LSU tight end Foster Moreau didn’t realize how well quarterback Danny Etling was playing against Texas A&M until he glanced at Etling’s completion percentage.
Etling’s numbers, for the most part, haven’t exactly jumped off the page this season, even when interim coach Ed Orgeron and offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger took over four games into the season. The junior normally serves as a game manager, tasked with limiting mistakes and taking what defenses give him.
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In his nine previous appearances in an LSU uniform, including eight starts, Etling was completing 58.5 percent of his passes, which puts him among the bottom half of the nation’s passers in that category. The Purdue transfer isn’t often asked to air the ball out frequently, as he averages 24 passing attempts per game.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — The LSU football team was short four injured starters Thursday nigh…
Etling’s best outing of the season came in a 45-10 win against Southern Miss on Oct. 15, completing 11-of-18 passes for 276 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. Eighty of his 276 yards came on a scoring catch-and-run by D.J. Chark.
But what Etling did Thanksgiving night against the No. 22 Aggies (8-4, 4-4 Southeastern Conference), completing 20-of-28 pass for 324 yards and two touchdowns, was something that took Moreau and even Etling by surprise.
“I can actually quote him saying, ‘Man, it’s a Tom Brady-esque game that I’m having,’ ” Moreau said. “It’s crazy.”
Etling became just the 14th quarterback in LSU history to pass for more than 300 yards in a game. Including Etling, a Tigers quarterback has eclipsed 300 yards 29 times, seven of which came from Rohan Davey. Davey, along with Tommy Hodson, is one of two LSU passers to throw for more than 400 yards, and he is the only quarterback to record a 500-yard game.
Etling directed an offense that had six scoring drives of 60 yards or more on its way to 622 yards of total offense, the second most in a true road game in school history.
“I thought we were rolling on all cylinders,” Etling said. “Guys were making great plays, and we had great blocking up front. When you get those guys going, it's tough to stop.”
More impressively, No. 25 LSU (7-4, 5-3) had a 300-yard passer and a 200-yard rusher in the same game for the first time in school history. With 285 yards, Derrius Guice broke the program single-game rushing mark.
“Danny is patient,” Guice said. “When you’re going against a run team, you have to always be ready for the run. So a lot of play action helped us, as well as the quick throws. Like I say, the run set up the pass and the pass set up the run. It’s simple. You've got to be balanced to make both work.
“Me running wild and Danny throwing wild, that’s just how it was.”
‘Effort will pay off’
Even with Travin Dural out of the lineup with an injury, Etling connected with eight different receivers against the Aggies.
But it wasn’t Malachi Dupre or Chark who ended the night with the most catches and yards. It was a player who had yet to catch a pass in a game before Thursday. He wasn’t even an offensive player before last spring.
Russell Gage, a junior who has seen his role increase since Orgeron became interim coach, hauled in five pass for 62 yards with an impressive nine-yard receiving touchdown.
“I guess you could say it’s kind of emotional for me,” Gage said of his outing. “I worked really hard for it. Coach always preached, ‘Effort will pay off.’ I knew coming into this game I was going to have to step up and play a big role with Travin being out. It just means a lot. I’m very grateful for the opportunity.”
Gage has benefitted from Orgeron allowing position coaches, including wide receivers coach Dameyune Craig, to control the rotation of players in their units. Since Orgeron’s first game — a 42-7 win against Missouri on Oct. 1 — Gage has started in four of the last seven games, including against Texas A&M.
Still, with only a handful of targets, the Redemptorist High product didn’t have a reception. The first one Thursday night, a nine-yard grab, was a sigh a relief.
“Once I got that first one under my belt, it was kind of like getting those butterflies out your stomach, and after that you can roll. You can roll. It’s a great feeling.”
Even though the officials reviewed his touchdown — a full-extension, toe-tapping grab on a ball wide right of him — Gage didn’t have any doubt.
“I knew I caught it,” Gage smiled. “I felt great, man. I knew I had to set the guy up. Danny threw a great ball where only I could get it. It was great.”
Battle, White injured
Already down four starters entering Thursday, the regular-season finale took a toll on two Tigers in the secondary.
Safety John Battle went down with a shoulder injury in the third quarter and did not return, while cornerback Tre’Davious White used crutches after the game to support an injured left ankle.
White, a finalist for the Thorpe Award, spoke with reporters after the game and indicated his ankle injury was minor.
“Yeah, I’m good. It’s good. A little boo-boo — that’s all.”
Battle, who became a starter after Rickey Jefferson suffered a season-ending leg injury, was replaced by freshman Xavier Lewis.