YPG, but Auburn has been stingy against the run (third in the SEC with 90.8 YPG). If coordinator Ellis Johnson's defense is able to shut down Leonard Fournette (LSU's leading rusher with 322 yards on 56 attempts, 64.4 YPG), Kenny Hilliard (57 carries, 298 yards, 59.6 YPG), Darrel Williams (33 carries, 165 yards, 41.2 YPG) and Terrence Magee (34 carries, 144 yards, 28.8 YPG), that will place even more pressure on Harris' shoulders.

Defending the zone read/QB run

Let's dig a little deeper into the running game. To have any chance on Saturday, LSU must contain Marshall and Auburn's option runs.

Auburn has been one of the nation's most effective teams at using the zone-read run since the start of last season. It is averaging 144.39 rushing yards and 6.8 yards per carry in those games.

It's worth noting, however, that Kansas State kept itself in the game against Auburn two weeks ago by slowing Marshall and the zone-read runs. The Wildcats held the Tigers to just 62 yards and 3.1 yards per carry off the zone-read, holding them below 200 total rushing yards for only the second time in Malzhn's tenure as Auburn's coach.

LSU was atrocious against the zone-read in its 34-29 loss to Mississippi State two weeks ago. The Bulldogs ran 20 times for 192 yards from that look, averaging 9.1 yards per carry and breaking five runs of at least 10 yards.

The key element here is slowing Marshall, but LSU has struggled to do that against mobile quarterbacks. LSU has allowed the sixth-most rushing yards to opposing quarterbacks (56 carries for 260 yards) of all FBS programs this season. That includes a 79-yard touchdown last week against New Mexico State and a 56-yard run by Mississippi State's Dak Prescott.

Marshall has 1,341 rushing yards since the start of last season, which ranks third among active FBS quarterbacks.

Harris vs. Auburn pass defense

This subject has been beaten to death all week, but Harris is in rare air for an LSU quarterback. He's the first LSU true freshman to start at the position since Jordan Jefferson in 2008 and the first since Jamie Howard in 1992 to start by Game 6.

He clearly outplayed Anthony Jennings against Mississippi State and New Mexico State, but both of those outings were off the bench. Making his first road start against a better-than-average Auburn defense -- Johnson's defense is fourth in the SEC in total defense (313.2 ypg) and sixth in scoring defense (16.2 ppg) -- won't be easy.

However, Auburn has yet to face a prolific passing team. Its opponents thus far rank 107th nationally (Arkansas, 167.8 ypg), 62nd (San Jose State, 243.0), 59th (Kansas State, 246.3) and 55th (Louisiana Tech, 248.4) in passing offense and yet Auburn still ranks seventh in the SEC in pass defense at 222.5 ypg.

We'll see whether Harris can settle his nerves enough to exploit it, but Auburn is vulnerable against the pass -- especially if veteran safety Jermaine Whitehead remains on suspension for a third straight game.

LSU offense more productive with Harris

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
11:00
AM ET
video
BATON ROUGE, La. -- As is often the case after a disappointing loss, many callers were on the warpath last week during LSU coach Les Miles’ radio show.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Harris
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertNo matter the formation, Brandon Harris has been a more effective quarterback option than Anthony Jennings.
The most common criticism? That LSU’s offense had grown too predictable in the previous weekend’s 34-29 loss to Mississippi State -- particularly before freshman quarterback Brandon Harris replaced Anthony Jennings and nearly engineered a miraculous comeback win.

When one of the more pleasant critics encouraged Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron to limit their use of I-formation/two-tight end sets, Miles predicted they would sprinkle in more spread formations in the future.

“I can tell you that we do look forward to expanding the use of spread for both quarterbacks,” Miles said. “That’s a direction that we’re going in. It’s just that right now a personnel group that’s very, very strong for us, especially on the running end, is the two-tights.”

LSU used more shotgun sets with multiple receivers in last week’s 63-7 win against New Mexico State. The Aggies were not a formidable opponent, but that might be a sign of things to come with Harris taking over as the starter this week against Auburn.

“I think Brandon’s more comfortable like that,” running back Leonard Fournette said.

Harris played in a spread offense in high school, so that makes sense. And while Harris said he is also comfortable taking snaps from under center, spreading the field was the best way to attack NMSU's defense.

“You’ve got to go with things that make us successful,” Harris said. “I was comfortable with that in high school, and we tried to come out this week and spread people out and just run the football.”

It wasn’t so much that the Tigers changed their offensive philosophy against NMSU as that they enjoyed much more success once Harris entered the game -- continuing a recent trend.

Using the tight ends

Does LSU use the tight end-heavy package more than most teams, as some callers insinuated? Absolutely.

The Tigers have run 89 plays with at least two tight ends and two running backs, which is the most of any team in the nation. The next-closest teams are Pitt and Boston College, both of which have run 77. Only B.C. (314 plays) utilized that look more than LSU (228) in 2013.

Is that a problem? Miles doesn’t think so -- not when the Tigers’ offensive identity is built upon the running game.

“We have the opportunity to take advantage of people in both two-tights and in spread,” Miles said. “And we have two very, very talented tight ends and it gives the opportunity of running lanes for I-back style of backs, which Leonard Fournette and Kenny Hilliard and those guys are.”

That said, the Tigers actually used the two-tight formation less against NMSU than they had in previous weeks. LSU averaged 20 plays per game using at least two tight ends and two backs through the first four games, but used that look just nine times against NMSU.

It helped that LSU was rarely in short-yardage situations, so the blocker-heavy lineup was not necessary. Rest assured that it will remain part of LSU’s arsenal.

“Obviously everybody knows we have a powerful running game, so it’s something to kind of expect,” receiver John Diarse said.

Multiple receivers

As previously mentioned, LSU didn’t shift to an entirely new scheme with Harris. The Tigers were simply more productive.

The Tigers ran 30 plays, gained 287 yards and scored four times on plays where there were at least three wideouts on the field against NMSU. In the first four games, they averaged 27 plays per game with three wideouts and 163.5 yards per game.

“Every receiver enjoys going out in a three- or four-wide set,” receiver Travin Dural said. “As the game went on, you could tell the receivers went from kind of being mad and frustrated to having more smiles on their face.”

Shotgun

Harris played almost exclusively in mop-up duty prior to the NMSU game, but LSU’s offense has been more dangerous in nearly every way with him at quarterback.

He is 15-for-20 for 316 yards, three touchdowns and one interception while passing out of the shotgun (an average of 15.8 yards per pass attempt) compared to Jennings’ 27-for-52 for 327 yards, two touchdowns and two picks (6.3 ypa). Harris has nine completions of 20-plus yards from the shotgun compared to just four for Jennings.

“We came out in a couple of three- and four-wide sets when [Harris] was in the game, given the situation, and he made some plays,” Dural said. “He made some great throws and did some great things on the ground and he helped us out tremendously.”

LSU has also rushed the ball more effectively out of the shotgun with Harris. The Tigers have 24 runs for 155 yards (6.5 yards per carry) out of the shotgun with the freshman compared to 47 for 205 (4.4 ypc) with Jennings.



Under center

Boosted by his school-record 94-yard touchdown pass to Dural against Sam Houston State, Jennings is actually averaging 13.1 yards per pass attempt after taking snaps from under center. He’s 15-for-31 for 407 yards, three touchdowns and one interception in that scenario. Meanwhile, Harris is 7-for-10 for 78 yards (7.8 ypa), three touchdowns and no interceptions.

LSU has run the ball 115 times and gained 457 yards (3.97 ypc) with Jennings taking the snap from under center compared to 51 attempts for 312 yards (6.12 ypc) with Harris under center.

It’s anybody’s guess whether those trends continue with Harris as the starting quarterback, however. The Tigers might spread the field more now, but power-run formations will surely remain part of LSU’s scheme.

Diarse predicted that Cameron’s philosophy will still change each week based on personnel matchups.

“I think as an offensive coordinator, you kind of look for what works and it just so happened that spreading those guys out from New Mexico State worked for us,” Diarse said. “We kind of stuck with it and it lasted us the whole game. Each and every week, Coach Cam is unpredictable. He’s not a predictable coach at all. He can throw anything at you.”

LSU freshman tracker

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
10:00
AM ET
BATON ROUGE, La. – Plenty of true freshmen played in LSU’s 63-7 rout of New Mexico State on Saturday, but it was Brandon Harris' night.

The young quarterback led the Tigers’ offense to touchdown in all seven of his possessions after replacing a slumping Anthony Jennings. At this point, it will be a major upset if Harris doesn’t make his first career start next Saturday at Auburn.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Harris
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesBrandon Harris' performance Saturday might have made him LSU's starting quarterback for good.
Let’s take a quick look at the night for Harris and some of the Tigers’ other top freshmen:

S Jamal Adams

What he did: Adams played significant minutes off the bench at safety and tied for fourth on the team with five tackles. He also made a nice pass breakup on a second-and-2 pass near midfield in the first quarter.

What it means: Adams already seemed to be gaining his coaches’ confidence in recent weeks. If defensive back Dwayne Thomas is out for any extensive length of time -- he left Saturday’s game with a right knee injury -- Adams’ role might grow even more.

WR Malachi Dupre

What he did: Dupre made his first career start and led the team with 54 receiving yards on three catches. He caught a 27-yard touchdown pass from Harris in the second quarter.

What it means: Dupre’s role in the offense continues to grow. He and Harris clearly have developed a rapport -- Saturday’s touchdown was already their fourth scoring connection -- and that should give the Tigers a strong second option alongside leading receiver Travin Dural.

RB Leonard Fournette

What he did: Fournette ran 18 times for 122 yards and two touchdowns, setting new career highs in all three categories. He scored on a 17-yard run and plowed into the end zone for a 5-yard score in the second quarter. He also went 33 yards on his lone reception.

What it means: This was the fourth straight game that Fournette has led the Tigers in rushing, although this was his first 100-yard game. With 322 yards on 56 carries, Fournette is quietly emerging as the Tigers’ top tailback.

DT Davon Godchaux

What he did: Godchaux started for the second time in the last three games and recorded four tackles. His biggest play of the night came when he jarred the ball loose from New Mexico State’s Marquette Washington at the end of a second-quarter run. LSU safety Jalen Mills recovered Washington’s fumble and returned it 36 yards to the NMSU 3. The Tigers scored on the next play to go up 42-7.

What it means: With Quentin Thomas out of the lineup for the time being, Godchaux’s role is playing an important role on the interior of the Tigers’ defensive line. That bunch got shoved around by Mississippi State last week and will face a huge challenge next Saturday from Auburn. LSU needs Godchaux and Christian LaCouture to hold up in the middle of the line in order to have a shot at a road upset.

QB Brandon Harris

What he did: Harris likely settled the questions over who should start at quarterback on Saturday. Jennings had turned the ball over three times and the Tigers led 14-0 when Harris took over in the second quarter. They were up 63-7 when he left the game in the fourth quarter. Harris finished 11-for-14 for 178 yards and three touchdowns, plus he ran five times for 36 yards and two scores.

What it means: Although it seemingly took forever for LSU’s coaches to make the move -- as LSU’s booing fans clearly noticed -- Harris provided an instant spark when he entered the game. The level of difficulty is about to increase exponentially, but he is an obvious choice to start next week even if LSU coach Les Miles made no such public declaration after the game.

RB Darrel Williams

What he did: Williams continues to produce when he gets the ball. He was second on the team behind Fournette with 10 carries and finished with 59 rushing yards. He also caught a pass for an 11-yard gain.

What it means: Everybody got their yards from the Tigers’ backfield on Saturday -- seniors Kenny Hilliard (seven carries, 53 yards) and Terrence Magee (8-62, TD) were also productive -- and we can expect to see Williams remain as a regular contributor in LSU’s backfield timeshare.
BATON ROUGE, La. – The topic du jour at Les Miles’ three Q&A sessions on Wednesday concerned his quarterbacks. Specifically, what will be LSU’s next move in the battle for playing time between sophomore Anthony Jennings and freshman Brandon Harris?

Who will be the starter in Saturday’s game against New Mexico State? It most likely will be Jennings, Miles said on the SEC’s weekly coaches teleconference.

Has Harris – who starred in last Saturday’s fourth-quarter comeback against Mississippi State after Jennings’ dismal outing – made up ground in the race? “Some,” Miles told reporters in his post-practice interview.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Jennings
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsIt appears LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings will get another shot to start after a tough night against Mississippi State.
Will Harris get more than the garbage-time snaps he mostly received to this point? “Look forward to him getting a little bit more playing time. He certainly was deserving,” Miles said on his weekly call-in show.

The problems that revealed themselves in the Mississippi State loss are much greater than simply which player is behind center, but we’ll start there in this week’s storylines for Saturday.

Third-down inefficiency: LSU has been mediocre in nearly every offensive category, but its decline on third down has been striking. That had to be expected with quarterback Zach Mettenberger, running back Jeremy Hill and receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham all departing from a 2013 offense that led the nation by converting 57 percent of its third downs.

It has been a problem this season, particularly with Jennings at quarterback. ESPN Stats and Information reports that LSU ranks 70th nationally in third-down conversions (41 percent) and has only converted on 38 percent of its third downs with Jennings at quarterback, compared to 63 percent with Harris.

During the last two seasons, Jennings led LSU to a 30-percent conversion rate on third down, while Mettenberger converted 54 percent of the time. The differences are also huge when comparing Mettenberger and Jennings’ Total QBR (97.2 to 37.1), yards per attempt (10.9 to 6.2) and passing touchdowns (nine to two) on third down.

These comparisons are unfair, of course. Mettenberger was a fifth-year senior who ranked second nationally behind Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston on both third-down QBR and third-down conversions. Meanwhile, Jennings just made his fifth career start. Nonetheless, the dropoff has been substantial and is one of the contributing factors in LSU’s offensive slowdown.

QB comparison: Let’s shift from one comparison that doesn’t look pretty for Jennings to another. Again, different sample sizes paint an unfair picture for Jennings, but the Tigers’ offense has been more productive with Harris at quarterback.

LSU scored a touchdown on two of its three drives against Mississippi State with Harris at quarterback compared to one in 12 with Jennings. Of course, Jennings played against the starters and Harris did not face the Bulldogs’ full defensive arsenal when he entered the game with less than four minutes to play and Mississippi State ahead by double digits. But he was clearly the more productive quarterback last Saturday, leading LSU’s offense to 159 yards in just 12 snaps.

We could make similar statements about the other games in which they appeared. Jennings took the starters’ best shots in the first four games and Harris came on in relief, typically in the second half. But in his smaller sample size, Harris has led the Tigers to more yards per play, a greater percentage of touchdowns per drive and a significantly higher percentage of third-down conversions.

Stopping the run: We discussed this in a post earlier this week, but LSU must shore up its issues defending runs straight up the middle. On designed runs between the tackles, Mississippi State ran for 286 yards – the most allowed by an SEC defense in the last two seasons – averaged 8.2 yards per carry and broke nine runs of 10 yards or longer.

In the first three games, LSU allowed just 52.3 yards on designed runs between the tackles, 3.5 yards per carry and just one run of 10-plus yards, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

Opening it up? With the bulk of the SEC schedule still ahead, this seems like a good week for LSU to work on opening up its offense a bit if it will, in fact, spread the field in future games. But that doesn’t exactly jibe with what works best against New Mexico State’s defense.

The Aggies have been atrocious against the run, surrendering 299.3 rushing yards per game and ranking 123rd out of 125 FBS teams. So perhaps we’ll see plenty of Kenny Hilliard, Leonard Fournette and LSU’s power running game early and the Tigers can work on the passing game once they build a lead.

Dural, then who? If LSU puts the ball in the air more frequently, Travin Dural (18 catches, 494 yards, 4 TDs) is a given as the first option. But then who?

Maybe it will be Malachi Dupre, who delivered a breakout performance last Saturday night against Mississippi State. Fellow freshmen Trey Quinn and John Diarse are also possibilities. After Dural, the Tigers’ next three receivers have only connected with their quarterback for a completion on 19 of the 37 passes in which they were the intended targets.

LSU freshman tracker

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
10:00
AM ET
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Saturday’s 34-29 loss to Mississippi State was a night many LSU players probably want to forget, but it was the biggest game yet for one of the Tigers’ key freshmen.

Quarterback Brandon Harris “made a case for himself” according to LSU coach Les Miles by leading the Tigers back from a huge deficit to nearly earn an amazing comeback victory. Suddenly a quarterback battle that seemed to have settled looks wide open again.

Here’s a recap of how Harris and some of the Tigers’ other true freshmen fared on Saturday:

WR MALACHI DUPRE
What he did: Dupre played more than he had in any game to date and notched his first 100-yard outing with four catches for 120 yards and two touchdowns. In the fourth quarter alone, he notched scoring catches of 31 and 30 yards.

What it means: This is what LSU fans expected when Dupre, the nation’s No. 1 wide receiver prospect for 2014, signed with the Tigers in February. He got off to a somewhat slow start, but Dupre formed a solid one-two punch with Travin Dural (six catches, 124 yards) on Saturday. It was the 13th time in LSU history that two receivers enjoyed 100-yard outings.

RB LEONARD FOURNETTE
What he did: Fournette ran seven times for 38 yards in the first half, but didn’t get a carry in the second half once the Tigers fell far behind. He finished with 99 all-purpose yards (38 rushing, 60 on three kickoff returns and 1 on one reception).

What it means: Nobody on LSU’s offense did much in the running game -- the Tigers finished with just 89 yards on 36 carries -- so we can’t read too much into Fournette’s numbers. He had the Tigers’ longest run of the night, a 20-yard burst in the second quarter, but LSU mostly abandoned the run out of necessity once State went up by multiple scores.

QB BRANDON HARRIS
What he did: The game was all but over when Harris replaced Anthony Jennings, but he was highly impressive in his three series under center. Harris finished 6-for-9 for 140 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He also ran twice for 19 yards.

What it means: LSU trailed 34-16 when Harris entered the game with just 3:43 to play. That he was attempting to throw a game-winning touchdown pass on the final play was nothing short of remarkable. Harris led a 95-yard touchdown drive, a 30-yard touchdown drive and had the Tigers in position for a last-gasp shot at the end zone. He earned a shot at more playing time, if not a start next Saturday, by sparking an unbelievable rally.

RB DARREL WILLIAMS
What he did: Williams didn’t play much before the final quarter, but he had a hand in the late comeback, as well. He caught Harris passes of 13 and 25 yards on LSU’s 95-yard touchdown drive that cut Mississippi State’s lead to 34-22.

What it means: It looked like garbage-time production when Williams caught those passes, although they obviously turned out to be more important when the Tigers strung together a couple of late scores. Williams also got a couple of short-yardage runs, totaling 4 yards, but he mostly played a minor role in the backfield on Saturday.

LSU freshman tracker

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
10:00
AM ET
BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU got one more true freshman -- linebacker Clifton Garrett -- onto the field in Saturday’s 31-0 win against Louisiana-Monroe, meaning the Tigers have now played 17 of their 23 true freshmen.

Let’s take a look at how some of LSU’s top freshmen performed in Saturday’s win, and what they’ve accomplished to date.

S Jamal Adams
What he did: Adams earned a heavy dose of playing time against ULM and tied for third on the team with four tackles.
What it means: Adams seems to be playing more and more on scrimmage downs, despite LSU’s depth at safety. He was the Tigers’ highest-rated defensive signee so that’s not exactly a surprise. He clearly has earned a spot in the rotation and likely will play a key role as the season progresses.
Season stats: 9 tackles

RB Leonard Fournette
What he did: Fournette rushed 10 times for 52 yards, including a third-quarter touchdown run where he ran untouched for 24 yards. Fournette also went 20 yards with a screen pass and returned the opening kickoff for 40 yards.
What it means: Nobody got a heavy workload on Saturday, but Fournette had a couple of impressive touches. His spot as a leading member in the Tigers’ tailback rotation seems to remain unchanged.
Season stats: 31 carries, 162 yards, 2 TD, 3 receptions, 52 yards

video
DT Davon Godchaux
What he did: In making his first college start, Godchaux recorded three tackles and half a tackle for a loss. He replaced Quentin Thomas in the starting lineup alongside Christian LaCouture and continues to rank among Brick Haley’s top interior line options.
What it means: Godchaux had been one of the first defensive tackles off the bench in the first two games, but he has clearly impressed LSU’s coaches with his performance thus far. Look for him to remain among the top members of the line rotation as the Tigers enter SEC play.
Season stats: 7 tackles, 0.5 TFL

QB Brandon Harris
What he did: Harris led the Tigers’ offense on three second-half possessions, finishing 1-for-2 for 14 yards along with two runs for 11 yards. In Harris three series, the Tigers scored one touchdown.
What it means: Harris first entered the game on LSU’s final possession of the third quarter, with the Tigers leading 24-0, so he’s a clear No. 2 behind Anthony Jennings at quarterback right now. It seems unlikely that he steals much playing time from Jennings next week against Mississippi State.
Season stats: 5-for-7 for 76 yards, TD, 9 rushes for 53 yards, TD

RB Darrel Williams
What he did: Williams carried the ball seven times for 37 yards, including touchdown runs of 22 and 1 yards. He has lined up at both tailback and fullback in the I-formation and led LSU’s four tailbacks with an average of 5.3 yards per carry.
What it means: Williams’ tough running in the past two games seems to have helped him earn more of an opportunity as short-yardage back. He didn’t play in the opener against Wisconsin, but he seems to be carving out a niche in the backfield lately.
Season stats: 21 carries, 102 yards, 3 TDs

video 

video 

What to watch in LSU-ULM

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
9:00
AM ET
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Les Miles is a perfect 11-0 as LSU’s coach against in-state opposition and only once – a 24-16 homecoming win over Louisiana Tech in 2009 – has the outcome been particularly close.

LSU (2-0) has beaten its various fellow Louisianans by an average score of 43-7 in the 2000s and has not lost to an in-state opponent since falling 31-28 at Tulane in 1982. In other words, there is good reason that the Tigers were favored late this week to beat Louisiana-Monroe (2-0) by 31 points on Saturday. The day is probably not going to end unhappily for the Tigers.

That said, major-conference coaches are apparently required to remind us of the disastrous possibilities, so that is one of the storylines to watch as Saturday’s kickoff approaches.

1. Monroe’s history: One of the first points that Miles made in his Monday news conference was that ULM has knocked off SEC opposition in the past. In fact, the Warhawks have beaten four teams from the conference: No. 8 Arkansas in the 2012 opener, Alabama in 2007, Mississippi State in 1995 and Kentucky in 1994.

“When we invite an in-state team to play us, we think it makes the majority of the state want to come to that stadium, at that time and watch that game and we’re thankful that this opportunity’s here,” Miles reiterated on his Wednesday call-in show. “We think that ULM is a very, very quality team and will challenge any team and certainly will be a difficult team to play this Saturday in Tiger Stadium.”

Miles didn’t happen to mention that the Warhawks are 4-40-1 overall against SEC teams, though. That includes an 0-2 mark against LSU, which defeated ULM 49-7 in 2003 and 51-0 in 2010.

2. Aidin’ Travin: Let’s assume that receiver Travin Dural will play on Saturday, as Miles predicted, despite Dural having suffered a head injury that required stitches in an auto accident late last Saturday night. The Tigers probably will still need other wideouts to take over some of his production as he works his way back to 100 percent.

Through two games, Dural (six catches, 291 yards, four touchdowns) has been far and away the Tigers’ most prolific receiver. His absurd average of 48.5 yards per catch leads the nation, he’s fourth in receiving yards and tied for second nationally in touchdown catches – all despite being targeted on fewer than half as many passes (15) as national leader Amari Cooper of Alabama (32).

Redshirt freshman John Diarse (4-77, TD) and true freshmen Trey Quinn (3-37) and Malachi Dupre (2-23, TD) would probably be the leading candidates for extra looks if Dural isn’t 100 percent on Saturday.
3. Jennings vs. Harris: LSU quarterbacks Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris figure to have their battle for playing time continue on Saturday. ESPN Stats & Information reports that their production is similar, although their workload isn’t particularly comparable.

In 113 plays with Jennings under center, LSU’s offense averaged 6.5 yards per play and scored touchdowns on 35 percent of its possessions. Jennings posted the best single-game Total Quarterback Rating (QBR) of any player this season when he scored a 98.7 last week against Sam Houston State by going 7-for-13 for 188 yards and three touchdowns and rushing eight times for 43 yards.

Harris took 27 snaps last week against SHSU after getting only three (one series) in the opener against Wisconsin. He led five drives and the Tigers scored three touchdowns against SHSU, including one on a 46-yard Harris run.

In Harris’ 30 total plays, LSU averaged 6.9 yards per play and the Tigers have run the ball 83 percent of the time, compared to 70 percent with Jennings under center.

4. Playing the pass: Another interesting matchup pits LSU’s defense, which is third nationally in opponent Total QBR at 5.3 – only Baylor (4.4) and Florida (5.1) are better according to ESPN Stats & Information – against an active ULM passing game.

The Warhawks have already attempted 86 passes with only one getting intercepted. LSU, meanwhile, has picked off four passes out of 52 opponent pass attempts. The Tigers’ pass defense leads the nation by allowing a 32.7 completion percentage and ranks seventh by allowing 3.96 yards per pass attempt. LSU is also tied for 13th with seven sacks, while ULM is tied for fourth with 10.

LSU got all seven of its sacks last Saturday against SHSU, but ULM presents a different challenge for the Tigers. ULM quarterback Pete Thomas (47-85, 573 yards, 2 TDs, INT) runs the Warhawks’ no-huddle spread offense at a brisk pace. He wouldn’t rank 10th in the nation in pass attempts if the Warhawks’ offense moved slowly. ULM has surrendered four sacks, so pass-rushers like Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco will have to move quickly to earn a quarterback takedown.

5. Pounding the run: Thus far, LSU has run the ball on 73 percent of its plays (105 of 144), which creates an interesting matchup for Saturday. ULM is tied for ninth nationally against the run, surrendering just 57.5 rushing yards per game. Opponents Wake Forest and Idaho averaged 1.8 yards per carry (115 yards on 63 attempts) against the Warhawks. Wake Forest actually had 27 attempts for minus-3 rushing yards and finished with just 94 yards of total offense in a 17-10 loss.

Kenny Hilliard leads the Tigers with 165 rushing yards on 29 carries and freshman Leonard Fournette is second with 110 yards on 21 attempts.

Freshman spotlight: 'Heisman moment'

September, 7, 2014
Sep 7
1:10
AM ET
BATON ROUGE, La. -- OK, that had to be a first.

It was definitely LSU freshman Leonard Fournette’s first touchdown of his career. There’s no question about that. But Fournette’s striking the Heisman pose after the 4-yard run against Sam Houston State on Saturday might have made him the first player in college football history to raise his knee and throw the legendary stiffarm pose after his inaugural score.

“I think it’s little premature to launch a Heisman candidacy,” LSU coach Les Miles said after the Tigers’ 56-0 win. “I think that he needs to realize, too, that this is his team and it’s not to do with personal liberty. There were a lot of guys blocking for that run and a lot of effort and energy to help that man score that touchdown."

SEC Network announcer Brent Musberger saying afterwards, “A little early for that pose, young man, but I got your excitement.”

Whatever Miles said to the freshman running back afterward, it was apparently not as forgiving. He was caught on TV giving Fournette an earful immediately after he returned to the sideline following the play.

“I looked at Coach,” quarterback Anthony Jennings said. “He was coming onto the field and I already knew what was going to happen.”

Fournette finished with 92 rushing yards on 13 carries, plus 32 receiving yards on two leaping catches. It was an outstanding Tiger Stadium debut -- even if he might have jumped the gun a bit with his Heisman moment.

“He definitely has the potential to be a Heisman Trophy winner, but as of now I believe he needs to stay humble and keep running the ball like he is,” right tackle Jerald Hawkins chuckled.

video

The touchdown run itself was nothing special -- a 4-yard burst up the middle against an FCS defense that barely got a fingertip on Fournette before he entered the end zone. But the play immediately before that was more like what Tigers fans expected to see from the nation’s top overall prospect when he signed with LSU in February.

On second-and-10 at the SHSU 44, Fournette took a handoff left and then cut back toward a huge hole in the middle of the line. He cut right at the 41 to dodge safety Michael Wade, then followed receiver John Diarse’s block on cornerback Mikell Everette at the 29. A Bearkats defender didn’t get to Fournette until he ran through safety Eric Agbaroji’s tackle at the 21 and then dragged cornerback Ernest Payton from the 13 to the 4, where he finally went down.

The highlight-reel 40-yard run set up Fournette’s touchdown burst on the next play.

video

There were plenty of firsts to go around on Saturday for members of LSU’s vaunted 2014 recruiting class. In his first substantial playing time, quarterback Brandon Harris also contributed a couple of highlights -- including a 46-yard touchdown run that was much more worthy of the Heisman pose.

With the Tigers already up 27-0 in the second quarter, Harris faked a handoff to Terrence Magee and instead ran up the middle. He first spun through a tackle attempt by linebacker Lance Duran and then backed into cornerback Darion Flowers, who was unable to bring Harris down before he spun toward the LSU sideline and broke into the open field. Then it became a footrace and Harris barely avoided Everette’s diving tackle attempt at the 9 and followed Diarse’s block on Trenier Orr as he bolted into the end zone for his first career score.

video

Harris put an exclamation point on the night when he and freshman receiver Malachi Dupre combined for two more firsts -- Harris’ first touchdown pass and Dupre’s first scoring catch -- early in the fourth quarter.

On second-and-goal from the 8, Harris lobbed a pass to the back right corner of the end zone, where a diving Dupre brought it down just beyond cornerback Tevin Creeks’ coverage. It was yet another example of what LSU fans envisioned when Dupre, the nation’s top wideout prospect, and No. 2 dual-threat quarterback Harris joined the Tigers earlier this year.

video

What to watch in LSU-SHSU

September, 5, 2014
Sep 5
9:00
AM ET
BATON ROUGE, La. -- If LSU’s history against FCS opponents is any indication, Saturday night’s game against Sam Houston State probably will not be particularly competitive.

The Tigers are 9-0 all-time against FCS teams, including 6-0 since Les Miles became LSU’s coach in 2005, and winning by an average score of 38-10 under Miles.

Even if the Tigers win comfortably, there is still plenty to watch on Saturday night. Here are five storylines that LSU fans should keep in mind as kickoff approaches.

1. New Tiger Stadium: Saturday will offer many LSU fans their first glimpse at new and improved Tiger Stadium, which underwent an $85 million renovation during the offseason. With the addition of a new club level to enclose the south end zone, the 90-year-old venue will now seat 102,321 fans -- making it the fifth-largest on-campus stadium in the country.

“[The players] have always played in front of a stadium that was full and loud. They would not recognize Tiger Stadium any other way,” Miles said. “We’re spoiled, we’re expectant, we play to the expectations of our fans. We’re very much on the same page with them. … I would certainly say that christening the stadium is something that both the team and certainly the fans and the faithful should understand should be a loud and very enthusiastic crowd.”

[+] EnlargeAnthony Jennings
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsAnthony Jennings rallied the Tigers against Wisconsin, but expect backup Brandon Harris to get more reps this weekend.
 Enclosing the south end of the stadium might change how wind affects kicks and punts somewhat, so it might take some time to re-evaluate LSU’s game-play strategies in the reconfigured venue.

But the main difference will be the increased decibel level that comes along with adding nearly 10,000 new seats to the old venue.

“I can imagine that there will be a little difference in wind. I’m certain it will be louder,” Miles said. “It looks, to me, beautiful, so if you like grand venues to play in, I think it should be just what you want.”

2. Quarterback reps: Sophomore Anthony Jennings won the right to start last week against Wisconsin, and he played all but one offensive series against the Badgers. But don’t be surprised if we see a lot more of freshman Brandon Harris under center this week.

Jennings is 2-0 as a starter, with those wins coming against Big Ten squads Iowa and Wisconsin, but he hasn’t exactly set the world on fire in either game. He was 9-for-21 for 239 yards and two touchdowns against Wisconsin, but the Tigers’ offense struggled mightily for most of the game before rallying from a 24-7 deficit for a 28-24 win. To his credit, Jennings was 4-for-6 for 119 yards and a touchdown in the second half, aiding the Tigers in their comeback bid.

Nonetheless, the Tigers need for Harris to show he can handle an increased workload against opponents like Sam Houston State and Louisiana-Monroe if he is to help them during SEC play. The next two weeks will be huge for the freshman to prove himself. Otherwise, we’re going to see a lot of Jennings down the stretch.

3. Defending against tempo: With games against high-speed offenses like Auburn’s and Texas A&M’s ahead, Saturday’s game offers a nice warmup for those SEC showdowns.

Granted, Sam Houston State is an FCS program, but the Bearkats have former FBS players like running back Jalen Overstreet (Texas) and receiver LaDarius Brown (TCU) on the roster, as well as a dual-threat quarterback, Jared Johnson, who is averaging 351.5 passing yards per game.

The Bearkats ran 105 plays for 685 yards in last week’s 51-20 win over Alabama State so it’s clear that they want to maintain a quick tempo just like the SEC offensive juggernauts the Tigers will face down the road.

“Chief [defensive coordinator John Chavis] has us really doing a lot of up-tempo stuff right now because that’s the type of offense they are,” safety Jalen Mills said. “So as soon as the play is over, less celebrating and more looking to the sideline and getting the play and lining up.”

4. Debuts continue: Should LSU take a comfortable lead by halftime, we might see several members of the Tigers’ impressive 2014 recruiting class -- plus a number of redshirt freshmen -- make their college debuts on Saturday.

 Nine true freshmen played against Wisconsin, and we could see several more over the next two weekends. Among the youngsters we’re intrigued to see are receivers Malachi Dupre and D.J. Chark, running back Darrel Williams and defensive linemen Frank Herron, Greg Gilmore and Maquedius Bain.

Keep an eye on the positional rotations in the second half and see which inexperienced players have earned the chance for a trial by fire. That could tell you who the coaches hope might be able to help them later in the season.

5. Fournette’s follow-up: Speaking of freshmen, tailback Leonard Fournette made a quiet debut last week with 18 rushing yards on eight carries and an average of 23.4 yards on five kickoff returns.

The Tigers mostly rode senior Kenny Hilliard in the fourth quarter against Wisconsin, but Fournette and Terrence Magee should get much more of an opportunity to break some runs against SHSU.

As with Harris, it would be beneficial for Fournette to build some confidence in out-of-conference play before the Tigers host Mississippi State in a key SEC West game on Sept. 20. Our bet is that the Fournette shows off more of the skillset that made him the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect for 2014 over the next two weekends.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- When he and his teammates traveled to Houston last weekend, LSU safety Jalen Mills had no idea whether he’d actually play against Wisconsin.

It wasn’t until the final moments before his team took the field that Tigers coach Les Miles informed the junior safety of his decision.

“Actually right before we came out the tunnel. Coach Miles told me, ‘I hope you’re ready to play,’ ” said Mills, whose offseason arrest led to his banishment from all team activities throughout the summer before Miles reinstated him at the start of preseason practice. “So once he told me that, just a big weight lifted off my shoulders and I was ready.”

Mills made the most of his opportunity, starting at safety and intercepting a pass during the Tigers’ second-half comeback en route to a 28-24 victory. Several of his teammates weren’t as fortunate, with multiple Tigers missing the game because of suspension, injury or simply because they were not quite ready to face a big-time opponent.

That could change soon -- possibly as soon as this Saturday against Sam Houston State in some cases -- as expected contributors like cornerback Rashard Robinson, receiver Malachi Dupre and defensive linemen Frank Herron, Maquedius Bain and Greg Gilmore start to filter into the lineup.

Like Mills last week, some members of that group -- along with many others who did not play last weekend -- will walk into Tiger Stadium Saturday night not knowing whether this will be their chance to make their season debuts.

Miles said Wednesday evening that “everybody’s ready to roll. We didn’t lose anybody from the [Wisconsin] game” when asked about the health of the team, although he added that senior center Elliott Porter might sit out for a second consecutive game.

Miles would have to improve significantly before anyone would describe his disciplinary practices as transparent, but he responded “Yeah, absolutely” when a reporter on Tuesday asked whether the suspended players would be available this Saturday.

If they are available, and if players like Dupre are able to return from injuries, LSU could have far more firepower at its disposal in the near future -- even if Miles predicted that the starting lineup should mostly remain intact.

“I think it will be very similar,” Miles said after Wednesday’s practice. “There’s some young defensive linemen we’d like to put on the field, but it’s one of those things, you have to develop a level of competency in the call. That’s the issue. We have very talented guys there. We’re just getting them ready to play, hopefully this week. Hopefully they’ll play some time. But I think for the most part, you’ll recognize the same starting lineups.”

Regardless, the youthful Tigers are not the team they will become over the course of this season. Although nine true freshmen and two redshirt freshmen played their first college games, many more -- a group that includes Herron, Bain, Gilmore, receivers D.J. Chark and Avery Peterson, running back Darrel Williams and linebacker Clifton Garrett -- still hope to prove to their coaches that they deserve playing time.

“It’s definitely your coach trusting you and coming out here in practice every day and working hard,” senior middle linebacker D.J. Welter said. “Everybody’s been doing that, but you’ve just got to keep grinding every day to close that space and you’ll get to see the field.”

As Miles mentioned, that is apparently the issue with Herron and the other redshirt freshman defensive tackles. Players complimented Herron throughout the preseason, but Miles said he wasn’t ready to go against Wisconsin. Instead it was true freshman Davon Godchaux who played alongside veterans Christian LaCouture, Quentin Thomas and Lewis Neal against the Badgers.

“To be honest with you, we’d have loved to have gotten Frank in, and some other guys,” Miles said. “But the issue becomes one where when the game’s tight and you want to be able to count on the call, you go with that veteran that kind of understands it a little bit more. We’re hopeful that we can get Frank coached up a little bit better and get him on the field because he is, in my opinion, a very, very talented guy.”

Same with Chark and Williams -- and for that matter the freshmen who did play and didn’t exactly dominate. It’s part of the learning process, Miles cautioned, and that process sometimes requires some patience.

Regarding freshmen like quarterback Brandon Harris and tailback Leonard Fournette, Miles said LSU’s coaches are “thrilled with their performances” even if they didn’t exactly fill up the stat sheet against Wisconsin.

It will come in time, as redshirt freshman John Diarse learned a season ago.

“I had the same expectations coming in last year and Coach Cam [Cameron] just told me, ‘It’s a process. It takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and just relax, stay in it, stay focused, keep working hard,’ ” said Diarse, who caught two passes and scored a 36-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter against Wisconsin.

LSU freshman tracker

August, 31, 2014
Aug 31
10:00
AM ET
So it wasn’t a Heisman Trophy-caliber debut for LSU freshman Leonard Fournette. The Tigers’ coaches understandably rode the defense and veteran running back Kenny Hilliard late as No. 13 LSU scored 21 unanswered points to beat No. 14 Wisconsin 28-24 on Saturday night.

But the Tigers did get Fournette and eight other true freshmen -- receiver Trey Quinn, quarterback Brandon Harris, defensive backs Ed Paris and Jamal Adams, defensive linemen Davon Godchaux and Deondre Clark, linebacker Donnie Alexander and kicker Cameron Gamble -- on the field Saturday in Houston during the comeback win. Here’s a quick recap of the top three.

RB Leonard Fournette

What he did: Fournette looked tentative on both kickoff returns and runs out of the backfield. He returned five kickoffs for 117 yards, with a long of 33 yards, and ran eight times for 18 yards. The explosive running everyone expected was nowhere to be found, although the offensive line didn’t give him much room to run, either. Fournette and Terrence Magee (6-8) took a backseat to Hilliard (18-110, TD) in the second half as the Tigers mounted their comeback.

What it means: Because of the hype built around the nation’s top overall prospect, anything less than 100 yards and a couple of touchdowns would have been a letdown. Fournette’s time will come, but he didn’t make much of an impact in his college debut. Perhaps he’ll find more of a groove over the next couple of weeks when he should have more room to run against Sam Houston State and Louisiana-Monroe.

WR Trey Quinn

What he did: Quinn was the only LSU true freshman to start on Saturday. The record-setting receiver caught one pass for 11 yards and ran 2 yards on a reverse. But easily his biggest play of the night came when he went in motion on a two-point conversion attempt and was wide open when he caught Anthony Jennings’ pass to cut Wisconsin’s lead to 24-21 with 12:08 left in the game.

What it means: It was clear coming in that Quinn would play a big role after he generated a lot of buzz during preseason camp. He made one of the Tigers’ biggest plays during their comeback. They played only four receivers all night – sophomore Travin Dural (3-151, TD) and redshirt freshman John Diarse (2-48, TD) also made some huge catches – so it’s clear that we should expect Quinn to rank among LSU’s top wideouts moving forward.

QB Brandon Harris

What he did: Harris played one series in the second quarter and the Tigers went backward, literally and figuratively. They lost 9 yards on the possession – Harris ran once for a loss of a yard and later was sacked for a 10-yard loss on third down – and also had to burn a timeout when Harris was unable to get the play in quickly enough from the sideline. Jennings returned on the next possession and played the rest of the game at quarterback.

What it means: As with Fournette, this was an unimpressive debut for Harris. He looked a bit lost on the field, in a game where the Tigers couldn’t afford to fall much further behind. Jennings floundered a bit early, but he hit a couple of huge passes and gave LSU enough in the second half to mount a comeback. You can’t say Jennings completely solidified his position as LSU’s full-time quarterback – he finished 9-for-21 for 239 yards and two touchdowns – but Harris certainly didn’t do anything to prove that he deserves the job yet.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 1

August, 31, 2014
Aug 31
1:10
AM ET
Wow, what a first weekend of football around the SEC. And it’s not over yet, since Tennessee-Utah State will wrap up the weekend on Sunday.

For now, though, let’s recap some of what we’ve learned so far about the SEC of 2014.

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsTodd Gurley and Georgia made a loud statement with their 45-21 trouncing of Clemson on Saturday.
The league looks wide open: If we learned anything over the last couple of days, it’s that both of these division races will be wide open. It started when Eastern Division favorite South Carolina laid an egg against Texas A&M on Thursday, but several of Saturday’s games only solidified the point.

Alabama -- particularly its reconstructed secondary -- had all sorts of problems against West Virginia and its vaunted passing game. Defending league champ Auburn remains an offensive juggernaut, but its defense got manhandled at times early by an improving Arkansas offense. And LSU was on the verge of getting blown out early in the second half before a fake punt gave the Tigers some life, helping them rally from a 24-7 deficit to beat Wisconsin 28-24.

With Texas A&M and Georgia also making statements with impressive wins in their season debuts, it’s evident that nobody has a cakewalk to reach Atlanta. The preseason favorites all have questions to answer, and there are several candidates to rise from the middle of the pack to challenge them.

Heisman hopefuls make moves: Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill wasn’t the only SEC player to jump into the Heisman Trophy conversation. Hill’s school-record 511 passing yards and three touchdowns on 44-for-60 passing had to go down as one of the most impressive starting debuts in recent memory. But he had company among SEC offensive standouts.

Todd Gurley broke Rodney Hampton’s Georgia record with 293 all-purpose yards against Clemson -- 198 on the ground and 100 more on a kickoff return for a touchdown (he lost five yards receiving). Between his running and a dominant second half from Jeremy Pruitt’s defense, the Bulldogs were able to bury Clemson 45-21.

Cameron Artis-Payne ran for 122 yards in the second half against Arkansas and finished with 26 carries for 177 yards and a touchdown as Auburn held the Razorbacks scoreless in the second half to put away a 45-21 win.

Quarterback races progress: Hill made as emphatic a statement as possible about his status as Texas A&M’s starting quarterback after winning a preseason battle. But some of the league’s other QB races remain, well, unclear.

Blake Sims (24-33, 250 yards, INT, plus 42 rushing yards) did a fine job in taking nearly every snap in Alabama’s win over West Virginia. And Patrick Towles (20-29, 377 yards, TD, plus a 23-yard rushing score) was outstanding in Kentucky’s rout of overmatched Tennessee-Martin.

But then a couple of QB battles don’t seem resolved at all. LSU’s Anthony Jennings played most of the game against Wisconsin, but the Tigers’ offense struggled mightily before closing with a flourish. He finished 9-for-21 for 238 yards and two touchdowns. However, freshman Brandon Harris looked lost during the one series he was in the game, so he doesn’t appear to be a better option right now.

Vanderbilt also faces a bit of a quandary at the position. Stephen Rivers (12-25, 186 yards, INT), Patton Robinette (4-6, 38 yards) and Johnny McCrary (0-3, 2 INTs) all played, but nothing went right for the Commodores in a 37-7 loss to Temple.

We’ll see how Tennessee’s Justin Worley fares on Sunday night after winning the Volunteers’ preseason QB battle.

Bad teams are better: Arkansas and Kentucky -- two teams that went winless in SEC play a season ago -- made it clear that they will be tougher in 2014.

It’s difficult to know what to make of Kentucky’s 59-14 win over UT-Martin. We probably shouldn’t read too much into a blowout against a middling FCS program, after all. And yet the Wildcats showed off some impressive new weapons.

How about Nebraska transfer Braylon Heard taking his only two carries for touchdowns of 73 and 43 yards? And Towles connecting with 10 different receivers? It was an impressive debut to be sure.

Even in a losing effort, Arkansas’ physicality had to be what Razorbacks fans wanted to see from a club that lost nine straight games to close out the 2013 season. They pushed Auburn around for a portion of the game and were still thinking upset until Auburn’s Jermaine Whitehead made it a two-touchdown game by returning a deflected pass for a score with 2:39 left in the third quarter.

Auburn really can pass: We heard all offseason that Auburn would put the ball in the air more frequently this season, and it looks like the Tigers have the pieces in place to do that.

Junior college transfer D'haquille Williams was outstanding in his Auburn debut, catching nine passes for 154 yards and a touchdown, while Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson combined to throw for 293 yards and a pair of scores. The ground game is still the Tigers’ calling card (Auburn rushed for 302 yards), but they’re going to be even tougher to defend if they keep throwing like this.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Intriguing SEC bowl games
VIDEO PLAYLIST video

SEC SCOREBOARD

Monday, 12/22
Saturday, 12/20
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12