How Jalen Hurts, Danny Etling could best impact the Alabama-LSU game
Often, it’s the defense or running backs that get the attention in this rivalry, and this season isn’t much different, but the quarterback position for Alabama and LSU might have the biggest impact on the outcome of Saturday’s game.
On one side, there is Danny Etling, shaping up to be the most effective quarterback LSU has seen since Zach Mettenberger. On the other side, there is a dynamic quarterback who has shown his youth at times but shown an incredible athleticism rarely seen from a quarterback at Alabama.
Defensively, Alabama is pressuring quarterbacks like no other team as the Crimson Tide leads the nation in sacks per game (4.0). Then again, the team has allowed 28 passing plays of 20-plus yards. That ranks down at 12th in the SEC. Some quarterback — whether it’s Etling, Sean White or another quarterback — is likely to exploit this fact at some point this season.
Etling is better than some of the quarterbacks Alabama has faced and better than many of LSU’s recent starting quarterbacks, but he’s also not on par with Chad Kelly or Austin Allen. Alabama severely limited Arkansas’ running game, and then pressured the Razorbacks constantly, forcing Allen to throw three interceptions.
In terms of quarterback ratings, Sean White sits at the top of the conference with Allen second, Kelly third, Hurts fourth and Etling fifth.
Since Etling was handed the reins from opening-game starter Brandon Harris, Etling has led LSU to a 5-1 record. Harris technically started the second game, but Etling entered on the third possession of a scoreless game. His toughest game of the season was against Auburn. In that game, Etling was 15-for-27 for 118 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions.
In short, Etling isn’t going to put up sexy statistics, but he has been efficient on the whole. He doesn’t have gaudy yardage totals with his highest total being 276 against Southern Miss. Still, Etling has thrown for at least 200 yards in four of the last five games.
Alabama’s main concern should be the fact that Etling has also spread the ball around to a multitude of weapons outside of Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural. If LSU becomes less dependent on the usual suspects, that will allow the usual suspect (Leonard Fournette) to leave his mark.
Hurts is still a bit of a question mark. He handled adversity on the road against Ole Miss and two weeks ago in a close game against A&M, but he’s made mistakes at times in not finding open receivers or tossing interceptions.
His best game of the season may have been against Arkansas. Hurts hit 76.5 percent of his passes for 253 yards, had his second-longest pass of the season and accounted for four touchdowns total.
To look at Hurts’ numbers alone doesn’t take into account what Hurts has done under center. He has remained calm under pressure, which was paramount against Ole Miss with the team trailing 24-3 at one point. He also showed toughness after taking a tough hit that resulted in a fumble recovery returned for a touchdown by Ole Miss.
On the ensuing drive, Hurts threw a 22-yard completion to Calvin Ridley, then ran for 22 more yards before Ridley ran it in for a 6-yard TD. Three plays to answer and score. By the end, Hurts was the team’s leading rusher with 146 yards.
Defenses have been unable to bottle up Hurts so far this season. With his excellent vision, he has either found a way to run the ball himself or give Damien Harris (697 yards) the ball when he sees an opening. He’ll need to read the LSU defense well for Alabama to run the ball effectively.
There’s no question Hurts not making freshman mistakes is big for Alabama. Etling may shoulder a big load for LSU if the running game is unsuccessful.
Both quarterbacks have proven they can carry their team at times, but doing it on Saturday would be quite a feat for either player.