The Tigers thought the issue was settled before the season. Fifth-year senior Marcus Randall had spent two years backing up Matt Mauck, throwing for 1,583 yards and nine TDs, and had six starts under his belt. This fall, with LSU's superlative defense and explosive running game, coach Nick Saban wasn't planning to ask Randall to do much more than protect the ball and move the team efficiently, as Mauck did. That strategy turned to mud in last Saturday's Deluge in Baton Rouge, when Randall was benched at halftime with the co--national champions trailing Oregon State 9-0. Randall's passing numbers through two quarters: 5 for 15, 39 yards, one interception.
Seeking a jolt, Saban turned to redshirt freshman JaMarcus Russell. Though he led the Tigers to two TDs and ran for the two-point conversion that tied the game at 15 with 1:05 left, Russell was also alarmingly erratic, completing 9 of 26 passes. Randall twice returned to the game when Russell was hobbled by leg cramps, and it was Randall who ran five yards for the overtime touchdown that would give LSU a 22-21 win. "It says a lot about Marcus Randall to come back in the game twice and make plays to help us win," said Saban. "This ain't baseball. You are allowed to bring them back in."
With three of their next five games on the road against Auburn, Georgia and Florida, the Tigers simply can't afford to do the QB shuffle for long, especially as both passers had trouble coordinating with the mostly inexperienced wideouts. "They play together every day in practice," grumbled Saban. "It's not like they're not used to playing together."
Saban probably isn't desperate enough to dip even deeper into his QB pool for redshirt freshman Matt Flynn, a run-pass threat in the mold of Mauck. Chances are the Tigers will stick with a rotation of Marcus and JaMarcus. Says Saban, "Both need to help the team when the time comes." But if the quarterback situation doesn't sort itself out soon, things could get very dicey in Baton Rouge. --Mark Beech
How did other new quarterbacks fare?
LSU WASN'T the only notable team breaking in a signal-caller last weekend. A large number of teams bid farewell to high-profile passers in the off-season and placed their fortunes in the hands of untested quarterbacks--with mixed results. Here's how four of the most prominent replacements performed in their first week of action.
Eli Manning's former backup looked shaky in a 20-13 loss at home to Memphis. At times the highly touted junior appeared confused by blitzes and cover packages, completing only 11 of 31 passes for 182 yards and no touchdowns in the Rebels' first season-opening defeat since 1995.
A surprise fill-in for sore-armed junior Matt Gutierrez, the true freshman was poised, connecting on 14 of 24 passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns as Michigan entered the post-John Navarre era. So who's the starter now? Said coach Lloyd Carr, "In my own mind, I know."
On his first play, Zwick's mouthpiece came loose, resulting in garbled signals and a false start. Though the sophomore went on to complete 14 of 26 for 213 yards, he also had two picks and three fumbles and was replaced by Troy Smith on a handful of series.
In '03, B.J. Symons debuted by going 23 for 38 for 297 yards on his way to a record-setting year. Cumbie, a senior, outdid his predecessor, completing 40 of 66 passes for 470 yards and four TDs in a 27-13 win over SMU. Said Cumbie, "It was fun out there tonight."