I have come off the ledge. I took a break from watching Brandon Harris and have come back to find that while he was bad, there is room for improvement. There's a chance he becomes the QB LSU needs in 2016. Here is the first post in a series where we will break down each game in 2015 from the passing game standpoint. Today we head back to September 12 when the Tigers traveled to take on Mississippi State
8:21 1st Quarter, 2nd & 11 at the MSU 49 -
The first pass play of the LSU season was a packaged concept featuring a gap run to Leonard Fournette (#7) and a bubble screen to Malachi Dupre (#15). I believe Harris is allowed to read the number of Bulldog players in the box and that number will tell him if he should throw the screen or hand the ball off. LSU has a numbers advantage to the Trips side with the safety too deep to be an immediate threat. Harris makes the right choice to throw the screen but delivers a poor ball. Because of the high ball, Dupre has to jump to make the catch and when he comes down, he doesn't have time to read his blocks. I also want to point out that Travin Dural's (#83) block might not look great but it's not a bad block. The idea that a WR is going to drive his man 5 yards off the line is scrimmage is silly. If the throw was better than Dupre can see that Dural has outside leverage and take the ball up the sideline where, ideally, we would want a bubble screen to go.
7:40 1st Quarter, 3rd & 9 at the MSU 48 -
Simple screen pass to Fournette that is covered. Vadal Alexander (#74) does a pretty poor job is selling the screen. Note that he doesn't even engage the defensive end who then just sticks to Fournette.
7:35 1st Quarter, 1st & 10 at the MSU 38 -
Harris throws a beautiful ball to Dural on a seam route for a touchdown that is called back because of a hold. Tough to tell what the MSU back seven were doing because of the broadcast angle and lack of replay, but the play action to Fournette most likely had the effect of having a safety bite up leaving Dural wide open.
6:17 1st Quarter, 3 & 11 at the MSU 38 -
We move on to a very interesting 3rd and 11 situation. LSU is in a 11 personnel, trips formation to the field, with an isolated WR backside. From the look of it, Harris is starting his progression with his Iso'd receiver, Diarse (#9), running a "Go" route. Against an off-corner and a deep half-field safety taking that route away, he then moves his eyes to his TE, Smith (#89) running a deep in, which is paired with his RB, Williams (#34), running an underneath out route to the flat. This concept puts the weakside linebacker in a bind. Drop too deep and allow an easy completion to the RB (who then has to make his way for first down yardage) or stay shallow and allow a completion, over his head, to the TE. We can see, as the routes develop, the weakside linebacker turn his head and identify the crossing TE. This should take Harris' eyes to the RB for an easy completion. Instead, Harris locks onto the TE and throws the ball. Luckily, that linebacker turns back to look at the QB after the ball is thrown and stops moving his feet for a split second. If not, he's coming underneath the ball and it's an EASY interception. The ball whizzes right by his head and LSU picks up a first down. This should be an interception and it's not a good read.
2:36 1st Quarter, 1st & 10 at the MSU 46 -
Here LSU runs a classic Y-Cross concept off of play-action. Harris will read the isolated WR, Diarse again, running a post route and then move his eyes to the deep crossing pattern from his slot receiver, Dupre. Mississippi State is in a Cover 1 defense and the play-action is supposed to, first, get the safety to bite up so we can throw the post over his head and if not, get the linebackers to step up so we can throw the crossing pattern over their heads. The safety is deep enough to take away the post route (as all middle-of-the-field safeties should) so Harris must, immediately, come down to his second progression, the crossing route. Harris gets to the end of his drop and waits way too long to make a decision. By the time he throws, the safety has already identified the crossing route and is coming down on it. This wasn't that bad read of a read but the time was so off that this easily could have been back to back plays with an interception.
12:48 2nd Quarter, 2nd & 8 at the MSU 48 -
Can't tell the route combinations because of the camera angle but you can see Harris using his athleticism to bounce out of the pocket and make a play with his legs.
12:21 2nd Quarter, 2nd & 21 at the LSU 39 -
Again it's tough to see what's going on here but this might be Harris' best pass of the game. It's a throw on a post over the second-level defenders and under the safety in a very tight window.
9:17 2nd Quarter, 2nd & 3 at the LSU 18 -
This is LSU running the 4-Verts concept where you have four out of the five eligible receivers running straight lines down the field. The fifth eligible receiver runs a route underneath the linebackers to prevent them from getting too deep underneath the downfield receivers. The Bulldogs are in Cover-1 again, which is a good way of stopping this pass concept. All 4 vertical receivers are covered man to man and its turns out to be pretty good coverage. Harris' initial read is to try to get the ball to one of his inside receivers running seam routes. He'll try to throw the ball to the opposite side of the single high safety. In man coverage, there is not a lot of room to throw to the seam routes, with them being plastered by their cover man and the safety lurking over top. It's a good play by Harris to not force the ball in there. Next, he'll move his eyes to the fade route on the weak side of the field. It's easier to work the weakside fade route, rather than the strong side fade route just because it's a shorter throw. This is where young QBs get in trouble. In high school, you could often just throw the ball up in a one-on-one situation with your best receiver against an uncoordinated 16-year-old and make plays. This is the SEC. This corner is in very good position but Harris still decides to chuck it up. I think we can understand that Harris is not at the level, yet, to be comfortable throwing back shoulder fades ala Aaron Rodgers and that's fine, but in this situation, he needs to come off that receiver and find his check down, running the underneath route. Fournette comes through the line of scrimmage and is about to make a move to the near side of the screen in so much space. Harris has a lot of time in the pocket to get to his third read and he doesn't.
7:00 2nd Quarter, 3rd & 10 at the LSU 30 -
Here comes Mississippi State with a nice zone pressure. A favorite of their now former defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. They come with a four-man rush to the strong side but drop everyone into coverage on the weakside. It's a good blitz but it is, surely, something that LSU had seen on film. This is where the lack of trust that Cam and Les have in Harris shows itself. Pre snap, when we look at the weak side of the formation we see a defensive end and a walked up linebacker. This shouldn't worry us because we have the tackle and the TE (who stays in to block). That's two vs. two and were in good shape. The problem arises when Fournette who is also staying in to block goes to the weakside also. Now we have an unnecessary 3-on-2 situation where Fournette ends up blocking no one. I would have checked and changed the protection to put Fournette on the strong side. Harris doesn't have the tools yet to do that. With all that said, the protection isn't terrible as LSU slides the whole line (save for the weakside TE) to the strong side. Really, the strong side tackle, Alexander, needs to fan out more and pick up the blitzing nickelback. He gets caught seeing the blitzing linebacker and stays inside allowing the nickel to come free. It makes more sense for your running back to pick up blitzing secondary players as the angle makes it hard for the tackle to get there. As far as Harris, he actually makes a quick decision and a good throw.
3:00 2nd Quarter, 3rd & 8 at the LSU 27 -
LSU is running a double screen. There is a screen to the bottom of the field to the RB, Guice (#5) and a screen set up to the top of the field to Dupre. Harris should be looking first at the screen that he isn't throwing to and then coming back and hitting the other screen in whichever order his pre-snap read is supposed to take him. Harris wants to throw the RB screen to Guice but stares at him the whole way and the State defenders realize this and jump all over it. This is pee-wee football type stuff. Look off one screen, get the defense to bite and then throw the other. It sucks because we caught the defense in a pretty heavy blitz and this play could have gone for a big gain. I also don't like how Harris is falling backwards on his throw even though no defenders are chasing him.
13:31 3rd Quarter, 3rd & 5 at the LSU 29 -
This is a manageable third down and LSU lines up in the same 2x2 set with the TE to the weakside that they ran 4-Verts in. This time, they're a running classic quick game concept with Slant/Shoot to the weakside and Double Slants to the strong side. Harris has a pre snap key read that tells him which concept to use. He decides to go for the Slant/Shoot combo at the top. It looks like MSU is in some sort of Cover 2- Man type defense and having 2 deep(ish) safeties. The general rule with pairing these two concepts together is you want to work the slant/shoot against a single high safety and the double slants against 2 safeties. Already, that might be a pre-snap mistake, though, I don't know exactly what Cam is teaching. With that said, his read should be just to react and throw based off the decision of the flat defender. Harris makes the right read here, as the flat defense stays home and inside the TE's release. When Harris finishes his drop he should be already throwing the ball to Colin Jeter (#81). He ends up waiting too long and by the time he throws it Jeter is way too close to the sideline to turn up the field and get the necessary yards after catch. If Harris throws it on time, it's probably a first down.
8:28 3rd Quarter, 3rd & 6 at the LSU 49 -
The Bulldogs come with the same zone pressure as detailed a few plays before. It's picked up very well by the O-line although the bad angle that the nickelback has to take helps us out a lot. Harris is able to find his first read and throws a nice ball to Dural on the in route. There's a huge bust in the MSU secondary and Dupre finds himself wide open down the field but Dural was Harris' first read so you can't get too up in arms about it.
5:21 3rd Quarter, 1st & 10 at the LSU 46 -
Easy-peezy screen pass to Dural and a good, accurate throw by Harris. Put the ball in the hands of the LSU receivers and they can go to work.
4:18 3rd Quarter, 3rd & 6 at the 50 -
LSU is going to run a Post/Wheel combination by the receiver and TE. The TE gets open and has leverage down the field. Harris does a great job stepping up in the pocket but the ball is just poorly thrown. It's a good read, he's just gotta get the ball down the field and in front of the receiver. This could have been a big play.
5:47 4th Quarter, 3rd & 7 at the MSU 43 -
LSU will split out two receivers to the top side of the screen and run the wide out on a hitch and the slot on a seam route. MSU is in cover-1 and we've talked about how hard it is to throw seam routes against cover-1. It's man coverage across the board with off corners. Harris tries to look off the safety, can't, and still throws the ball down the field into double coverage. This should have been his 3rd interception of the game, really. We have a hitch throw for a first down to the top side WR that Harris never gets to in his progression and really should have. This is a three-man route concept and at this level you should be able to get to your third progression.