If you were wondering how long it would take for the reigning Heisman Trophy winner to storm back to the Heisman Trophy discussion in 2017, the answer was two games.
After a close call in Indianapolis a week ago against Purdue, Lamar Jackson accounted for six touchdowns to help No. 17 Louisville (2-0, 1-0 ACC) pull away for a road win against North Carolina (0-2, 0-1 ACC). The Cardinals and Tar Heels went back and forth for much of the afternoon, but a 20-7 fourth quarter saw the Cardinals pulls away for the 47-35 victory.
Jackson passed for 393 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. He also finished the day with 132 rushing yards and three more touchdowns. While he had some questionable moments, Jackson proved once again that when he is at his best, he is incredibly good.
UNC switched quarterbacks in the second half, moving on from Chazz Surratt in the first half to LSU transfer Brandon Harris in the second. Surratt played well in the first half, completing 12 of 14 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns, but a possible ankle injury left him on the sideline after halftime. Haris had a fine afternoon with 216 passing yards and a touchdown. UNC receiver Austin Proehl‘s eight catches for 120 yards was impressive, but Louisville receiver Jaylen Smith led all players with 183 receiving yards, including a 75-yard bomb from Jackson.
Louisville will finally get to play a home game next week, and it will be a big one. The Cardinals welcome Clemson to town in a big time ACC Atlantic Division matchup. Clemson took last year’s meeting en route to the ACC and national championship, although Jackson piled up big numbers against the Tigers.
UNC will be on the road next week to play at Old Dominion of Conference USA.
Former LSU quarterback Brandon Harris has found himself a new home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Harris announced via Facebook and Twitter he has chosen to commit to North Carolina.
“Obviously, it has been an important time for me, looking for a great situation and another opportunity to grow as a young man and as a student as well as a football player,” Harris said in his statement. “After my [official] visit this weekend to the University of North Carolina, I’m going to get that opportunity. With that being said, I’m fully committed to UNC this upcoming year and I look forward to the opportunity to play for coach [Larry Fedora] and UNC.”
Harris will be eligible to play for UNC immediately this fall after graduating from LSU this summer, and the timing may not be better for Harris. UNC is losing its starting quarterback (Mitch Trubisky) to the NFL and has a wide open spot to fill in the starting lineup as a result. But the job will not automatically go to Harris upon his arrival at UNC after missing out on spring practices at North Carolina.
Harris played in just four games last season, in which he passed for 139 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions. Since the season-opener against Wisconsin, Harris was reduced to backup duty and did not play in any of LSU’s seven final games of the 2016 season, including the bowl game against Louisville. Harris announced his decision to transfer in February, which was pretty much expected given how last season played out amid a coaching change.
Two games into the college football season, LSU head coach Les Miles needed to switch things up on offense. That meant pulling quarterback Brandon Harris off the field and sending Purdue transfer Danny Etling out to see what he could do with the Tigers. It seemed to work quite well, albeit against Jacksonville State from the FCS ranks, but Miles is not ready to proclaim any change in his team’s quarterback status just yet.
“We’re not turning our back to competition in any way,” Miles said, according to Gridiron Now. “At that position, I will not name a starter until I talk to my team.”
Etling is entering some familiar territory it would seem. At Purdue, Etling experienced what it is like to both take another player’s job and lose it, so he certainly knows how Harris must be feeling after a frustrating start to the season. Fans may be clamoring for the former Boilermaker to come in and save the season for LSU before a shot at a SEC title and playoff appearance slip away, but there is no guarantee Etling will be able to run the offense as smoothly as he did at times Saturday night once LSU enters SEC play. Jacksonville State may be one of the better FCS programs, but they are a long way from the likes of Alabama and Ole Miss and Texas A&M.
Miles has come to the defense of Harris already this season, so his perceived reluctance to declare a quarterback change at this point is not to be unexpected. Miles has suggested Harris has a problem knocking off some rough moments in a game but continues to trust Harris can do some good things for his offense. What remains to be seen is whether or not Miles allows Harris many more opportunities to prove he can still run the offense before the pressure to give Etling more snaps reaches a boiling point.
The last thing Miles can afford to do is let quarterback indecision drag on to a point where it takes a season off track before it ever truly is given a chance to roll. LSU may already have a loss, but there is still time to recover, so long as Miles figures out what to do at quarterback before it is too late.
When LSU needed a spark on offense, Les Miles handed the offense over to Purdue transfer quarterback Danny Etling. Etling wasted little time taking advantage of the opportunity, and Miles may find it difficult to take it back in hopes of seeing Brandon Harris getting off to a good start again. Sure, it was only one game against a (very good) FCS opponent in Jacksonville State, but Etling was cheered when he came in and deemed a hero when he left the field after leading LSU to a 34-13 victory Saturday night.
Taking a job away from a starter is nothing to be worried about in college football, because it is what every player should aim to do. Etling, however, knows what it is like to be a starter losing the job after constant struggles, so he has a unique perspective on what Harris is experiencing right now.
“I empathize a lot with him,” Etling said after the game Saturday night, per ESPN. “It’s not a fun position. It’s terrible and it’s something that maybe only quarterbacks can understand, and it’s something that I definitely understand. I really wouldn’t wish it upon anyone.”
Etling was once the starting quarterback at Purdue, taking the job from Rob Henry in October 2013 after the Boilermakers struggled on offense and took a loss against Northern Illinois. Etling had come in to replace Henry in that loss and Purdue head coach Darrell Hazell made the decision to stick with Etling moving forward in Big Ten play. A year later, after being named the starting quarterback for the season, Hazell benched Etling and replaced him with Austin Appleby. Appleby went on to be named Purdue’s starting quarterback for the 2015 season as well, while Etling saw the writing on the wall and was granted a release from his scholarship to pursue other opportunities. After weighing his options, the decision was made to attend LSU. After sitting out the 2015 season, Etling is now taking advantage of his second chance in college football, for now at least.
Miles said after the previous week’s loss to Wisconsin that Harris can struggle to knock off a shaky start. Whether Miles gives Harris another chance remains to be seen. For now, Etling should be the quarterback for LSU’s offense until proven otherwise. LSU opens SEC play this week at home against Mississippi State.
Helmet sticker to ESPN.
LSU should be counted on to play good defense this season. The running game should still be strong as well. The one constant weakness in any team coached by Les Miles appears to come at the most important position there is in football; quarterback. Despite a rough opener on the road against Wisconsin, LSU head coach Les Miles is still giving off a public showing of support for his starting quarterback Brandon Harris.
That’s important too. When a quarterback struggles, it is stressful for the team. The quarterbacks shoulders much of the blame for a loss. It comes with the territory, no matter how skilled you are. Harris has taken his lumps from time to time as LSU’s quarterback, and this week has been no different after tossing an interception to help seal a Wisconsin victory in Lambeau Field over the weekend. Asked about his quarterback, Miles came to his defense.
“He’s talented and capable [of] decision making and really relaxing and letting the game come to him,” Miles said Wednesday. “At times he struggles there.”
Harris has a knack for getting off to a slow start and never really catching up. Slow starts have been a problem for Harris and LSU, and it may have helped contribute to a loss in Wisconsin over the weekend. Miles knows Harris has trouble at times, but he is not ready to put him on the sideline just yet, because he feels Harris can still get on track. Miles also isn’t putting all of the blame on his quarterback.
“It was at least early in the game, and I said, ‘OK, now relax and just realize it’s the same throw that you’ve been making. Just calm down.’ I recognize that he’s got to still come,” Miles said. “We all do. And he doesn’t have a lifetime to do it, and there are other quarterbacks to go to.”
As Harris has struggled, LSU fans have clamored for Miles to make a switch and go with former Purdue quarterback Danny Etling. Etling has plenty of starting experience at Purdue and may be a breath of fresh air for the Tigers should it come to that point for Miles. The question is how long is the leash Miles has Harris attached to. Would a sloppy performance against FCS Jacksonville State be enough to make a switch and see what Etling can do? There is no guarantee the offense will run better with Etling at quarterback, of course. LSU’s offensive line struggled against the Badgers and this unit will be tested in division play with Ole Miss and Alabama and Texas A&M. It might not matter who is under center for LSU because of that.
But like any top-paid coach, Miles has to figure out what to do at quarterback if LSU is going to rebound and still have a chance of making a run at the SEC title and perhaps a spot in the playoff before it is too late.