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LSU's offense seemed to be like a sputtering car inching along, until junior quarterback Danny Etling hopped in, popped the emergency brake and soared the vehicle full speed down the highway.
However, let's all tap the brakes together. This was Jacksonville State we're talking about.
That being said, Etling deserves his fair share of praise. Ignore his 6-of-14 passing line. Outside of a few passes, everything Etling threw was right on the money or darn close. Even the interception was into one-on-one coverage, not some egregious mistake in which he threw into a sea of red jerseys. That, unfortunately, was Brandon Harris' last pass of the night. And, he was fortunate the Gamecocks dropped it.
It rained hard before the game and it rained boos shortly after in Tiger Stadium, as Harris threw high and wild, finishing 1-of-4 through the air for 8 yards, before Etling trotted in to begin the second quarter. Etling seemed to have a firm grasp of the offense, anticipating routes, making quick decisions and firing the football with some authority. His 46-yard scoring strike to DeSean Smith was certainly a thing of beauty.
Behind Etling, LSU marched for touchdown drives of 70, 79 and 64 yards. He would later score on a bootleg rush in the second half, the final touchdown in the Tigers' 34-13 victory. Head coach Les Miles' post game comments on Etling have stirred a little buzz. As a coach praised for not publicly criticizing his players, Miles seemed to have each and every one of Etling's mistakes jotted down and ready to present to the media after the game. I'll admit. There seemed to even be a slight bit of, dare I say, anger in Miles' voice for the quarterback's performance.
But this is my read on it.
I believe Miles doesn't want some hype train starting for a guy who just beat a school many people may think is actually in Florida, not Alabama. And, the coach certainly wants Etling staying grounded and focused on improving, not drunk off praise and the pretty smiles he'll be seeing on campus Monday. Years from now, when Tiger fans Boudreaux and Thibodeaux are sitting on their porch, drinking beer and recalling classic LSU battles, Jacksonville State ain't coming up.
At this school, you earn your fame by beating your SEC rivals and winning big bowl games. As I type this, it is hardly clear whether or not Etling will start next Saturday's contest against Mississippi State in Death Valley. For many folks, it would appear to be a no-brainer. But for Miles, strategy and tipping your hand to the opponent always seem to come into play. The one exception occurred two years ago, when he immediately named Harris the starter for a game at Auburn, right after Anthony Jennings suffered through a nightmarish contest against New Mexico State. Jennings was booed even louder by the Tiger Stadium crowd than Harris was last Saturday. As we all know, Harris would then encounter a nightmare of his own at Jordan-Hare Stadium and finish 3-of-14 passing in a 41-7 shellacking.
Miles also must try to repair Harris' broken spirit and keep him mentally engaged. That was not the look Harris gave Saturday night following the LSU win, immediately sprinting off the field and into the locker room, electing not to sing the Alma Mater with his fellow teammates and coaches, a proud tradition after each Tiger victory.
That's not reflective of a junior who's supposed to be one of the leaders of your team. I'm certainly not trying to pile on a young man who had a rough night and trying start to the season. And for one, I find the countless camera cutaways of Harris during the television broadcast, as Etling performed well, uncalled for. Certainly, it's not unusual for that to occur, but the overwhelming feedback I've received was that it was excessive. The guy got yanked and hasn't played well. We all get it. There's just no need to rub his nose in it and taunt an amateur athlete. It follows suit with another new philosophy in television broadcasting - when a team scores a touchdown, show fans of the opposing team pouting or looking stupid. Let's embarrass people.
That's not a good look either.
In the end, Etling's effort Saturday night does lend hope to a season many people had written off after one game. Is he capable of beating other teams that wear red, like Alabama and Arkansas?
It was an encouraging start. Let's see what's next.