On Saturday night, Danny Etling experienced something for just the second time in a career that has spanned five years, two schools and 26 starts.
He was pulled in a somewhat close game, replaced by his backup. The last time it happened was nearly three years earlier on Sept. 27, 2014, yanked out of Purdue’s game against Iowa.
How do the two compare?
“Well, I went back in so that was a little bit different from Purdue,” Etling said. “(Purdue coaches) never put me back in. Wasn’t quite a rotation. I went (out), then we lost seven straight games and then I left.”
Reporters laughed, and Etling smiled.
This is no quarterback controversy, coaches and players say. A relaxed Etling on Monday is proof that his starting job remains firmly intact, something coach Ed Orgeron insisted Saturday and re-affirmed Monday at his weekly news conference.
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The Tigers’ quarterback situation grew intriguing with the insertion Saturday against Syracuse of highly-billed freshman Myles Brennan. It remained that way Monday, when Orgeron announced that coaches plan to continue using the rookie in close games this season.
QB controversy? No.
QB rotation? Maybe.
How much Brennan will rotate into games is unclear, as the 25th-ranked Tigers (3-1) prepare to host Troy (3-1) on Saturday. His 16-snap, three-series performance in the 35-26 win over the Orange has only increased the likelihood of extended playing time. For instance, Orgeron called Brennan’s outing “fantastic,” and center Will Clapp claimed Monday that the 6-foot-4, 193-pounder proved something.
“He showed,” Clapp said, “he’s ready.”
Brennan flashed the skills that had at least one recruiting outlet peg him as the fourth-best pro-style passer in the nation among the 2017 recruiting class. Despite those lofty rankings, a few players on the LSU football team weren’t sold on him — until Saturday night.
“Some guys thought he was going to go in there and freeze up a little bit,” receiver Drake Davis said, “but he came in and did what he had to do and we scored a touchdown.”
Brennan completed 4 of 6 attempts for 75 yards and led the Tigers on a 91-yard touchdown march. His span of plays started at the 9-minute mark in the third quarter, with LSU up 21-10, and ended with 11 minutes left in the game, the Tigers clinging to a 28-19 advantage.
The Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, native showed calm and a quick delivery in a pressurized pocket. Under duress, he flipped a couple of passes to his safety valve, running back Darrel Williams, and one of them went for 43 yards — a “perfect read” by the young QB, Orgeron said.
A blitzing defender in his face, Brennan zipped a pass to tight end Foster Moreau for 7 yards and before that, in a clean pocket, fired a dart to DJ Chark for 22. He even picked up 5 yards rushing on a simple quarterback sneak on third-and-short, using that lanky frame to fall forward for a chunk of yardage.
Brennan has not been made available for interviews. True freshmen are normally off limits to reporters, a team policy that stretches back several years.
Teammates spent Saturday night and Monday lauding the QB.
“Myles is a playmaker,” Davis said.
“He did an excellent job driving it (91) yards for that touchdown,” F-back JD Moore said. “That was a great drive for him. He executed well."
Brennan has already developed a nickname, too, at least with one teammate. Moreau revealed Monday that he calls him “Moose,” for reasons in which he did not elaborate.
“It’s good to know you’ve got (No.) 15 back there,” Moreau said, referring to Brennan’s jersey number. “If something goes down (with Etling), he can operate the offense.”
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He operates the unit in a similar manner and in similar ways, players say.
The two quarterbacks aren’t so different, Moreau says. They’re both smart pro-style passers with good pocket presence, great awareness and an ability to read defenses “really well,” the tight end said.
“Danny can run a little faster,” Moreau said. “Myles is a little taller.”
There’s more to that answer, of course. Etling is a fifth-year player, a grizzled veteran who turned 23-years old in July. Brennan is four months out of high school, an 18-year-old who was battling for the backup job only a few weeks ago.
Their delivery is different too, and so is their timing, Davis said. Brennan has a quicker release, Orgeron said Monday, and, for such a young player, can read the field “very fast.” Etling has the edge on touch passes, Moreau said, and knowledge of the playbook.
“Obviously, there is a package that we can do with Myles. There is an expanded package that we can do with Danny because he knows all of the offense,” Orgeron said. “I think that's the difference.”
Another difference: how defenses play them. Syracuse changed its secondary coverage with Brennan in the game. The Orange played a zone coverage against the freshman, Moreau said, while playing man-to-man against Etling.
Brennan had his faults. He nearly threw an interception on an out route, the ball arriving a half-second too late. His playing time ended with an interception on a short pass intended for Davis.
After the game, the receiver took responsibility for the interception. He misread a linebacker in zone coverage and was in the wrong spot. “Hundred percent my fault,” he said.
Matt Canada didn’t need a lengthy discussion or debate about how to fix the LSU offense’s ea…
Etling, meanwhile, stood on the sideline watching this all unfold, before coaches re-inserted him for a final, game-securing touchdown drive.
He was surprised, like many others. Players on Saturday night and Monday said they were unaware entering the game that Brennan would see the field. Etling was more affected than anyone, naturally, and now he must deal with the outside rumblings.
He knows they will be there. He knows they’re already there.
“That’s probably the biggest challenge of dealing with (this),” he said. “Making sure you don’t press and trying to do too much now because you feel like you need to do that.”
LSU will play in The Swamp during the day.
Rotating quarterbacks is something new to this football program, at least since the Jordan Jefferson-and-Jarrett Lee experiment ended in 2011.
The position has spent much of the last three years in the crosshairs of criticism, but then-coach Les Miles never really rotated his QBs consistently. Since Zach Mettenberger left the program in 2013, the Tigers have used three different starting quarterbacks — and none of those moves were made because of injury.
Then-freshman Brandon Harris replaced Anthony Jennings, the 2014 starter, six games into that season. Jennings regained his job the next week. Etling replaced Harris, the 2015 starter, during the second game of last year.
In a much difference situation, it was Etling’s turn last weekend.
“He looked good,” Etling said of Brennan. “I thought we made a lot of similar decisions. If we didn’t, we’d talk about it.”
And this time, Brennan wore his mouthpiece.
Etling jabbed at Brennan after the season opener because the freshman did not wear his mouthpiece during his nine-play mop-up duty in the win over BYU. Why didn’t he?
“I think everybody wanted to hear him,” Etling said then. “Sometimes the mouthpiece can make you not as loud.”
That was a problem over the summer, players say. Brennan's volume in the huddle and during presnap calls was too low. Clapp gave him advice over the summer. It was three words long.
“Say it loud,” Clapp said he told the rookie.
“Really worked on it,” Moreau said. “It’s such a miniscule thing you don’t really think about, but it means a lot to the other 10 guys in the huddle.”