Coming off bad game against Alabama, Danny Etling looks to avoid slide
BATON ROUGE, La. — When LSU’s season took a sharp downward turn last season against Alabama, the fortunes of quarterback Brandon Harris took a similar turn and never really returned.
Harris entered the 30-16 loss to Alabama with 9 touchdowns and no interceptions on the season and had one of the SEC’s better passer efficiency ratings. But after a 6-for-19 performance against the Crimson Tide, things never bounced back.
He threw his first interception against Bama, then never had another game where he didn’t throw one and LSU went on a three-game losing streak. Before Alabama, he had an efficiency rating of at least 153 in four of the Tigers’ previous five games. After Bama, he didn’t reach it again until the Texas Bowl.
Fast forward a year and his successor, Danny Etling, has had a similar humbling at the hands of Alabama. In last week’s 10-0 loss, he was 11-for-24 for 92 yards with 5 sacks and an interception. Coming in, he had three straight games under interim head coach Ed Orgeron where he passed for over 200 yards and his efficiency rating, if projected over the entire season, would make him second in the SEC.
The question now, with Arkansas ahead, is will Etling’s season dive the way Harris’ did last year?
“You just have to make sure you stay with your schedule and stay with your routine,” Etling said when asked how he would try to avoid turning a bad game into a slide. “You don’t want things to change just because you lose a game.
“You don’t want to let a team beat you twice.”
That can mean a couple of things for Etling. The Tigers haven’t played well the last two years in losses to Arkansas, a sign the Tigers may have put too much emphasis on the Alabama game the week before. And for Etling, it means not allowing bad habits to creep in after a shaky performance against Alabama.
And make no mistake, although one can put more blame on the way the offensive line was routed by the Alabama front or simply give the Crimson Tide defense credit, the Alabama game was far from Etling’s shining moment.
Asked if he thought his quarterback looked nervous or uncomfortable, Orgeron said, “It seemed like it. It sure did. I mean, it was totally out of character. There were some plays, the receivers were wide open. I think it was the first third down. He threw the ball into the dirt. Seemed like he was nervous or anticipating getting hit. I don’t know.”
So how to avoid that effort snowballing?
It might start with the offense doing something else it stopped doing well last year: running the ball.
Before the Alabama game last year, the Tigers ran for at least 211 yards in every game with three games over 300 yards. Against the Tide, LSU ran for 54 yards, then 59 against Arkansas and 184 against Ole Miss.
Like this team, the 2015 team was built on running the ball to set up the pass.
So perhaps the key for Etling bouncing back is for Leonard Fournette — coming off 17 carries, 35 yards against Alabama — to also bounce back.
“I expect him to shake it off and have a good game against Arkansas and finish strong,” Orgeron said of Fournette.
What if Etling continues to struggle? Would Orgeron consider going back to Harris, who remains Etling’s primary backup but hasn’t played anything but garbage time since Orgeron replaced Les Miles as head coach four games ago?
Could we be close to seeing Harris’ chance at redemption for the job he lost back in Week 2?
“In order for us to take out Danny, we would have to really think that Brandon can go in there and do a better job, and he’d have to show us that in practice and right now, we don’t believe that,” Orgeron said. “Right now, we believe that Danny is our quarterback, not that Brandon can’t play or anything like that.
“We think that Danny gives us our best chance to win.”
Unless he can’t shake off the poor Alabama performance.