Contests between LSU and Auburn have been the setting for several strange occurrences.
A crowd eruption registering as an earthquake, a quarterback throwing five interceptions in the fourth quarter, a kicker missing five field goals and a former stadium burning to the ground are just a few of the historic moments to take place in the relatively short history of the rivalry.
When true freshman Brandon Harris takes the field in Jordan-Hare Stadium as LSU’s starting quarterback, he will have a chance to make his mark on the storied rivalry. Whether this mark will be positive or negative is yet to be seen, but he undoubtedly earned LSU coach Les Miles’ attention after leading No. 15 LSU (4-1, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) to seven consecutive touchdown drives against New Mexico State.
“A very nice job,” Miles said at his weekly press luncheon Monday. “He threw the ball well and made good decisions. It stands to reason that he would get first snaps in the next game [against Auburn].”
While the direct approach of Miles’ announcement took many off guard, the decision to start Harris against No. 5 Auburn (4-0, 1-0 SEC) was obvious.
Harris has led the Tigers on 19 drives. These have resulted in 13 touchdowns, three punts, two turnovers and a kneel to end the half.
That means a whopping 68.4 percent of LSU’s drives led by Brandon Harris ended with celebrations in the end zone and just 26.3 percent resulted in the opposing team getting the ball back.
In comparison, one third of drives led by sophomore quarterback Anthony Jennings have resulted in either touchdowns or field goals while nearly half have ended with punts.
LSU freshman wide receiver John Diarse said the announcement of Harris’ promotion came as no surprise to the offense.
“Those are the types of things we expect,” Diarse said. “[Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron] always tells us ‘next man up’, and he definitely capitalized on his opportunities. This is something we all kind of expected.”
Harris is far for the sole member of the LSU football team walking into unknown territory this weekend. He is just one of five freshmen on offense expected to receive significant playing time in their first true road game this weekend.
But Miles seemed far from concerned about his young team’s ability to handle a hostile environment.
“One thing about our guys is they have been in those kind of arenas really, since they were seven, eight years old,” Miles said. “The noise is, in my opinion, a distraction and the game is certainly the piece that needs to be focused on. I think our guys will get that.”
Sophomore Travin Dural, who played in 12 games and caught seven passes last season, represents LSU’s most veteran wide receiver this season.
He said there will likely be an adjustment period for the freshmen playing their first road contest, but he remained confident they would rise to the occasion.
“If you prepare yourself, there is nothing they can throw at you that’s going to shock you,” Dural said. “I’m just trying to preach to those guys, you’re going to experience something you’ve never experienced before. You just have to take it on and make plays.”
LSU’s offense may have to carry a larger load in this edition of its rivalry game against Auburn as its historically stout defense has struggled to stop the run early this season.
Partly due to injury and inexperience at defensive tackle, LSU has given up 808 rushing yards (161.6 per game) placing it at No. 12 in the SEC.
And while LSU’s pass defense sits at the top of the SEC after allowing just 130.6 yards per game through the air, it was not enough to keep junior Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott from becoming an instant Heisman Trophy contender with 373 all-purpose yards and three total touchdowns in a night game at Tiger Stadium.
“We have to communicate better and watch more film” said sophomore cornerback Tre’Davious White. “If you listen to a coach like [defensive coordinator] John Chavis, he’ll put you in the best position to make plays.”
For more than 20 years, LSU and Auburn have provided fans of both programs with unforgettable moments. This year, it will provide a young LSU squad with an opportunity to help define what kind of team it currently is and will become in the future.
“I think it brings a really intriguing component to this game,” Miles said. Our young guys will look to play big and play like [LSU] Tigers on the road.”