BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The mere sight of Brandon Harris taking the field for LSU brought a cascade of cheers from Tigers fans who had made it clear they wanted to see more of the freshman quarterback.
The way he played elicited full-throated roars, and will inevitably bring calls for Harris to get the start when LSU returns to Southeastern Conference play at No. 5 Auburn next week.
Harris led LSU to touchdowns on each of his seven series after relieving struggling sophomore Anthony Jennings, and the 17th-ranked Tigers overwhelmed New Mexico State 63-7 on Saturday night.
Harris was 11 of 14 for 178 yards and three touchdowns — a statistical line that stood in stark contrast to that of Jennings, whose seven series under center comprised arguably his worst night as a Tiger. Jennings completed two of five passes for 11 yards and no TDs while turning the ball over three times on two interceptions and a fumble.
Coach Les Miles had high praise for Harris, while adding that Jennings will “have to get better,” but stressed that he expected LSU to need both quarterbacks and declined to answer a question about who he thought should start at Auburn next weekend.
“We’re not going to operate that way,” Miles said. “We’ve kind of always done things in a measured fashion and we’ll go back and look at the film and communicate with our team.”
Andrew Allen had a 79-yard touchdown run for New Mexico State (2-3).
Despite four first-quarter turnovers, LSU (4-1) had an early 14-0 lead, thanks in part to a defensive score by sophomore linebacker Kendell Beckwith on a 27-yard interception return of Tyler Rodgers’ deflected pass.
Entering the game in the second quarter, Harris let LSU’s power running game do much of the work. Still, eight of his first nine passes were completions, and three of them went for touchdowns.
The righty’s most impressive throw came as he scrambled to his left, hitting fellow freshman Malachi Dupre with a 27-yard scoring strike. His other TD tosses went for 10 yards to Travin Dural and 3 yards to fullback Melvin Jones.
Freshman running back Leonard Fournette had his first 100-yard game, finishing with 122 yards and two TDs rushing, including a 17-yard run in which he shed tacklers near the line of scrimmage before racing free to his right.
The calls for Harris built to a crescendo following LSU’s first loss of the season to Mississippi State the previous week, a game in which Jennings also struggled, although Miles seemed to think execution across the offense had a lot to do with the quarterback’s performance.
Harris, however, came into the game in the fourth quarter and led a pair of quick touchdown drives inside the final two minutes, and then got LSU in range for a Hail Mary heave which, if successful, would have made for a miraculous comeback in a game that the Tigers trailed 34-10 early in the third quarter.
Since Harris entered the game against the Bulldogs, he is 17 of 23 for 318 yards and five touchdowns against only one interception, which came on his Hail Mary attempt at the end of the Tigers’ 34-29 loss to Mississippi State.
His touchdown runs came from 1 and 2 yards out, but the second run seemed to be the result of improvisation after he bobbled a high shotgun snap. To get to the end zone, he bowled his way through a heavy hit.
LSU finished with 363 yards rushing, including Terrence Magee’s first TD of the season on an 11-yard run. The Tigers’ 63 points tied the highest output by LSU since Miles took over as coach in 2005.
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