The first one eats at Danny Etling.
That first deep pass in Saturday's loss at Alabama — the one that was so underthrown, it smacked Bama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick in the back.
That’s the one the LSU quarterback thinks about more than any other, since he watched video of the game on the plane ride back to Baton Rouge on Saturday night, and again Monday afternoon.
“Put it a couple of feet more and see what happens,” Etling said of the throw. “Felt good out of my hands. I didn’t want to throw it as a far as I could because I didn’t want to overthrow him. That was probably the one I thought I could have put a couple more feet.”
There were others — four more, to be exact. Four more opportunities missed. Four more chances dashed.
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Four more long balls that hit the turf at Bryant-Denny Stadium, LSU’s window for an upset closing tighter with each — until the window slammed shut in a 24-10 loss.
“That was our game plan, to go deep. If we make those plays, that's a different ballgame,” coach Ed Orgeron said Monday to the second of three questions about the deep misses.
To the third question, he answered: “No regrets. Let me say this — I'm with those guys, man. They gave us every ounce of energy that they had, and that's going to happen. It's football. You know, I have no regrets in this football game. Not one.”
For LSU (6-3, 3-2 Southeastern Conference), the page has already turned to Arkansas (4-5, 1-4). The teams meet at 11 a.m. Saturday in Tiger Stadium.
For many, the page hasn’t turned. It’s still Crimson and not Razorback red, still full of missed opportunities in what could have been a three-touchdown upset on the road against a top-ranked division rival.
It could have ended the streak — now seven games — and had the Tigers chasing a championship in mid-November for the first time since 2011.
The deep ball failures are seared into many heads. Etling went 1-for-6 in attempts of 25 yards or longer, and four of his five misses came with a receiver open by a full stride — if not two.
When the last few grains of sand ran out on LSU’s 24-10 loss Saturday at Alabama, it became time for coach Ed Orgeron to make a value judgment…
His target on four of those attempts was none other than DJ Chark, a trusty wideout whose rapport with Etling goes back to the two players’ days on the scout team during the 2015 season.
Chark and Etling spoke Monday, using words like “surprising” and “frustrating” to describe a day in which poor communication and timing reared their heads.
“You’re not going to have your best game every game,” Chark said. “We wish we would have had our best against one of the best team we’re going to face in the country.”
It wasn’t all Etling.
In another deep ball to the end zone, Chark lost track of the football in the air, he told his quarterback. It bounced out front of his inside shoulder as he looked outside — a potential 58-yard touchdown gone poof.
Later on, he dropped an underthrown pass, the ball bouncing into his stomach and popping out — a potential 46-yard completion rolling around on the grass. A deep safety on that play resulted in a purposely underthrown pass, Etling said.
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“If a safety is over the top of him, you’re not going to throw him into the safety. You’ll try to stop him with the ball. You kind of have a feel for it,” the quarterback said. “I knew he beat his corner pretty well. Took me a half-second to find him and I just tried to drop it in there to him.”
Chark, a player known for his blazing speed, admits he could have slowed down on that pass attempt and maybe others. Orgeron agrees.
“Probably could have caught the ball if he slowed down a little bit, but it's hard to tell a receiver to slow down,” the coach said. “This time it wasn't right, but that was on both of the guys.”
After that play, CBS cameras caught Chark, in the huddle for the next play, turning to Etling for a quick conversation. The quarterback had already moved on, barking out the play-call as he gazed at the play card attached to his wrist band.
They’ve now all moved on. The two, Chark and Etling, spoke to one another in the hallway before entering the team room Monday where three dozen reporters awaited.
“We talked already about it," Chark said a few minutes later. "We’re really focused on getting the connection down this week and getting better for Saturday.”
On Sunday night, Christian LaCouture set his phone alarm for 6:30 a.m. Monday.
They get a chance, receiver and quarterback, to reconnect in a few days against a team that struggles with the deep ball. Arkansas ranks 102nd nationally in allowing pass plays of 30 or more yards. Opponents have hit 16 of those against the Hogs this season.
To put that in perspective, opponents have completed seven 30-plus yard passes against the Tigers.
“Nothing is unfixable,” Chark said. “(The misses are) only going to make us better for Arkansas and the next two games.”
Etling’s last deep attempt against Alabama was meant for a wide open Derrick Dillon. The ball soared well beyond Dillon’s reach, a result of Etling rushing the pass because of pressure, he said.
His interception in the first quarter was somewhat inexplicable, the quarterback admits. Bama defensive back Ronnie Harrison leaped in front of running back Derrius Guice, running a short out route near the sideline.
“That was my read. It felt like it was good out of my hand,” he said. “Maybe it was a tad behind him. Tough to see on film.”
The downfield failures brought on questions regarding Etling’s standing as the starting quarterback — he’ll remain in that position, Orgeron said — and had fans criticizing players on social media.
Chark took notice, responding to some fans on Twitter a few hours after the game.
“It comes with it,” he said Monday. “Easy to analyze things, hard to do. At the end of the day, I’ve got four more games with my brothers. I’d be a fool to not cherish these moments because of someone else’s opinion.”
Said Etling: “Some games you’ll hit them, some games you won’t.”
It’s that first one that gets Etling, a potential game-changing score in this lopsided series.
This wasn’t first scoring opportunity LSU wasted in this losing skid to the Tide. Do you remember 2013 and J.C. Copeland’s first-quarter fumble at the goal line? Or how about LSU’s offense gaining 1 yard in three plays last season after safety Jamal Adams intercepted Bama QB Jalen Hurts’ second pass attempt?
The early woes against Nick Saban’s club arose again last week. This one 4 minutes into the game, a potential 56 yard touchdown banging against the back of a defender.
“Obviously he’s frustrated,” center Will Clapp said. “It was his last time to go against them. He wanted to win, but Danny is a fighter. We fully expect him to get up and come back and have a solid game. We all know it.”
On the stat sheet, LSU beat Alabama in plenty of categories.
Yards in air
Danny Etling said
“Felt good out of my hands. I didn’t want to throw it as a far as I could bc I didn’t want to overthrow him. That was probably the one I thought I could have put a couple more feet.”
“I don’t think he saw the ball, he said. The guy was on his back hip. He was trying to find it. It’s tough out there. A lot of lights and dark out.”
“There was a (safety) over the top, so I tried to drop it (short). I thought there was a (safety) who could affect the ball. I knew he beat his corner.”
“I had to throw it a half-second sooner than I wanted to. There was a guy coming down to hit me. I threw it just a little sooner before he was out of his break. We didn’t quite get it.”