-- LSU's season-opening performance on offense could not have gone much worse for quarterback Brandon Harris and coaches Les Miles and Cam Cameron.
The stagnant offense that Miles predicted would change instead looked like the same old mess in the 16-14 loss to the Wisconsin Badgers, bringing down heavy criticism on the quarterback and on the men charged with getting more consistency out of the position.
The questions many LSU fans have asked this week concern where LSU's offense will go from here and whether the Tigers' problems are solvable. ESPN SEC writers Alex Scarborough and David Ching break down where Les Miles' squad goes from here.
Scarborough: From afar, this looks like a total mess. The notion of moving Cameron from the field to the press box during games is sort of laughable, to me. I mean, that didn't work the past few years, did it?
But let's start out with your take, David, since you've been right there in Baton Rouge covering the dynamics of Miles, Harris and Cameron for some time now. How would you describe the way those three have interacted? There was a lot of hype about this being the year Harris finally broke through as a passer and how the offense was going to step into the 21st century. But judging by what I saw on Saturday, that absolutely wasn't the case. So what happened?
Ching: Count me among those who expected Harris to take a step forward this year. We've seen flashes that he can be an excellent college quarterback, so I attributed last season's severe peaks and valleys to inexperience. It's certainly possible that progress will come -- his coaches and teammates all say he gets the job done in practice and that he is one of the leaders of the offense -- but it was obvious by the second drive against Wisconsin that Harris was wound far too tight. Like Miles repeatedly said Monday that his QB needs to calm down. He's an upperclassman with a full season of starting experience. I don't envy the pressure Harris is under, but he should be past this stuff by now. That he seems so afraid to make mistakes is a problem that falls directly on his coaches' shoulders.
That said, Harris was not the only problem on Saturday. There are so many ifs from that game: If Harris had made better decisions at times; if the offensive line hadn't played exactly like the inexperienced bunch it is; if the wide receivers -- Malachi Dupre in particular -- could have caught a contested ball or two ... if ANY of those things had happened, LSU probably beats Wisconsin. LSU might even beat Wisconsin by double digits. The problem is that none of those things happened.
Scarborough: No doubt Harris isn't the only problem, but he's the most glaring one. The most bothersome thing to me is why, after two-plus years under Cameron, he hasn't he gotten discernibly better?
At the very least, why can't Cameron and Miles build an offense around what he does well? He throws a good deep ball, runs well and can hit that first read when it's there. You know an offense that has worked well with those qualities at quarterback? Auburn. Gus Malzahn took those attributes with a converted corner in Nick Marshall and nearly won a national title. I'm not saying Cameron should go run a spread/no-huddle, but bring something different to the table and see what happens. Lane Kiffin has transformed Alabama's offense in each of the past two seasons to fit quarterbacks that you could argue weren't nearly as gifted as Harris.
I know we're getting ahead of ourselves by going down this road, but how closely do you feel the Harris' future is tied to Miles? An option, to me, is if this season does go sideways, keep Miles and force him to make a change at coordinator and step away from the offense. It has been done before and it's something that frankly I thought should have been done after last season, but Miles won the power struggle and couldn't be dictated to.
Ching: You touched on something that I don't understand. If you want to recruit spread quarterbacks, run a spread system. That's not what LSU does, nor should it with the nation's best traditional I-formation tailback, Leonard Fournette, in the backfield. I don't buy that LSU needs to make massive changes to its offensive scheme, but it absolutely has to get effective play from its offensive line and quarterback. That didn't happen against Wisconsin.
Even if he doesn't run a wide-open scheme, I truly believe Miles wants more balanced on offense. To that extent, his future is absolutely tied to Harris or backup Danny Etling, should they go that direction.
I believed this past November that if Miles stayed, he would overhaul his offensive approach. That isn't what happened -- I don't think he'll ever submit to any major changes being forced upon him -- and that doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing. LSU just needs to do enough in the passing game to alleviate pressure off the run. If Harris or Etling starts doing that, the Tigers will be fine. If they don't, Miles and Cameron will answer for consistently failing to recruit, and then develop, a quarterback who fits their scheme.