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The game manager

LSU quarterback Brandon Harris embraces the hate, expectations and skepticism heading into 2016

Story by 225 magazine August 1st, 2016

By Andrew Alexander
photos by Chris Parent / COURTESY LSU Athletics

College football pundits often throw around the term “game manager.”

It’s a disdainful description for a quarterback who wins despite his own poor statistics and is often supported by a talented rushing attack and strong defense.

LSU quarterback Brandon Harris embraces the moniker.

“Every guy in the NFL is a game manager,” Harris says. “Your job is to manage the game and make throws when asked to do so. Other than that, no quarterback you see in the NFL is playing hero ball. If you’re not managing the game, you’re losing the game.”

Harris is entering his junior season as a returning starting quarterback, something LSU has lacked since Zach Mettenberger started in 2012-2013. Skepticism of Harris’ ability to lead the Tigers adequately to a Southeastern Conference or national championship is somewhat warranted. Harris managed LSU to a 7-0 record and No. 2 ranking in the country through October last season. Then the Tigers visited Tuscaloosa and were manhandled by the Crimson Tide, 30-16. It was the first of three straight November losses.

Harris admits that three-game losing streak in 2015 was the lowest point of his LSU career. It was even worse than his nightmarish first career start at Auburn in 2014, in which the other SEC West Tigers trounced LSU 41-7. The then-freshman Harris completed just three of 14 passes for a paltry 58 yards that game.

At the very least, Harris has come a long way since his freshman year. “We got the opportunity to play Auburn again this past season,” he says. “I don’t like to say there was any revenge, but it felt good to get that win against Auburn. It felt like I had to hear about [the 2014 game] entirely way too much.”

“People say I can’t throw ... I feel like I probably throw the ball better than any college quarterback in college football. I don’t feel like anybody has my talent.”

—Brandon Harris

One line of thinking has become popular among LSU fans during the past few years of the Les Miles era:

If only LSU football could figure out how to be successful at the quarterback position, it could have a really special season—and maybe even win the national championship.

The Mad Hatter has routinely pulled in top recruiting classes and established LSU as an NFL player factory. But in the minds of many skeptics, Miles has consistently underachieved on Saturdays the past few seasons.

“A lot of people that have said that … I guarantee they don’t know anything about football,” Harris says.

Harris’ declaration is bold, but maybe not far off. The intricacies of LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s playbook, which features a pro-style NFL system as opposed to the popular up-tempo spread offense, are often misunderstood, whether you’re an armchair quarterback or a young football player.

The system can be daunting for incoming freshmen quarterbacks. In hindsight it’s evident that Harris and his predecessor Anthony Jennings were thrust into the quarterback position before they fully understood that style of offense.

This fall, the Tigers will be led by an upperclassman quarterback with previous starting experience for the first time since the 2013 season, but there are still questions to be answered.

Critics of Miles—even Harris himself—point to LSU’s lackluster 0-5 record against Alabama since the Tigers’ last victory in 2011.

“I always thought that we’ve beaten ourselves in the past,” Harris says about LSU’s current losing streak to the Crimson Tide. “That all goes back to philosophy and execution.”

Philosophy and execution have been buzzwords around this program during the past several seasons, as the ratio of pass-to-run plays the Tigers should employ each Saturday is constantly debated. Most agree the Tigers need to operate a more balanced attack that features an increased role for the passing game.

The Tigers’ passing attack ranked 105th in the NCAA last season, averaging 180.4 yards per game. On the other hand, LSU ranked seventh in the country in rushing offense last season, averaging 256.8 yards per game.

But a team’s philosophy means little if its players cannot adequately execute the game plan on the field.

Harris—who in 2015 completed 149 of 277 passes for 2,165 yards, with 13 touchdowns and six interceptions—believes LSU’s offensive game plan is “a winning formula.”

“If we go out there, and we do things that we know we’re capable of doing and things that we’ve been coached to do, we can easily pave the way for what we want to do and accomplish all the goals that we want to accomplish this season,” he says.

“When we open up against Wisconsin, I think we’ll shut a lot of people up.”


The LSU quarterback position comes with plenty of scrutiny.

The fate of a fan base that’s 100,000 strong rests on a 20-year-old’s shoulders. It’s a burden too great for most college students. Harris relishes this burden, invites the skeptics and welcomes the comments he receives from the haters.

“I don’t feel any pressure,” he says. “I’ve worked my tail off this offseason. I just have a feeling that people are going to change their perceptions once they see me this upcoming season. I laugh and I laugh all the time. I hear it all. People say I can’t throw, which I feel like I probably throw the ball better than any college quarterback in college football. I don’t feel like anybody has my talent.”

In an effort to increase his durability and strength for the upcoming season, the junior quarterback has bulked up to 220 pounds, nearly 20 pounds heavier than his 2015 season playing weight.

Harris will have the chance to showcase his talent this season, with the Tigers quickly emerging as a favorite to represent the SEC in the third College Football Playoffs.

Purple and gold cynics dismiss the notion that LSU’s offense will evolve into a balanced attack under Miles or that Harris truly possesses the skills necessary to lead the Tigers to championships.

The skepticism of the masses does little to faze Harris. He believes in his tremendous arm strength, but at the same time is intelligent enough to realize he doesn’t have to carry a team with talented players surrounding him and a team strategy that values strong defense and a running game. He’s focused on being the game manager LSU needs to lead the college football powerhouse back to gridiron glory.

“There are a lot of people doubting not only my ability, but this team’s ability,” Harris says. “When we open up against Wisconsin, I think we’ll shut a lot of people up.”