BATON ROUGE – The last time Les Miles named a new starting quarterback at an in-season Monday press luncheon, that quarterback bombed five days later after obviously outplaying the incumbent the previous week.
Perhaps this is why Miles did not name Danny Etling his starter on Monday for Saturday’s game between the No. 22 Tigers (1-1) and Mississippi State (1-1, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) at 6 p.m. on ESPN2 in Tiger Stadium.
Etling, a junior transfer from Purdue, came off the bench in the second quarter and easily outplayed incumbent junior starter Brandon Harris in the Tigers’ 34-13 victory over Jacksonville State on Saturday, and Miles dropped hints that Etling would start the next game.
“Brandon, we’ve got to get him comfortable and settled down,” Miles said Saturday after Harris went 1-of-4 passing for eight yards and no first downs Sbefore Etling completed 6 of 14 for 100 yards with a 46-yard touchdown pass, a 10-yard scramble and four touchdown drives.
“I don’t know if that’ll happen,” Miles added. “Depends on how the quarterback competition plays out.”
On Monday, Miles was asked if allowing Harris to take a step back last Saturday and view everything from the bench could help him.
“We would like to think that a respite from the starting quarterback and the pressures thereof might allow him to take a deep breath and step forward and compete. We saw it as a positive,” Miles said, but he did not say Harris would or would not get that same respite at the start of Saturday’s game.
Miles said he would tell his team which quarterback would start, but he may not tell the public. This may be to try to save Harris a little face as Harris may be counted on again should Etling falter.
“We’ll need both guys to play in every game. We’re not turning our back in any way on competition in that position,” said Miles, who said that midway in 2011 after Jordan Jefferson replaced Jarrett Lee as the quarterback. But the back was indeed turned on Lee as he took only a handful of snaps the rest of the season.
“I will not name a starter until I talk to my team,” Miles said and added he may not publicly name a starter. “But I will communicate most effectively to them (his players).”
At his Monday press luncheon on September 29, 2014, Miles named Harris the starter for LSU’s SEC opener at Auburn over incumbent Anthony Jennings after Harris completed 11 of 14 passes for 178 yards and three touchdowns in a 63-7 win over New Mexico State. Jennings was 2-of-5 passing in that game for 11 yards with two interceptions.
Harris then went 3-of-14 passing for 58 yards at Auburn and looked very confused. It was gleaned later that the true freshman did not know all the plays and made some things up as the game went along without success. He was replaced by Jennings during the 41-7 loss. Jennings started the rest of the season before losing the job to Harris before the 2015 season and transferred to Louisiana-Lafayette over the summer.
Miles also would not shed any light on how the practice snaps with the first team would be split between Etling and Harris this week.
Miles next meets with reporters on Wednesday night.
Throughout the press luncheon, Miles praised the play of Etling, who played in his first game since early in the 2014 season at Purdue, where he started parts of the 2013 and ’14 seasons before transferring to LSU.
“We started slow (with Harris), and simply put, we felt like we needed a little pick-me-up, so we put Danny Etling in,” Miles said. “And he scored the next 27 points in the second quarter.”
Actually, it was the next 20 points in the second quarter. Etling threw the 46-yard touchdown to tight end DeSean Smith on his first drive, drove LSU 79 yards in eight plays for another touchdown and 64 yards in five plays for another touchdown in the second quarter. The fourth touchdown was scored by Tre’Davious White on a 60-yard punt return for a 27-10 lead with 20 seconds to go before halftime. White was named the SEC’s special teams co-player of the week on Monday.
Etling did drive LSU 45 yards in seven plays for another touchdown in the third quarter for a 34-10 lead after throwing an interception into the end zone.
“He threw for 100, ran for one,” Miles said. “Certainly, it seemed like we were moving the football well.”
Miles was asked if he learned anything from Harris’ disappointing first career start at Auburn in 2014 that may help him prepare Etling to avoid the same fate, such as making sure he knows enough of the playbook to start.
“Well, Danny has had really great weeks of preparation to be honest with you,” Miles said. “I think as he’s approached game week, I think he performed extremely well, so he was deserving of the opportunity. Again, we’ll need both guys, and we’ll expect that both guys will be ready to play.”
Should Etling start, it will be the 13th start of his career and his 15th college game.
“I think he’s the kind of guy that really prepares,” Miles said. “He was in the building on Sunday on his own watching film.”
Miles praised Etling’s ability to check off to other plays in Saturday’s game. “I don’t know that he got any help at all (from other coaches during the game),” he said. “Certainly, the coaching staff helps every guy that goes on the field in a check situation, but I don’t know that any specific help was given to Danny.”
Miles was asked if he noticed more enthusiasm from the Tiger Stadium crowd and his team after the insertion of Etling, who completed a 7-yard pass on his second attempt, had a 12-yard completion on his fourth pass and threw the 46-yard TD on his fifth throw.
“I don’t know more or less on the sideline,” Miles said. “The only thing I can tell you is that Danny has a nice rapport with his teammates, and I think he’s an asserting guy. I think he wants to make plays for them. I think everybody rooted for him as he took the field.”
Miles said he wants a fast start from Etling against Mississippi State. The Tigers have not yet scored in a first quarter this season or even recorded a first down. This was one reason why Harris was taken out.
“There was never a schedule to this,” Miles said. “It was not planned after this many reps, etcetera. We told Brandon, ‘Go on out and have fun, don’t look back, drive and win and don’t worry about it.’ But we were in position to make a change should we feel like he was not starting fast.”
Etling and possibly Harris will be playing against a Mississippi State defense that allowed 285 yards passing to true freshman quarterback Dallas Davis in a 21-20 loss to 28-point underdog South Alabama on September 3. The Bulldogs recovered to beat South Carolina, 27-14 on Saturday.
“We need to allow him to show us that he can continue to do what he’s done,” Miles said when asked about how he prepares Etling this week. “We’ll basically expose him to the things that we need to have him do.”
Miles then added Harris to his answer and made it sound like Harris was indeed the backup.
“And then in the same vein make sure that Brandon Harris gets that opportunity because we’re going to need both the guys,” he said. “But make sure he (Harris) gets that opportunity to compete and see how he’s coming, and let’s not turn a blind eye to a very talented quarterback on our team already.”