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December 2, 2013

Jennings makes a statement

Talk about being overshadowed.

That's what happened to LSU's dramatic 99-yard game-winning touchdown drive against Arkansas on Friday afternoon slightly 24 hours later.

Early Saturday evening, Chris Davis returned an Alabama 57-yard field goal attempt for 109 yards (officially 100 yards) for the shocking game-winning touchdown for Auburn on the last play of the Iron Bowl. LSU fans had seen Odell Beckham do the same earlier this season.

However, Beckham's return against UAB certainly didn't have the impact of Davis' touchdown. That play knocked Alabama out of the Southeastern Conference title game and, probably, out of the national title picture.

But, let's get back to LSU.

It appeared a rather uninspired Tigers team was going to be upset at home by a three-touchdown underdog Arkansas squad. After scoring two first-quarter touchdowns, the LSU offense went quiet for most of the rest of the afternoon.

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Meanwhile, the LSU defense allowed Razorbacks quarterback Brandon Allen, who had completed less than 50 percent of his passes, to complete almost two-thirds of his throws Friday. The Tigers appeared to be in deep trouble when an Arkansas punt was downed at their 1-yard line with three minutes left.

Four offensive starters, including quarterback Zach Mettenberger and Beckham, were on the sidelines with injuries. The replacement for Mettenberger was true freshman Anthony Jennings. Redshirt freshman Travin Dural was going to assume Beckham's role in the passing game.

Then, coach Les Miles's team avoided what would have been his worst loss in nine seasons at LSU. The outcry would have been large if the Tigers had fallen to the Razorbacks, who were 0-7 in SEC games. LSU would have finished with an 8-4 regular-season mark and a mediocre 4-4 league record.

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However, Jennings stepped up to save the day. All but two of the yards came on four plays. Completions of 16 yards to tight end Dillon Gordon and 11 yards to wide receiver Jarvis Landry got Jennings and the offense some breathing room.

A 21-yard scramble by Jennings into Arkansas territory gave the Tigers hope. But, it seemed the drive had stalled following an incompletion and a catch by Jeremy Hill for no gain. Jennings then stepped up with the play of the day.

Dural got behind the Razorbacks secondary and Jennings lofted a perfectly-thrown deep ball. Dural ran under the ball, caught the ball and brought the ball into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown. That 49-yard scoring pass brought much relief to Miles and LSU fans.

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The one person who profited the most from that game-winning drive was Jennings. Privately, Tigers coaches indicated that they were unsure if Jennings was going to be the guy to lead the offense in 2014. Some insiders felt that signee Brandon Harris was going to challenge Jennings for the job in spring drills.

But, Jennings displayed all the necessary traits of a starting quarterback late Friday afternoon. Jennings' first two plays weren't successful - a three-yard run and an incompletion. Colby Delahoussaye kicked a 37-yard field goal to bring the Tigers within three points at 27-24.

Jennings showed calmness when he took the field and huddled the LSU offense in his end zone one series. A sneak by Jennings gained two yards. Everyone knows the rest. Three completions and one scramble by Jennings ate up the next 97 yards.

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One drive doesn't make a championship quarterback, but one had to be impressed by Jennings' execution and poise on that game-winning series. Even facing a third-and-ten, Jennings delivered a well-thrown deep ball to Dural.

There was one more attention-grabbing performance by Jennings on Friday. LSU does not permit true freshmen to talk with the media unless they have a very meaningful role in the game. So, Jennings got his chance to address members of the media following the victory.

Jennings was just as special in those 20 minutes as he had been on the Tiger Stadium field. He was polished and quite relaxed while fielding questions. Also, Jennings was wearing a coat and tie following the game. Think Peyton Manning attire. He displayed a lot of class.

No one knows if Mettenberger will be able to play in LSU's bowl game. So, Jennings will be able to stake an early claim to the 2014 starting quarterback job. He made a huge first step Friday. Tigers supporters must feel a little more at ease about next year's offense after watching Jennings.

Now, the 2013 season is not quite done. LSU can capture that very meaningful tenth victory. The Tigers are projected to go to the Cotton Bowl to face the No. 2 team out of the Big XII - Baylor or Oklahoma or Texas. There is an outside chance that LSU could go to the Outback Bowl and play a Big Ten team.

Strange things occur, so nothing can be assumed as regards the Tigers' bowl destination until the completion of Saturday's conference title games.

But, there is one assumption that can be made about the LSU football program. Anthony Jennings has made a loud first statement that he intends to be the Tigers starting quarterback in 2014.

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