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Friday, 08 August 2008 18:18
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 BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) -One of the leading candidates to start at quarterback for mighty LSU is known more for enrolling at Harvard than his ability to throw a football.
The total of Andrew Hatch's game experience since he transferred to LSU last year is a few minutes of unremarkable mop-up duty. His top competition for the job is also his golfing buddy, redshirt freshman Jarrett Lee, who has yet to take a snap in a real game.
This wasn't the way it was supposed to play out in Baton Rouge this year, but Les Miles lost confidence in Ryan Perrilloux's ability to show up for class and stay out of trouble, so he sent the electrifying junior packing.
The result is a hole at the most important position on the field for a team that otherwise seems very capable of defending its national title. Worried, Tigers? Nope.
``We've got so much talent surrounding the quarterback, it's going to be hard for them to lose a game,'' said LSU defensive end Tyson Jackson. ``With the coaching staff we have, we can make adjustments throughout the game and put our quarterbacks in the best position possible. ... We'll be fine.''
Before dismissing Jackson as delusional, consider this: The last two times the Tigers won a BCS title - the 2003 and 2007 seasons - they did so with low-profile quarterbacks in their first full seasons as starters.
Matt Mauck and Matt Flynn were not flashy. They didn't have to be. They won by keeping mistakes to a minimum and efficiently distributing the ball among top playmakers.
If there's a difference this year, it's that Mauck and Flynn had won big games before taking over full-time.
Mauck was subbed into the 2001 Southeastern Conference title game for injured Rohan Davey and spearheaded a comeback victory over Tennessee. He also started early in 2002 before a season-ending broken foot.
As a sophomore in 2005, Flynn filled in for injured JaMarcus Russell in the Peach Bowl, when LSU demolished Miami.
Hatch's only playing experience at LSU came at the end of a 44-0 blowout of Middle Tennessee early last season. He was 1-of-2 passing for 9 yards and rushed four times for 27 yards. Bothered by a sore shoulder that required arthroscopic surgery, Hatch did not play again and received a medical redshirt for last season, meaning he'll again be a sophomore in terms of eligibility.
Beyond that, his college experience is limited to playing on Harvard's junior varsity squad as a freshman, which included a start against Yale, when he threw for a touchdown and ran for another in the JV version of ``The Game.''
In other words, it's hard to know what Hatch or Lee can really do in the SEC.
Miles' primary advice for the QBs is avoid trying to do too much - especially given the talent and experience LSU has among its offensive line, running backs and receivers.
The starter will be ``the most consistent performer, the guy that makes the play, the guy that is least likely to turn it over, least likely to make poor decisions,'' Miles said.
In essence, Miles is urging Hatch and Lee to follow the examples of Mauck and Flynn.
``We've just got to execute the offense, just make good decisions and get the ball to our guys, because we've got a lot of talent,'' said Hatch, who like Lee got to study the way Flynn managed the offense last season.
LSU's returning talent includes running backs Keiland Williams, Charles Scott and Richard Murphy. At receiver, Demetrius Byrd, Brandon LaFell and Terrance Toliver are back, along with tight end Richard Dickson. Also returning is speedy Trindon Holliday, a running and receiving threat.
The Tigers also appear to have a formidable defense, so they won't likely need a ton of points to win.
``We've got so many good veterans around us,'' Lee said. ``We realize all we have to do is just get the ball in playmakers' hands and make great decisions and the rest will take care of itself.''
Neither Hatch nor Lee expected to compete for a first-team nod this soon. That job had been all but assured to Perrilloux, who in 2007 effectively played the role of change-of-pace option threat, then turned in an MVP performance while starting for the injured Flynn in the SEC championship.
This season, however, Perrilloux is trying to save his once promising football career at Jacksonville State, after Miles urged the super-talented quarterback to start fresh at a Championship Subdivision school so he wouldn't have to sit out a season after transferring.
``It was unfortunate what happened to Ryan, you know? You never want to see a teammate leave,'' Lee said. ``Andrew and I realize it's our time to step up.''
Hatch and Lee split all snaps during LSU spring practice. The 6-foot-2, 216-pound Lee impressed teammates with his throwing, the 6-4, 224-pound Hatch with his all-around athleticism and ability to run the option.
Hatch ended up at LSU in part because of a knee injury that occurred while he was playing pickup soccer in Chile. He had taken time off from Harvard for a Mormon mission, but had to return home to rehabilitate a torn meniscus.
That's when Tigers offensive coordinator Gary Crowton, who recruited Hatch for BYU, talked the quarterback into transferring to LSU. Hatch joined the team as a walk-on, but earned a scholarship soon after.
``Yeah, I didn't take the typical route,'' Hatch said. ``I just feel really good about being here.''
And why not? He's vying to start in front of Tiger Stadium crowds exceeding 90,000 on fall Saturday nights, and his competition for the job has become his good friend off the field.
``If you're competing against someone, it's nice that it's a great guy like Jarrett Lee,'' Hatch said.
Hatch said he and Lee are working well together and improving together. Both say they can foresee and wouldn't mind sharing snaps during the regular season, and they suspect that whoever starts will play better than some might expect.
``We had the chance to get good experience in the spring. I think that will be big,'' Hatch said. ``We're working hard. We've had this whole camp to work and get comfortable with our teammates and just build off what we started. So I think people can estimate us however they want. We're just going to focus on doing our jobs.''

 

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