Air Canada? LSU, Danny Etling go vertical against Chattanooga
LSU provided arguably its two or three most impressive offensive plays of the young 2017 season before halftime even arrived in Saturday’s 45-10 rout of Chattanooga.
Senior quarterback Danny Etling capped the Tigers’ first drive with a pair of fakes in the backfield — a handoff to running back Derrius Guice and end-around to wide receiver D.J. Chark — and 36-yard sling on target to a wide-open Drake Davis in the end zone.
After a defensive stand, Etling dropped back on LSU’s next offensive play and heaved the ball deep to Stephen Sullivan, who elevated over two Mocs defenders and hauled in the 46-yard gain.
Even against FCS competition, the two connections with the sophomore Baton Rouge area natives highlighted another potential early-season hint at the revamped offense fans can expect to see under new coordinator Matt Canada.
“I’ve been watching LSU since my ninth-grade year in high school, and I’ve never seen ’em take this many shots,” Sullivan laughed. “We were gonna take whatever the defense gave us. If we would’ve bailed, we would’ve ran it. If they came down, we would throw it over their head. And that’s exactly what we did.”
Etling finished the night 8-for-14 for 227 yards in less than three quarters of work, including 48- and 46-yard passes to Chark, the Sullivan and Davis tosses and a 27-yarder to true freshman JaCoby Stevens.
The Tigers completed three passes for 30 or more yards in just two games in 2016 and just once managed multiple passes of 40 or more yards.
“I think it’s exactly what we’ve been looking for from those guys,” Etling said. “I have faith in them that they can go make a play. And (the throw to Sullivan) was probably an ill-advised play on my part and something I’ll probably fix. But it was definitely him going up and making a play, and it’s something we’ve expected from him for a long time. And he’s continued to grow and progress as a player.”
Etling found Dee Anderson, Chark and tight end Foster Moreau for 42, 39 and 31 yards, respectively, in a 54-39 victory at Texas A&M last season.
He hit Chark, Malachi Dupre and tight end DeSean Smith for 80, 63 and 31 yards, respectively, in a 45-10 rout of Southern Miss.
In seven of LSU’s 12 games, the team managed just one or fewer 30-yard gain through the air.
“We like to be balanced,” coach Ed Orgeron said. “We’re gonna take what they give us, but I thought tonight was a great indicator of being 50/50 and being very balanced. We have to run the football, obviously. We know that. But there are gonna be some times when they put too many people in the box where we can’t run the football. Danny was tremendous on the shots tonight. I thought Matt did a great job of calling the game tonight.”
The Tigers finished with 232 passing yards in all and 222 rushing yards, led by Guice’s 102 yards and two touchdowns and another 68 and 38 by Nick Brossette and Darrel Williams, respectively.
Etling pointed repeatedly to the impact the ground game had on the team’s success through the air.
Asked at one point what made play-action work so effectively, he quickly smiled back, “Because I have Derrius Guice,” without any hesitation.
But the aerial attack could only continue to develop, if less-experienced receivers like Davis, Sullivan and Stephens continue to develop and garner more confidence from Etling, Canada, Orgeron and company.
“We need depth there,” Orgeron said. “We need depth. We’d like to go four-wide, but we can’t go it right now, because we don’t have enough depth. But JaCoby Stevens, Stephen Sullivan and those guys played very well tonight.”
Jerit Roser can be reached at Jerit@DatBoot.com.