Danny Etling’s first fake handoff was good.
The second was even better.
His third action on this particular play topped them all.
Etling fired a spiraling pass to a wide-open Drake Davis for a rousing 36-yard touchdown, the first of many long-ball beauties on this cool Louisiana night.
LSU opened its home schedule by debuting the deep ball portion of Matt Canada’s brand-new offense, connecting on a host of downfield passing strikes in front of an announced 97,289 at Tiger Stadium.
Etling threw for 227 yards on just eight completions, and the Tigers, despite a host of missed field goals and penalties, roared to a 45-10 win over UT-Chattanooga on Saturday night in the home opener.
Said a smiling Etling: "It was fun to be back home."
LSU’s fifth-year senior quarterback flashed his mended back and big gun, completing five passes of at least 25 yards — none more scintillating than that strike to Davis in the first quarter. He executed consecutive play-fakes before the pass, fooling many in this purple-and-gold clad venue, with a fake dive play and then a fake end-around. He then launched the ball to Davis, a talented wideout and native of Baton Rouge who raced some 5 yards behind Chattanooga defensive backs.
Davis was so open he turned halfway around and caught the ball as if he were a punt returner. The crowd predicted the score before he cradled it into his arms.
"In my head, I was thinking, 'Man, they cheered before I even caught the ball,' " Davis said, describing his thoughts as the ball floated toward him. "I was like, 'I got to catch it now.' "
Davis was far from the only receiver to soar on this night.
Etling’s five long-ball completions went to four players: Davis (36 yards), Stephen Sullivan (46), freshman JaCoby Stevens (27) and two to DJ Chark (46 and 48).
Chark returned a punt 65 yards for a score, too, and running back Derrius Guice broke the 100-yard mark for a second straight game. Freshman quarterback Myles Brennan saw the most time of his young career, completing one pass on four drives, and the Tigers played an 18th and 19th true freshman on the season, in fullback Tory Carter and Stevens.
Redshirt freshman Greedy Williams and true freshman Kary Vincent each had first-half interceptions, and LSU’s defense buckled down after a rough start, stifling this Football Championship Subdivision foe.
It was a final tuneup before a collision with Mississippi State (2-0) in Starkville next Saturday.
For 12th-ranked LSU (2-0), there’s a lot to fix, despite those long balls. Coach Ed Orgeron called his team's play Saturday "spotty" after last week's win over BYU.
"We need to get better in a hurry," Orgeron said during a postgame news conference.
Nine of the 13 LSU players who did not travel to last week’s season opener dressed out Satur…
Jack Gonsoulin, from 40 yards, and Connor Culp, from 47, each missed a field goal, and LSU rolled up 10 penalties by halftime, key flags that often stopped drives or continued those for Chattanooga (0-2).
"Next week is going to be a tough week, tough week in practice," Orgeron said.
The coach bemoaned his field goal kicking, even joking that injured edge rusher Arden Key "maybe can come back next week and kick a field goal."
The coach plans to "open" up a job that Gonsoulin won during camp.
Frustrations were such Saturday that Orgeron, at one point during the second quarter, broke his headset in frustration, according to the LSU radio broadcast of the game. LSU led 28-3 at halftime, but Orgeron described it as “really sloppy” during a halftime interview.
What wasn’t sloppy? Etling and his receivers.
The long ball was working against the Mocs and their zone coverage, a week after many blasted the Tigers for debuting their new offense with 57 rushes in a 27-0 win over BYU.
They chunked it up Saturday night in a game that ended with temperatures near 70 degrees. The deep ball was "a plan" entering the game, Etling said.
"They were trying to stop the run, playing their safeties down," center Will Clapp said. "Play-action allowed us to get it over their head. Some guys capitalized."
"We thought they’d try to stop the run," Etling said. "Receivers made some big catches."
Etling finished 8 of 14 passing, and he started the game 4-for-5, hitting that deep pass to Davis before rifling a 46-yarder to Sullivan, a jump-ball that the sophomore snatched out of midair with a wild leap, using that 6-6, 235-pound frame.
A 27-yard strike to Stevens came next. The true freshman raced across the field on a crossing route, and Etling placed it perfectly into his arms for a first down. He then found Chark for 46 yards and hit his senior receiver again for 48 more in the third quarter, the last of those a comeback catch on an underthrown ball.
LSU’s defense, meanwhile, made early game adjustments to solve some first-quarter woes. The Mocs tallied 98 yards in their first two drives, accomplishing a feat BYU couldn’t last week. The Cougars never crossed midfield, for one, and they finished with just 97 yards of offense.
No worries. The Tigers held the Mocs to 13 yards on their next seven drives, shining once again after last week’s season-opening shutout in New Orleans.
"Got after their butts," Orgeron said explaining the turnaround.
They did it this time with a more veteran group.
Eight of the 13 players who did not make the trip to last week’s season opener dressed out for the Tigers’ game against the Mocs. Inside linebacker Donne Alexander, absent last week, regained his starting spot, and cornerback Kevin Toliver returned, too, in a rotating role with Williams and Donte Jackson. Outside linebacker Michael Divinity and nickel corner Xavier Lewis, both missing last week, returned.
"We just started so hyped," linebacker Devin White said. "We knew what we did last week. It set in. We just had to calm down and play LSU defense."
And the offense? Well, it whipped the ball around the field for chunks of yards. White missed most of the deep passes live, but he made sure to catch the replays.
"I'm on the bench talking to the defense," he said, "but when I hear the crowd go crazy, I look up and catch the instant replay. I'm happy for coach Canada. I know how far he can take our offense because we've got the playmakers."