LSU quarterback Brandon Harris stepped under center at Jordan-Hare Stadium last year with the national spotlight firmly on his shoulders.
In front of 87,451 screaming fans, facing a No. 5 ranked, undefeated Auburn team, the weight of it proved to be a little too much for the true freshman.
LSU quickly fell behind 17-0 in the first quarter as the offense went three-and-out the first three times it had the ball. Harris completed only one of his first eight pass attempts.
Harris was replaced at halftime having thrown for 58 yards on 3 of 14 yards, and rushed for 36 yards on eight carries. The lone highlight of his dismal afternoon was a 52-yard completion to Malachi Dupre down to Auburn’s 1-yard line.
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It set up LSU’s only touchdown in an embarrassing 41-7 loss.
Harris goes into Saturday’s game against Auburn on much stronger footing. The 6-foot-3, 206-pound sophomore won the starting job in training camp over junior Anthony Jennings.
His stronger command of the offense was evident to Auburn’s coaching staff in reviewing film of LSU’s 21-19 win over No. 25 Mississippi State.
“You can just watch him in the game last Saturday and you can tell he's more confident,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “He was in a very tough spot last year when he came in and started here for his first start. He's a very good athlete and has a very good arm. He's a very good quarterback and you can tell he's more comfortable.”
In the win, Harris efficiently managed LSU’s offensive game plan. He was 9 of 14 for 71 yards, and ran the ball five times for 48 yards.
While LSU relied heavily on sophomore running back Leonard Fournette, Harris made some key plays with both his legs, and arm. In the first quarter, he helped set up the offense’s first touchdown converting a third and 11 with a 23 yard completion to DeSean Smith.
He had three runs go for double-digits with a fourth called back on an illegal block penalty.
One area Auburn’s defense has struggled with is on containment of mobile quarterbacks. LSU coach Les Miles made it no secret this week that Harris will get his fair share of called runs.
“If there's an opportunity for the quarterback to carry the football, we certainly want him to carry it,” Miles said. “We enjoy his abilities to scramble out of the pocket. We think we'll get a couple of those a game, and we also think that there's an opportunity for some dial-'em-up quarterback carry.”
Harris’ struggles last year helped Auburn put the rivalry game away by halftime.
LSU doesn’t need any extra motivation taking on its SEC West rival in Baton Rouge, but Auburn players expect them to be looking for a little bit of retribution.
“I think they’ll be motivated because of that and because they (want to be) 2-0,” Auburn defensive lineman Montravius Adams said. “They’re at home and you usually play your best ball at home. I just think they’ll be motivated in all three factors. Then again, we’re coming for a fight.”