LSU didn’t need Leonard Fournette.
It needed Danny Etling.
Etling, the Purdue transfer and former backup, sparked No. 21 LSU to a 34-13 win over Jacksonville State on Saturday night in Tiger Stadium, replacing error-prone starter Brandon Harris and possibly ushering in a new starting quarterback for a unit that badly needed a switch.
Etling completed 6 of his first 8 passes for 100 yards and led the Tigers on three straight touchdown drives, captaining an offense that played without its injured Heisman Trophy hopeful. The Indiana native entered for a struggling Harris to a roaring cheer from the home crowd, starting LSU's third drive of the game.
"Danny can run a team," coach Les Miles told ESPN after the game. "He can make some plays."
"I feel happy," Etling said afterward during an on-field interview on ESPN. "It's a nice feeling. I had good support from everyone."
The 6-foot-1, 215-pound junior helped the Tigers’ offense — just 12 yards on six plays when he entered — roll up 213 yards on three straight drives. They turned a 3-0 deficit into a 20-3 lead with a quarterback swap that’s eerily reminiscent of a 2014 situation.
Harris, then a backup, replaced struggling starter Anthony Jennings in a home game against New Mexico State that season. The then-true freshman entered, also in the second quarter, to a raucous cheer from the same fans who booed him off the field this go-around.
Harris led LSU on seven straight scoring drives in that game, taking hold of the starting position before relinquishing it the next week after shaky performance at Auburn.
How will this swap end? The Tigers (1-1) host Mississippi State (1-1) on Saturday. Miles would not name a starter for next week after the game.
A better question, maybe: Will Fournette play in that game? That remains unclear, though Miles said he will return "pretty quick."
The 230-pound junior is nursing a bruised ankle he suffered in the season-opening loss against Wisconsin last week at Lambeau Field. The bruise is on the same ankle, the left, that he sprained during preseason camp — a potential concern moving forward.
Leonard Fournette's exact status for the next game against Mississippi State isn't completely clear, but the star running back should return "…
The concern at quarterback — such a maligned position after a sloppy season-opening loss — was tamped down Saturday. And Fournette’s backup didn’t do too bad, either.
Sophomore Derrius Guice broke the 100-yard mark early in the third quarter, scoring once and ripping off runs of 44, 32 and 29. Tre’Davious White whipped up an electric 60-yard punt return for a touchdown just before the half, and the Tigers converted 7 of 11 third downs.
Meanwhile, Etling roared LSU’s offense to life, making his debut with 14:42 left in the second quarter. The Tigers opened up their pro-style system with him at the helm. He threw on five of his first six plays in the game. The sixth? It was a 46-yard touchdown pass to wide open tight end DeSean Smith. He found running back Darrel Williams, once on a check-down pass and another screen play, to set up the score.
"It was just decided that we were going to make a change at that moment in time," Etling said about entering the game. "(Miles) didn’t say much. He just said, ‘Go out and be yourself and make some nice decisions and put us in a position to win the game.’"
On the next offensive drive, he hit Travin Dural with a 5-yarder and then D.J. Chark with a 12-yard pass, Chark’s first career reception. Etling scored from 2 yards out on third-and-goal in the third quarter, putting the Tigers up 34-10 and all but sealing a win over this Football Championship Subdivision squad.
Harris, meanwhile, stood on the sideline watching - a position Etling was in two years ago at Purdue. He lost the job there as a sophomore.
"I empathize a lot with him," Etling said. "It’s not a fun position. It’s terrible. It’s something that, maybe, only quarterbacks can understand. It’s something that I definitely understand. I really wouldn’t wish it upon anyone, but we’re definitely going to need him this season to keep improving."
Danny Etling has been the other guy.
The Gamecocks (1-1), a team with 13 former Football Bowl Subdivision players, were stuffed in the second half by defensive coordinator Dave Aranda’s 3-4 unit. The Tigers held them to 140 yards in the final two quarters, more than enough to win a game delayed by nearly an hour.
A thunderstorm rolled through Baton Rouge about 90 minutes before the scheduled kickoff time of 6:32 p.m. Kickoff was delayed 55 minutes, in front of a small, soggy crowd.
They got to see a team bounce back from a first season-opening loss since 2002. LSU tumbled more than any other team — 16 spots — after the 16-14 loss to Wisconsin in Green Bay last week. The Tigers were held under 260 yards of offense, and Harris and his receivers struggled against the Badgers.
Miles said coaches toyed with the idea of playing Etling in that game.
"We were not in the exact same position. We didn’t want to bring him in in an ugly spot, where the pressure of the position might adversely affect how he played," the coach said.
Everything wasn’t rosy on Saturday.
Jacksonville State nearly out-gained LSU (371-368), and Etling missed on six straight pass attempts after his sizzling start. Receiver Malachi Dupre struggled for a second straight game, dropping a couple of passes — one a long ball on Etling’s second series in the game.
The Tigers found their short-yardage back, though. Fullback Bry’Kiethon Mouton, a sophomore, carried 4 times for 14 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown.
Just like Harris, Fournette could only watch from the sideline.
The New Orleans native entered Saturday as a game-time decision, Miles said Thursday. Fournette briefly warmed up with other players before a thunderstorm hit the stadium. He did not dress out, standing on the sideline in a purple sweat suit.
He suffered a significant bruise on his final carry of LSU's loss to the Badgers. Miles called it a "contusion, a nice bruise." It's unclear whether Fournette practiced this week. Miles declined to answer that question Wednesday during a post-practice news conference. His responses indicated Fournette rested for much, if not all, of this week.