By this point, we’re all used to the line that Brandon Harris needs to improve for LSU to contend for the national title. While his struggles last season are wildly overstated, it’s a point not entirely without merit. Even by his own admission, Harris has to play better.
So I don’t really mind every single LSU preview focuses on the quarterback because, hey, it’s an easy talking point and it helps that there is some basis in fact. Harris has to play better. Then again, the list of teams who can survive poor QB play is pretty short.
But Deadspin’s LSU preview blew so far past that standard that it actually caused me to pause and consider its truly stunning intellectual dishonesty. I’m pretty sure the article is so terrible that it will cause Gawker to declare bankruptcy and literally go out of business.*
*Yeah, cheap shot on Gawker, a publication which rose to prominence on a business model based entirely on cheap shots and invasion of privacy. This is the first of three cheap shots at Gawker. You’ve been warned.
Let’s just start with the title: “Leonard Fournette Is Great, But LSU Needs More From Its Quarterback.” I mean, we’re not getting off to the best start here. For the record, LSU ranked 38th in yards/attempt and 65th in passer rating. Neither ranking is blow your doors off great, but it also isn’t run for the hills level of panic. I pulled these numbers from the invaluable site, cfbstats.com. I know the author of the piece is aware of this site, as he’ll reference it later. So he surely ran across these numbers in the fifteen seconds of perusing the site he called research.
If he had taken the effort to do about one full minute’s worth of research, he might have stumbled upon some advanced stats, like the S&P+ ratings which adjusts for opponents and pace. LSU ranked 37th in passing S&P+. Again, not setting the world on fire, but hardly leap for the panic button results. I think Harris needs to improve as well, but it’s not priority one.
That’s the worst part. He came so close to touching the face of God. The article even references the true problem which sunk the season last November. Let’s look at his friggin’ lede:
Wow. LSU’s vaunted defense allowed 99 points in three games, all losses. So you know what I’m gonna do? I’m gonna talk about how terrible the quarterback is. Will I mention that Harris suffered a sports hernia in the Alabama game, which surely limited his abilities during this stretch of November? Of course not! That require either paying attention or a degree of honesty that Gawker has never exactly prided itself on.*
*Yet another cheap shot at Gawker. That’s two. Find my nude photos, you assholes. I’m not afraid of you. Otherwise, suck it up.
LSU’s defense, particularly its pass defense, was a huge problem last year. LSU ranked 27th in defensive S&P+, which is not good enough for a team that considers defense its calling card. LSU needs its defense to be great, and it was merely good, and it was downright terrible in November as it allowed 30, 31, and then 38 points in three consecutive losses.
Always a defense-first team, LSU only held one team to single digits all season (thank God for Texas A&M), and only TWO teams under 20 points (the second being Mississippi St, who scored 19). LSU ranked 41st in scoring defense, which is a problem. But oh no, let’s blame it all on Brandon Harris. Well, I’m sure he has an air tight case against him:
Here’s their chart:
Yes, it is bad. But notice how the numbers get suddenly worse at the halfway point? Gee, I wish there was, like, an injury or something that had been publicly disclosed which could account for his decline in production. Harris went from clearing 60% in 4 of his first 6 games to only reaching 60% once over the last 6.
This is also the worst line on Harris’ resume. He had a terrible completion percentage. Know what he was good at? Pretty much everything else. He ranked 5th in the SEC in yards/attempt and 7th in passer rating. The only returning starter to perform better was Chad Kelly (who, admittedly, is on another planet of production).
But compare Harris to the near universally lauded Joshua Dobbs, who many are hinging Tennessee’s chances on. Harris had a better passer rating, 130.49 to 127.01, though frankly, pretty similar. The big difference is yards/attempt, in which Harris holds a 7.8 to 6.7 edge. That’s huge. Sure, Dobbs completes more checkdown passes. Harris gains more yards, 179.8 yards/game to 176.2 on 68 less pass attempts.
Oh, but you weren’t finished? By all means, continue…
You can tell someone is trying to mislead you when the copy a chart and only copy one column, and then complain about the missing data. Look, jackass. You copied the info. What? You couldn’t copy three whole columns?
First off, a two-to-one TD/INT ratio is pretty good. Jake Coker was at 21/8, and he won a national title. Had he copied the full chart, the reader would have noticed that there were a heck of a lot of zeroes in the “INT” column. That’s because Brandon Harris didn’t throw his first pick until November 7th. This is what we like to refer to as a positive data point, but one that the writer intentionally withholds from the reader, and then attempts to argue that it is a negative.
Yeah, Harris should throw for some more touchdowns. But oh my God, he had three games in which he didn’t throw for a TD! That sounds terrible! Sure it does, as the author wanted it to, as he threw out a stat and provided no context.
Know who also had three games without throwing for a touchdown? The aforementioned national title winning Jake Coker. Dak Prescott, who was a pretty good QB if you remember, had 2 games without throwing for a TD. Joshua Dobbs had FIVE. OK, Chad Kelly had zero. I concede that Brandon Harris is not nearly as good as the Heisman contender.
I can see why national writers rationalize Harris being this terrible anchor on LSU’s team. It’s an easy narrative, and it sure beats doing research. Notice that he now references Western Kentucky as a good game, which is a game in which Harris threw for 11/20. So, after bashing him for his 53.6% completion percentage, he praised the game in which he threw for 55%. Which sort of shows the value of completion percentage, even to the author.
Boy, I can’t wait to see what sort of terrible arguments Deadpsin makes next year in its preview. Oh, wait. Yeah, that was another cheap shot.