BATON ROUGE - In the end, Danny Etling being named LSU's starting quarterback on Tuesday was no surprise, though many in LSU's fan base desired what fan bases frequently desire - a No. 2 quarterback promotion.
"We made the decision to announce Danny as our starting quarterback," LSU coach Ed Orgeron said at a press conference Tuesday night after making the decision and telling the team Monday. "Danny did a very good job for us. Was very competitive. Has handled the daily competition well. Myles Brennan was a very close second."
Brennan, a true freshman from St. Stanislaus in Long Beach, Miss., was very impressive in just a few weeks of practice this month as he passed fellow true freshman Lowell Narcisse, who went through spring drills as an early enrollee, sophomore Justin McMillan and redshirt freshman Lindsay Scott, Jr., who recently transferred. But with a new, complicated offense from new coordinator Matt Canada being introduced, it would have been too much for Brennan, who missed spring drills as he was not an early enrollee.
Orgeron said as August practices began that he was reluctant to throw a true freshman into the fire as a starting quarterback. He repeated that Tuesday.
"We want Myles and Lowell to grow at their own pace," Orgeron said. "We don't want to rush them and put them in when they're not ready. Hopefully, we can get Myles and Lowell in the game this year and see what they can do and also give them a chance."
Orgeron said he told Brennan privately on Tuesday that would not be the starter.
"He understood," he said.
Orgeron said Brennan exceeded his expectations over the last few weeks, but that freshman thing remained. A freshman quarterback has not opened the season as the starter at LSU since Tommy Hodson in 1986, and he was a redshirt freshman.
"We knew he was going to be a good player," Orgeron said of Brennan. "There were some things he did beyond our expectations. But he was still a freshman. A freshman coming to LSU, especially being the quarterback, it's a big stage. It takes awhile to get used to that, and Myles went through a phase that he had to get used to it. But he did. I felt like in his first scrimmage, he was a little nervous in Tiger Stadium. Last Saturday, he threw some fantastic balls. I mean the guy made some really good plays."
Etling played hurt most of last season, but still finished sixth in the Southeastern Conference in passing efficiency at 135.6 and passing yards average per game with 193. He postponed back surgery until after spring practice so he could better learn the offense.
"Consistency, knowing the offense, being around the team day in and day out," Orgeron said when asked what separated Etling from Brennan. "After his surgery, he came back and must have worked throughout the summer night and day. He was prepared. I think the competition helped him get better. Matt feels like he's throwing the ball better since his operation. The overall understanding, and plus being a fifth-year senior."
Despite often not having feeling in his foot among other discomforts because of the back injury and not being able to throw at full strength in 2016, Etling still completed 160 of 269 passes (.595 completion percentage) for 2,123 yards and 11 touchdowns with five interceptions for the 135.6 rating. That was the highest efficiency mark by an LSU starting quarterback since 2013 when Zach Mettenberger was No. 6 nationally and No. 2 in the SEC at 171.4 on 192-of-296 passing for 3,082 yards and 22 touchdowns with eight interceptions.
"I can't relate to trying to do everything he was doing and not being able to have feeling in certain parts of your foot," Canada said Monday of Etling playing despite the back injury last season. "And even though he was looking like he was doing it, he wasn't sure. And he wasn't confident. So, I think there's more confidence in what he's doing. I think there's more velocity in what he's doing. And it's a culmination of all those things and getting more comfortable probably."
Etling started 10 games in the 2016 season after replacing Brandon Harris as the starter against Mississippi State in game three. He completed 20 of 28 passes for 324 yards and two touchdowns in the Tigers' 54-39 win at No. 22 Texas A&M in the regular season finale to become the first quarterback since Mettenberger in 2013 to throw for 300 yards or more in an LSU victory over an SEC opponent.
"No. Danny's our starter," Orgeron said when asked if the competition for the job will continue week to week after the Sept. 2 season opener against Brigham Young in NRG Stadium in Houston (8:30 p.m. on ESPN). "If Danny goes in a game and flops, I'd have no problem putting Myles in. But we don't expect that. We expect Danny to do well."
After telling Brennan and Etling privately and telling Etling to call his dad with the news, Orgeron told the team as a whole Tuesday that Etling was the starter to cheers.
"Here's what I wanted to do," Orgeron said as he stretched his arms horizontally as if to say he was clearing the air and that something was finished. "I just wanted to say, 'Here's our starting quarterback.' I did that for the team. I wanted the team to know two weeks ahead that Danny's the starting quarterback, and here we go."
He also wanted to give Etling a vote of confidence after talking up Brennan throughout August.
"I just wanted to make sure that Danny knew that I believe in him," he said. "I think it's important that the quarterback knows that the head coach and the offensive coordinator believes in him and the team believes in him. And now we spend two weeks saying, 'Hey, you're our guy. Let's go.' I think he's going to play better."
DERRIUS GUICE INJURED: Starting tailback Derrius Guice suffered "a minor injury in the scrimmage on Saturday," Orgeron said, and is being held out of practices this week. But he is expected to be fine for the season opener on Sept. 2.
"He'll be back," Orgeron said. "We expect him to be out for a couple days."
ARDEN KEY UPDATE: Starting edge linebacker Arden Key remains questionable for the season opener with a shoulder injury after a recent doctor visit.
"He's not cleared to go yet," Orgeron said. "We don't know when he's going to be cleared. He's not ready to practice yet. We still don't know when he's going to play."
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