The next level: With Etling running the show, will the tight ends take over?
Colin Jeter ran down the sideline, straddling the out-of-bounds stripe, his hands raised in celebration as fellow tight end DeSean Smith raced into the end zone.
“I wasn’t supposed to be on the field,” Jeter said, smiling. “I was probably on the field before he even caught the ball. I was probably pretty excited.”
Excited for what? LSU’s quarterback targeted a tight end — multiple times.
That has been something missing over the past two years, at least on a consistent basis. Saturday's quarterback change — from Brandon Harris to Danny Etling — resulted in one tight end reception and two more targets in Etling’s first two quarters of the win against Jacksonville State.
He hit Smith on a 46-yard touchdown on his sixth play in the game. He targeted Jeter twice. Etling threw to Jeter on his first play, a similarly designed play to Smith’s touchdown catch. (Jeter, against pressing one-on-one coverage, couldn't grab the ball.) Etling also hit Jeter for a completion on a curl/hitch route in the third quarter that was negated by penalty.
The bottom line: Etling is adding another dimension to the passing game that could exploit a weakness of the upcoming opponent. Tight ends facing Mississippi State have caught a combined 20 passes for 187 yards in two games.
In a season-opening loss to South Alabama, State gave up 95 yards on eight catches to the Jaguars' Gerald Everett. Three South Carolina tight ends in last week’s game caught at least one pass — including Hayden Hurst, who caught eight for 68 yards.
Expect to see more passes to the big guys Saturday, and — who knows? — we might see the same play that Smith scored on and Jeter dropped. On that play, LSU sent its tight end in motion from the right to the left side of the line just before the snap. Both Smith and Jeter ran similar routes, cutting through the flat and then bolting up the sideline.
“It’s nice, certainly, to get a ball every now and then,” Jeter said. “I was happy to see DeSean see one.”
Matchups to watch
MSU DL A.J. Jefferson vs. LSU's offensive tackles
Jefferson is tied with LSU's Arden Key as the SEC’s sack co-leaders through two games. Jefferson has three sacks and 12 tackles. The 6-foot-3, 280-pound senior is a bigger version of Key, with similar quickness. He’s State’s strength going against what has been LSU’s weakness. Tackles K.J. Malone and Toby Weathersby are first-year starters.
State QB Nick Fitzgerald vs. LSU's defensive front
Quarterbacks under Dan Mullen, the former offensive coordinator at Florida, aren’t just mobile dual-threats. He treats them as burly running backs (Tim Tebow at Florida; Chris Relf and Dak Prescott at State). Fitzgerald (6-5, 230) is another example of this. Mullen will run Fitzgerald with the zone read and will move him out of the pocket in the passing game.
LSU: Keep an eye on No. 16, QB Danny Etling
How will Etling follow up his outing against Jacksonville State? Oh, isn’t that what everybody wants to know? Etling hit six of his first eight passes and led the Tigers on three straight TD drives, but he missed on his last six attempts.
Mississippi State: Keep an eye on No. 8, WR Fred Ross
Ross is a 6-2, 205-pounder who made first team All-SEC last season. Through two games, he’s caught 12 passes for 90 yards, serving as a solid possession receiver. Tre White, Kevin Toliver and Donte Jackson will have their hands full.
1. MUSICAL QB CHAIRS
LSU replaced Brandon Harris after five ineffective quarters with Danny Etling. Mississippi State started Nick Fitzgerald in both games, but he was 0-for-3 passing against South Alabama and was relieved by Damian Williams before thriving against South Carolina. The team that struggles so badly it switches QBs midgame this week will lose.
2. THE RESISTIBLE FORCES
LSU’s passing game versus Mississippi State’s pass defense isn’t strength versus strength. The Tigers rank 13th in the SEC at 129.0 passing yards per game. The Bulldogs rank 12th in defensive passing efficiency with a 132.3 rating, but they only allow two more yards per game than LSU (228.5). If Etling can get a rhythm going, this should be an advantage for LSU.
3. GIVING THEM FITZ
LSU’s defense has been good, but the Tigers have been vulnerable to blown pass coverages and zone-read option runs. Jacksonville State quarterback Eli Jenkins netted 82 yards on 19 carries last week. Fitzgerald rushed for a Mississippi State quarterback-record 195 yards last week and will hurt the Tigers again if they can’t defend the zone read better.
4 EMINENCE FRONT
Mississippi State ranks No. 2 in SEC run defense behind Alabama, allowing 60.0 yards per game, including just 34 against South Carolina. Clearly, LSU will have the best rushing offense the Bulldogs have faced with Leonard Fournette (138 yards vs. Wisconsin) and Derrius Guice (155 vs. Jacksonville State), but LSU will need Fournette to be at full speed.
Numbers worth knowing
LSU's first-quarter points this season
Mississippi State's first-half point differential
LSU’s record against State since 1992
Yards last week by MSU QB Nick Fitzgerald
Five memorable games
This will be the 110th meeting of the Tigers and Bulldogs. Here are five memorable games from LSU’s most-played rivalry:
Nov. 15, 1958 — LSU 7, Mississippi State 6: On a muddy field in Jackson, Mississippi, No. 1 LSU trails 6-0 in the third quarter when Warren Rabb throws a 5-yard touchdown pass to Red Hendrix on fourth-and-goal. Tommy Davis’ extra point is the difference in what would be the closest call for the national champions.
Nov. 13, 1982 — Mississippi State 27, LSU 24: Coming off an historic 20-10 win at Alabama, unbeaten and No. 6 LSU is upset in Starkville. State quarterback John Bond rushes for 91 yards and throws for 128 and a TD before Baton Rouge native Dana Moore boots the game-winning 45-yard field goal with 25 seconds left.
Nov. 15, 1986 — LSU 47, Mississippi State 0: In 1984, LSU goes to Starkville with a shot to win the SEC title and falls 16-14. Two years later in Jackson, the Tigers leave no doubt. Tommy Hodson throws for 231 yards and two touchdowns as LSU outgains the Bulldogs 580-214 en route to clinching its first SEC championship since 1970.
Oct. 21, 2000 — LSU 45, Mississippi State 38 (OT): Down 31-17 entering the fourth quarter to the No. 13 Bulldogs, the Tigers rally to force overtime. There, LaBrandon Toefield scores on a 13-yard run. On fourth-and-2 at the 17, Trev Faulk and Jeremy Lawrence force State quarterback Wayne Madkin out of bounds to end it.
Sept. 26, 2009 — LSU 30, Mississippi State 26: This was The Chad Jones Show. The Tigers’ talented safety runs sideline to sideline on a 93-yard punt return that ranks as one of the best ever for the Tigers. Jones then preserves the win by batting down a Tyson Lee pass in the end zone on third-and-goal at the 1 with 1:14 left.
Week 3 LSU bowl projections
Bob Bender, The Sporting News: Music City vs. Pittsburgh
Tom Dienhart, Big Ten Nework: Outback vs. Michigan
CollegeFootballNews.com: Sugar vs. Texas
Jessi Lee, SaturdayDownSouth.com: TaxSlayer vs. Virginia Tech
Brett McMurphy, ESPN.com: TaxSlayer vs. Virginia Tech
Jerry Palm, CBSSports.com: Outback vs. Michigan
Mark Schlabach, ESPN.com: TaxSlayer vs. Nebraska
Alex Scarborough and David Hale, ESPN.com: TaxSlayer vs. Miami
Alex Shirkey, SECCountry.com: Texas vs. West Virginia
Erick Smith, USA Today: Outback vs. Michigan State
Texas Bowl: Dec. 28, Houston
Music City Bowl: Dec. 30, Nashville, Tenn.
TaxSlayer Bowl: Dec. 31, Jacksonville, Fla.
Outback Bowl: Jan. 2, Tampa, Fla.
Sugar Bowl: Jan. 2, New Orleans