LSU’s wide receivers didn’t have much experience coming into this season.
Only four receivers on the roster caught a pass last year, and only two scored a touchdown. None of them had broken the 100-yard barrier in a single game.
After Saturday night's 45-10 win over Chattanooga, though, the wideouts are at least one step closer to ridding themselves of the “inexperienced” designation.
Two receivers caught the first passes of their careers. One caught his first touchdown. Another had his first 100-yard night.
If the first step is the hardest, the hardest part of LSU's development is out of the way.
"Our receivers are running a lot better routes this year," coach Ed Orgeron said. "They worked on their feet all summer with Mickey (Joseph). They're very precise in their routes and they’re catching the ball. I think our receivers are the most improved unit on our football team."
Drake Davis was the first wideout to crack the stat sheet Saturday when he broke free to score a wide-open touchdown — the first of his career — on a 36-yard rainbow from Etling.
Davis came into the game with one career reception, against Jacksonville State in last year’s home opener.
Then it was sophomore Stephen Sullivan, who jumped over two defenders — including Chattanooga’s best defensive player, Trevor Wright, on a 46-yard toss. That put the Tigers in position for running back Derrius Guice to score a few plays later.
After the game, Sullivan said he wasn't expecting the ball to come to him, but was able to make a last-minute adjustment.
"We have very talented guys, from seniors to freshmen," Davis said. "We have personnels that everyone can contribute in."
In the second quarter, true freshman JaCoby Stevens — who arrived to LSU as the No. 3 athlete in the country and was expected to play defensive back before switching to offense in camp — also got involved in the passing game for the first time, catching a 27-yard pass from Etling.
Then, toward the end of the third quarter, No. 1 receiver DJ Chark made a spectacular mid-air catch, his second reception of more than 45 yards of the night.
Chark was Etling’s favorite target Saturday, with three catches for 103 yards on six targets. It was the first time in Chark's career he broke the 100-yard mark.
Russell Gage was the only other Tiger with multiple catches against Chattanooga. He had three for 20 yards, one of which was a pass from freshman quarterback Myles Brennan.
Orgeron said the depth shown on Saturday is desperately needed. LSU wants to run more four-wide sets, but can’t due to depth concerns.
"We need depth there," Orgeron said. "We’d like to go four wide, but we can’t do that right now because we don’t have enough depth. But JaCoby Stevens, Stephen Sullivan, those guys played very well tonight."
All of LSU's receivers benefited from coordinator Matt Canada opening up the passing game more in Week 2.
In the season opener against BYU, only 18 of LSU’s 75 offensive plays were through the air, accounting for 183 of 479 yards of offense.
That wasn't the case this week.
Etling routinely went after the Mocs’ secondary with the deep ball.
Half of Etling’s eight passes were more than 20 yards. Only two of Etling's completions were more than 20 yards against BYU.
Etling finished the night with 227 yards and a touchdown on 8-of-14 passing.
"Some new guys, some new names out there catching passes and making plays out there," Etling said. "That was good for us and it's hopefully people who can contribute once we get into the heart of SEC play."