During LSU’s 2-0 start, Danny Etling has demonstrated why coach Ed Orgeron chose him to be the Tigers’ starting quarterback.
The fifth-year senior isn’t the primary reason No. 12 LSU has rolled past BYU and Chattanooga, but he has been efficient, productive and an ideal complement to the running of Derrius Guice and a suffocating defense.
In the 27-0 victory against BYU last week, Etling completed 14 of 17 passes for 171 yards with a long of 52. Just as importantly, he demonstrated his vision, patience and decisiveness in spreading the 14 completions among eight receivers.
In the 45-10 victory against Chattanooga on Saturday night, he completed 8 of 14 for 227 yards and a touchdown. He had five completions that gained more than 25 yards — 27, 36, 46, 46, 48.
“Danny did a tremendous job hitting his spots tonight,” Orgeron said.
Next up is the SEC opener at Mississippi State next Saturday.
So far Etling, who underwent offseason surgery to fix a back issue that bothered him last season, has completed 71 percent of his passes for 398 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. A high completion percentage, a series of big plays and an absence of interceptions are just what Orgeron was looking for when he selected Etling over highly touted freshman Myles Brennan late in preseason camp.
“He seems like a different player to me this year,” Orgeron said.
Guice has rushed for more than 100 yards in both games, and in the two games combined the Tigers defense has allowed 59 fewer yards than Etling has passed for.
The special teams contributed a big play Saturday as D.J. Chark returned a punt 65 yards for a touchdown after his 78-yard punt return for a touchdown was nullified by an illegal block.
The Tigers were penalized 11 times, though only once in the second half. They had 10 in the opener. A false start against BYU preceded a missed 34-yard field goal by Jack Gonsoulin, and against Chattanooga a third-down intentional grounding penalty on Etling preceded a Gonsoulin miss from 40 yards.
So just as there was after the BYU game, there are things the Tigers need to improve on. But there are always nits that can be picked.
Orgeron was unhappy with LSU’s kickoffs in the opener so, among the personnel changes on the coverage team was the insertion of Cameron Gamble in place of Connor Culp as the kicker.
Gamble responded with eight kickoffs for an average of 65.5 yards and had three touchbacks, each of which went out of the end zone.
Culp replaced Gonsoulin and missed a 47-yard field goal in the second quarter, leading Orgeron to opt for going for a fourth-and-3 at the Chattanooga 33 instead of trying a 50-yard field goal.
Orgeron said he’s “very concerned” about the kicking game. “We can’t go for it all the time,” he said. “We need points, and we have to get it fixed very fast.”
Culp rebounded to make a 45-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, but Orgeron said he’s opening up the position to competition just as he did a week earlier with the kickoff responsibility.
But the few shortcomings the Tigers have had have not prevented them from winning decisively.
When Orgeron chose Etling as the starter, his hope was that he would be able to find opportunities, especially in the early games, to let Brennan play in relatively unstressful situations. The first two games have both yielded such opportunities.
Brennan’s statistics are understandably modest — 2-for-5 for 17 yards — and reflective of the circumstances, which allowed him to operate the offense under game conditions but in situations when ball security, running the clock and gaining first downs were the primary goals.
But Brennan’s role isn’t going to expand as long as Etling plays as he has in the first two games.