LSU football heads into spring practice with true open competition at QB

LSU will return to the football field for spring practice beginning on March 11. In the meantime, SEC Country is preparing for those workouts by previewing each position group as it stands after National Signing Day. We start, of course, with quarterbacks.

LSU quarterback depth chart

  • Sophomore Myles Brennan
  • Redshirt freshman Lowell Narcisse
  • Junior Justin McMillan

Departures and arrivals

  • Departure: Danny Etling (graduation)
  • Arrival: N/A

The battle

Heading into spring practice, no position battle is more intriguing than the competition between sophomore Myles Brennan and redshirt freshman Lowell Narcisse to run the offense. They came in as members of the same recruiting class, both prize commits and both viewed as potential saviors of the program. Now it’s their turn to fight for the lead.

LSU-LSU football-Myles Brennan-Lowell Narcisse
LSU quarterbacks Myles Brennan (15) and Lowell Narcisse (2) together at practice. (Sam Spiegelman/SEC Country)

Think of Brennan and Narcisse as a fight between an eagle and a shark: It’s a really cool thing to imagine, but when you’re dealing with animals this different you’re bound to encounter some complications. Brennan is an eagle, deadly through the air and predisposed to pick you apart with precise purpose but out of his element on the ground. Narcisse is a shark, deadly in motion and feared in his environment but if he stops moving, bad things might happen.

With two quarterbacks so drastically different in skill set, there’s a chance LSU’s offense suffers from a bit of schizophrenia this spring. With Brennan on the field, expect a drop-back spread, one that takes advantage of the Tigers’ 10 scholarship receivers listed at 6-foot or taller. With Narcisse behind center, expect more of a spread-option offense, one that moves the pocket and uses the quarterback as a weapon in the run game, not just as a thrower.

It’s impossible to say whether Brennan or Narcisse has an advantage right now. Brennan has the experiential edge by virtue of his 24 pass attempts in 2017. But Narcisse may have the philosophical advantage; LSU coach Ed Orgeron has said outright numerous times he would like LSU to rely on a dual-threat quarterback.

Barring an unreal performance by either of these competitors, this battle is unlikely to be resolved in spring. The practices should be telling, and the spring game should set the tone for the summer, but this choice is too important for new offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger to base on 15 days of practice. Expect this battle to roll over into fall camp.

The forgotten one

Justin McMillan has been passed over more times than once as an LSU quarterback, and it looks as if he’ll be passed over once again. The highlights of his first three seasons in Baton Rouge were as follows:

  • 2015: Redshirting
  • 2016: Attempting a pass vs. Jacksonville State
  • 2017: Carrying once versus Auburn

And that is McMillan’s complete statistical history as a Fightin’ Tiger. He reportedly pushed senior Danny Etling for the starting job in spring of 2017, but that push never came to fruition. When the fall rolled around, Etling retained his starting job and Brennan arrived to be his backup. McMillan was relegated to the sidelines. Offensive coordinator Matt Canada built a package for McMillan to be LSU’s wildcat quarterback, but he called McMillan’s number just one time, resulting in a 1-yard loss against Auburn.

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Junior quarterback Justin McMillan (Sam Spiegelman/SEC Country)

This isn’t to say McMillan has no shot in the competition. He’s in the room. If he proves he’s the best player, he’ll start. But speaking based off historical evidence, this doesn’t seem like a job McMillan will win. If he couldn’t beat out Etling or Brandon Harris, he’s not likely to beat out Brennan or Narcisse either.

Which is nothing against him. Teams need backup quarterbacks. They serve a vital purpose in practice and on game days. It just might not be the life he envisioned when he signed.

Numbers never lie

Stat of the day: 58.3 percent

Brennan completed 14 of his 24 pass attempts in 2017, good for a 58.3 percent completion percentage. Danny Etling, by comparison, completed 60 percent of his passes. But a lower completion percentage might be a product of the way Brennan plays.

Thirteen SEC quarterbacks attempted at least 15 passes per team game played in 2017, and played in 75 percent of team games. Of those 13, seven had completion percentages better than Brennan and six were worse. The seven better included your high-efficiency, low-risk passers: Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham, Georgia’s Jake Fromm, Alabama’s Jalen Hurts and Etling to name a few. Below him were the low-efficiency, high-risk passers: Missouri’s Drew Lock, Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald and Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond, for example.

Lock might be the prototype for the kind of passer Brennan needs to be. Lock attempted 419 passes in 2017, 128 more attempts than Fromm in two fewer games. As a result, he threw 177 incomplete passes and a league-high 13 interceptions. But he also led the SEC with 3,964 yards and 44 touchdowns.

Maybe the better comparison is 2012 Zach Mettenberger. In his first year as LSU’s starting quarterback, Mettenberger attempted 352 passes, completing 58.8 percent of them for 2,609 yards and 12 touchdowns. Those aren’t player of the year numbers. Chances are with LSU’s questions at running back, 12 touchdowns will underwhelm to a point of fans calling for Narcisse. But that’s a comparison to strive for in Year 1 if Brennan is the guy. If he can put up a baseline similar to Mettenberger’s and grow from there, he could be in a good position heading into Year 2.

The prediction

We won’t learn much this spring. Brennan and Narcisse will exit the spring game tighter in competition than they entered it. Half the fan base will clamor for Brennan and a spread offense, still soured by the run-heavy 1950s attack consistent of the Les Miles era. The other half will beg for Narcisse, wanting the type of dual-threat quarterback schools such as Clemson, Auburn and Ohio State have proven give Alabama trouble.

But fan wishes won’t matter. Not in the spring at least. This competition will pass from the spring into the summer unresolved.

The post LSU football heads into spring practice with true open competition at QB appeared first on SEC Country.

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