LSU quarterback Brandon Harris reached a career low point in a miserable performance against Auburn in his first and only start of last season.
No. 18 Auburn's Jeremy Johnson can relate to the disappointment. He's trying to rebound from two games where he was plagued by mistakes.
Both teams are banking on their quarterbacks proving those games were aberrations heading into Saturday's game in Baton Rouge. Harris already has a head start against Mississippi State, when he ran well and passed little.
"The term is used a lot, but it's night and day for me since the Auburn game last year," the sophomore said. "We had no pre-snap penalties last week and no turnovers."
No big passing numbers either, with tailback Leonard Fournette carrying much of the offensive load for 13th-ranked LSU (1-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference).
Johnson would settle for a similarly pristine, if modest stat line after throwing five interceptions in his first two games as more than a fill-in starter for Auburn (2-0, 0-0).
Both were highly rated prospects, and few question their talent. Both have also endured growing pains on big stages.
Harris played sparingly after his 3-of-14 passing performance against Auburn last season, when he otherwise had solid numbers.
He passed for 71 yards and rushed for 48 against Mississippi State, but also didn't throw an interception.
"Brandon Harris did just what we asked him to do, made plays with his arm and his feet," LSU coach Les Miles said.
Harris will be at Tiger Stadium this time instead of a hostile environment like last year in Auburn — and last week in Starkville. Auburn was a Top-5 team that romped over LSU 41-7 but limps into this game with Johnson still trying to settle into the job.
Harris felt good about his composure in a "really, really loud" stadium at Mississippi State. He checked out of a number of called passing plays in the game when LSU had 47 runs and 14 passes.
"Everybody knows I can run the football and throw the football," Harris said. "Darrel Williams and Leonard Fournette were running the ball crazy well. There were some blitz looks I don't think we could have picked up. So I checked out. It's just as good if Darrel gets 14 yards or Leonard gets 14 yards."
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn thinks Harris is far more in command of the offense now than in last year's meeting.
"You can just watch him in the game last Saturday and you can tell he's more confident," said Malzahn, who also recruited Harris. "He was in a very tough spot last year when he came in and started here for his first start. He's a very good athlete and has a very good arm. He's a very good quarterback and you can tell he's more comfortable."
Johnson hasn't reached that point yet after being superb in the previous two seasons as Nick Marshall's backup, including a pair of starts.
Those performances and a prototypical quarterback frame raised expectations he's still trying to live up to. Johnson has thrown for three touchdown passes and 373 yards in two games but has also been intercepted five times.
"From my standpoint, I've got to do a better job of putting him in good situations," Malzahn said. "It all works together. He's an extremely talented quarterback. He's going to play well. He's had a couple of growing pains but that's part of it.
"The good thing is we're 2-0 going through some growing pains. We've got a good plan for him moving forward and he'll play better."
Auburn is counting on it.
AP Sports Writer Bryan Lazare contributed to this report from Baton Rouge.
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Posted on Fri, September 18, 2015
by JOHN ZENOR, AP Sports Writer