AUBURN, Ala. — The last time LSU quarterback Brandon Harris was suited up against Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium, he was being pulled off the field with 5:28 left in the third quarter in 2014.
Making his first start of his collegiate career, Harris completed 3 of 14 passes for 58 yards on that October night and was replaced by Anthony Jennings. Auburn handed LSU its worst loss in 15 years, a 41-7 defeat.
Saturday night against Auburn (2-2, 1-1 Southeastern Conference), Harris was pulled off the field at Jordan-Hare again, but the circumstances were much different during a wild 18-13 loss on The Plains.
With No. 18 LSU (2-2, 1-1) leading 7-6 in the second quarter and creeping closer to the Auburn red zone, starting quarterback Danny Etling kept the ball on a zone-read play. As he slid to the ground on the 4-yard gain, he took a shot to the head from Auburn linebacker Tre’ Williams.
Etling’s helmet popped off, and he lay on the ground for a few moments before being helped up by a teammate. LSU trainers rushed to his aid and examined his head, which had cut above his eyebrow and a gash on his upper lip.
Williams hit Etling with the crown of his helmet, eliciting a targeting call, a 15-yard penalty and an ejection. When Etling’s helmet came off, another player’s facemask hit Etling square on the face.
“I was more pissed off than dazed, probably” Etling said. “I was straight to go.”
LSU coach Les Miles was told his quarterback passed baseline concussion tests and was fine to return to the game. Miles only thought that he may need stitches.
“It did not appear that he lost any sharpness, brightness (or) ability,” Miles said.
It wasn’t the only play that needed to be reviewed for targeting. LSU linebacker Arden Key’s hit on Auburn quarterback Sean White in the third quarter was ruled a legal hit.
While these were tense moments for the LSU offense, Etling had to come off the field for at least one play.
Enter Harris, the quarterback who had lost his starting job two weeks ago against Jacksonville State. But he played just one snap, handing the ball off to Leonard Fournette for 4 yards.
Etling, who finished 15 of 27 for 118 yards, returned on the following play and was welcomed back rudely by the Auburn defense. He was flushed out of the pocket on second down, completing a pass to D.J. Chark for a loss of 4 yards. He was then sacked for a loss of 10 yards on third down.
“Danny showed a lot of toughness,” Key said. “He was taking a lot of hits and getting banged up. Get right back up and come back and throw a completion. Now we know Danny’s got some toughness and some heart.
“He’s a dog,” he continued.
The negative plays resulted in a 51-yard field-goal attempt by Colby Delahoussaye, whose kick went wide right. Auburn responded by marching down the field and taking the lead on Daniel Carlson’s third field goal.
Etling’s brief exit from the game was only part of an odd first half for the Purdue transfer. Making his first road SEC start, Etling completed 6 of 9 passes with a touchdown but totaled just 23 passing yards.
Etling’s longest completion didn’t come until the third quarter: a 32-yard pass to Colin Jeter that led to Delahoussaye’s first successful field goal. Etling recorded only two completions in the quarter.
“We just had a tough time getting rhythm,” Etling said. “We had a lot miscommunications.”
Though LSU regained the lead and then lost it again on Carlson’s fifth field goal, Etling’s fumble on a handoff spoiled a promising LSU drive early in the fourth quarter. Etling’s heroics on the final drive, extending plays with his feet and arm, went for naught. The clock had expired on his game-winning touchdown pass to Chark.
“I thought he played gutty, tough, hard-nose football,” Miles said.