Harris growing at QB for Tigers
By MARQ BURNETT
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Outside of the tenacious running of Heisman Trophy front-runner Leonard Fournette, one of the biggest reasons for LSU's offensive success this season has been the efficient play of sophomore quarterback Brandon Harris.
Harris is the only starting quarterback in the SEC without an interception. When it comes to quarterbacks who have started every game this season, Harris is the only quarterback in the country who has not throw an interception.
He's also second in the SEC with a quarterback efficiency rating of 153.85.
"The guy has not played like a first-year (starting) quarterback at all," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "He's executed very well. He's taken care of the ball, and he hasn't thrown any interceptions. Has made a lot of big plays. Can scramble, can keep plays alive, keep his eyes down the field and make plays as well as run it. This year he has certainly developed into an outstanding player for them, especially in terms of executing what they do extremely well."
Harris will lead No. 2-ranked LSU (7-0, 4-0 SEC) into Tuscaloosa for a primetime matchup with No. 4 Alabama (7-1, 4-1 SEC) on Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. on CBS.
LSU coach Les Miles attributed Harris' growth this season to him being "much more of a student of the game."
"Our quarterback has done
a great job of mastering the things that (offensive coordinator) coach (Cam) Cameron has put before him," Miles said on the SEC coaches teleconference. "He's really taken an aggressive learning and leadership role. In other words, he learns the throw. He learns the style of throw, he learns the read and he learns those things that need to take place in order to make each route successful."
Against Alabama, Harris will face a ball-hawking secondary that is tied for the SEC lead with 12 interceptions. The Tide is one of two teams in the country with four interception returns for touchdowns.
The Tide also features one of the country's best pass rushes with 27 sacks on the season. That's No. 1 in the SEC.
LSU's top two receiving targets, Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural, have combined for 823 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. Forty-five of Harris' 75 completions have gone to those two.
"They're both good-sized guys, and they've got really good speed," Saban said. "They're very athletic. They catch the ball consistently and I think both guys have improved tremendously but we had a lot of respect for them when we played them last year. And that's only increased because their production this year has been pretty exceptional."
With the threat of Fournette and the running game forcing teams to load the box, more throwing lanes have opened up for Harris and his receivers.
Saban praised the Tigers for the ability to make "explosive plays" against eight-man defensive fronts. Stopping Fournette is paramount, but the secondary can't fall asleep on the backend and allow LSU's receivers to get behind them.
"I think the key to the drill is, you have to be able to stop the run but you can't give them big plays," Saban said. "If you give them big plays, that's when they score lots of points and I think when you get good defensive and special teams groups like they have, it's hard to make that up. So everybody has to be very disciplined in doing their job against a team like this."
-- Contact Anniston Star Sports Writer Marq Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @Marq_Burnett.