Let me tell you what scares me: spiders, the dark, talking to girls, talking to boys, talking to anyone and Vigo from Ghostbusters 2. Darkness is kind of all encompassing. When the lights go off, my mind jumps around from terror to terror, every sound is a potential robber and every creak is a potential murderer. So far, in my life, I've been lucky enough that I haven't been murdered. I'm already a light sleeper, so any noise in the night wakes me up from my slumber. I wake up and dread whatever it is my mind deemed worthy enough to give a me a fright and then compose myself enough to fall back asleep. Rinse and repeat. I'm not saying this happens every night or even that I have to fast forward through all of Vigo's scenes in Ghostbusters but I get scared like anyone else. It's normal. You go through this enough times and eventually the feelings pass. The things that scared me when I was 15 don't scare me anymore. The things that scare me now, at 27, won't scare me at 40.
What scares Brandon Harris: the pocket. In 2015, it was his greatest fear and he needs to overcome it to have success in 2015. The pocket is that damn semi-circle of, supposed, protection. The "you shall not pass" barrier that separates him and some hungry defenders. You can tell he's scared of it by how much time he wants to spend in it. I've seen a lot of quarterbacks in my day (says the 27 year old) and some of them just don't want to be there. A lot of times, Harris will see his first read covered and then get scared. He must think that the pocket is hot lava because if he can't throw the ball, rhythmically, when he gets to the end of his drop he tries to get out of there as quick as possible.
A quarterback's best friend is the pocket. Once you leave it, for no specific reason, you are at the behest of a shrinking field and less protection. It's not easy to go make plays outside the pocket. The Johnny Manziel's of the world don't come around often. By the way, Johnny Manziel was also scared of the pocket but used his elite athletic ability to make up for it. For Brandon Harris to improve, he must become comfortable in the pocket so that he can get to his second and third reads in the passing game.
With all that said, there are some things that he did well in 2015. First, he is as slippery a runner as you can get. He isn't a burner or a real powerful runner that you'd want to feature, but he has this one move he uses in the open field that always makes people miss. He does this thing where he gets skinny by rotating his shoulders and doing a "pas de bouree" with his feet and he always just slips by. He makes it look like he's covered in grease and defenders are just sliding off of him. He definitely needs to make better decisions when the play design has him read a defensive linemen but his running skills are a real bonus for the LSU running game.
There isn't a lot of consistency in his passing ability to focus on any one thing. In previous posts in this series, we've been over his lack of accuracy, his bad reads and his slowness in diagnosing coverage. He was inconsistent in most games and nothing really improved or got worse throughout the season. I've picked out some of my favorite throws from this season to provide some hope for 2016.
Dusty to Dupre (TD) - Florida
My favorite throw from this past season. This route concept is called, "dusty" or "double in". It's generally a trips formation concept where the the two outside receivers run 6 yard hook routes and the inside receiver runs a corner route. The read is pretty straightforward. If there is a defender who drops deep to take away the corner route, then the quarterback will come down to his two hook routes and find the open receiver between them. It's one of my favorite red zone plays because it's very good vs. man coverage. Corner routes, in general, are the hardest route to cover. Against man coverage we give ourselves a lot of open grass to get the ball to. On this TD pass to Malachi Dupre, we see that Florida is playing man. Once Harris recognizes that neither of the outside two defenders are going to drop deep to take away the corner route, he knows he is going to be able to pop the ball up to the corner where Dupre makes a very nice adjustment and catches the ball.
Fade to Dural - Alabama
This is an example of how, sometimes, you just need to throw the ball up and let your elite athletes make plays for you. The fade route has taken my mind to great philosophical debates. It's not a high percentage pass but I've come to realize that sometimes you just need to throw the ball up to a great receiver. Fade routes aren't usually intercepted, unless the QB throws it way too far inside, so the only downside is an incomplete pass. On this play, Harris, most likely, makes up his mind before the snap that he is going to throw this route to Dural no matter what. It works here and there are a bevy of other throws like this in 2015 that had no reason working but LSU receivers came down with the ball.
Deep Comeback to Dupre - Alabama
What I like about this play is how you get to see what a cannon Harris has. Yes, he doesn't always use it accurately but, nevertheless, he still has one. For him to roll out and deliver on the money to the opposite sideline is impressive. This throw is made because he is able to set his feet and aim at his target. The kid also throws a very pretty football.
Slant to Dupre - Arkansas
We spoke last time about Harris' problems reading and throwing the slant pattern. Here he delivers a very good ball to Dupre who is running the inside slant. The ball is placed low and away from the defenders. We don't need to be catching slants and taking them for touchdowns every time so putting the ball a little low is not a bad thing. He makes the right read because the defender on top of Dupre is shaded outside so he knows Dupre will win to the inside. He puts the ball on the receiver's body because there are players on the inside who can swoop in underneath and get in the way. The timing is perfect.
Out route to Dupre - Texas A&M
I chose this one because I yearn for the days of Mettenberger, Landry and Beckham. One of Cam Cameron's favorite 3rd down calls in 2013 was a trips double out concept where Landry and Beckham would be in the slots both running out cuts at the same depth. The wide out would clear down the field on a fade route. Mettenberger would then throw based on the reaction of the flat defender. If he sat in between the two out routes, he'd throw to the outside route on the sideline. If the defender ran out to cover that outside route, he would zip it into the inside slot running the other out route. This play against Arkansas is similar. Harris is reading the defender over the outside slot receiver, once he vacates and runs with that receiver, Harris knows he can now throw the out route to Dupre. It's a good read and an accurate throw.
If Harris ever did these things on a consistent basis, LSU would be in much better shape against the tougher teams on their schedule. I charted a lot of good throws against Florida. That was his best game and we can only hope that he plays like that every week in 2016. Of course if he continues to make plays like this one against Alabama, LSU might be in trouble:
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