On Monday, the United States will experience the first solar eclipse viewable from coast to coast in 99 years. You can see it, but remember not to look directly at it without proper eye protection.
No one but those closest to the LSU football program has been able to witness the progress of its latest quarterback battle. (Let’s just say they occur a tad more frequently than coast-to-coast eclipses.) But there, too, the picture may be about to come into focus under the hot August sun beating down on the Charles McClendon practice facility.
Old Cholly Mac, still LSU’s winningest coach, was typically of the opinion that, if one quarterback was good, two were better. His very last team in 1979 was a two-armed threat with current tight ends coach Steve Ensminger and the late David Woodley.
Current coach Ed Orgeron wants to pick one quarterback. By what he’s said, it’s been a more difficult choice to make than one might think. But as of Saturday’s third “preseason game” (a major scrimmage to us lay folk), at least LSU is down to its Ensminger and Woodley.
By every indication and utterance from Orgeron, that appears to be senior Danny Etling and freshman Myles Brennan. This may not be a breaking-news bombshell, but they seem to have created separation between themselves and sophomore Justin McMillan and freshman Lowell Narcisse.
According to Orgeron, Etling went 13 of 22 on Saturday for 168 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. Brennan was 10 of 20 for 122 yards with a score and a pick.
Narcisse was 0-for-2 passing, though Coach O said he had a nifty rushing touchdown. He didn’t give stats for McMillan, the only quarterback on the roster besides Etling with a collegiate passing attempt.
It would seem an obviously easy decision for Etling to be the starter. He wrested the job away from the now-departed Brandon Harris last September and turned in a capable if not All-America-worthy body of work the rest of the season. Brennan could be LSU’s quarterback of the future, but conventional wisdom questions whether that future is at hand as soon as next Saturday’s season opener against BYU in Houston.
But Orgeron, gregarious by nature, has been reticent to name a starter to this point. Perhaps it’s a motivational ploy; perhaps it’s concern over Etling’s back. Etling says he’s pretty close to 100 percent from his post-spring game back surgery, but backs are delicate instruments. Perhaps Brennan, who hails from Long Beach, Mississippi, and has people there saying he’s the best quarterback the Mississippi coast has turned out in years, is all that.
A big debate on the subject is apparently planned for Sunday among LSU’s offensive coaches. Orgeron said LSU is very close and that an announcement is likely this week.
Whispers from behind the wooden curtain at the McClendon facility suggest Brennan has been impressive. But so impressive that he can start the season ahead of Etling, with all his experience and chemistry with LSU’s established stars?
Wide receiver D.J. Chark, who came up through the ranks with Etling from the practice squad, said his fellow senior has been sharper than ever.
“The big thing is the consistency he has now,” Chark said last week. “He’s getting it there all the time, not just today or two days from now. Every day, he’s a consistent starting quarterback.”
Etling, for his part, is doing his part to mentor LSU’s younger quarterbacks, knowing full well that at the very least one of them will have to be the starter in 2018. It speaks well of Etling to try to extend a hand to the youths he hopes will remain his understudies.
“As a freshman, I know where I was at, even outside of football,” Etling said last week. “You have those moments where you struggle to go through things, through life in general, as a freshman. Those are things I can really relate to on a personal level.”
Speaking mostly of Brennan, Etling said: “There’s a lot of stress coming in right away, being asked to take first-team reps and compete for a job and be a guy who can lead the team under center. You have to manage the situation well and not let the pressure get to you and work too hard.”
Managing the situation is the key for Etling. As the man said, old age and treachery will always beat youth and exuberance.
To that end, the smart money is on Etling taking that first snap against BYU. But a backup really needs to be given significant reps to prepare for the future. And Orgeron said that if Etling is the starter, it will be difficult for more than one backup to get significant playing time.
“If they don’t start, you hope they can both play this year,” Orgeron said of Brennan and Narcisse. “It will be hard to do that. But both do some great things.”
I’m sure that’s true. But it’s time to decide. With apologies to Cholly Mac, a football team needs one field general at a time.