Struggling LSU shows life after QB switch

BATON ROUGE — Les Miles found someone with a hotter seat than his ... and he replaced him.

The embattled LSU football coach pulled the trigger and may have found the silver bullet that could save his job .

With 14:42 to play in the second quarter Saturday night at Tiger Stadium, the Etling Era began as Miles replaced struggling starting quarterback Brandon Harris with junior transfer Danny Etling, formerly of Purdue. And, "Oh, Danny Boy!"

Not only did Miles find a passing offense, he found a two-minute offense on his way to a 34-13 victory over Jacksonville State in the home opener before about 80,000 at Tiger Stadium Saturday night. Just 2:21 after taking his first snap in a game in two years, the 6-foot-3, 226-pound Etling stood tall, calm and still in the pocket and delivered a 46-yard touchdown pass to tight end DeSean Smith on the money for a touchdown, leaving the air-attack-starved crowd breathless.

"But come ye back when summer's in the meadow. Or when the valley's hushed," goes the English ballad, "Danny Boy."

And boy, was Death Valley hushed as LSU's offense netted 12 yards of offense on six plays with no first downs through two series in the first quarter under Harris, who was 1-of-4 passing for eight yards, as Jacksonville State — a second division FCS school — took a 3-0 lead over the Tigers early in the second quarter.

Then came Etling.

“Coach didn’t say much," Etling said. "He just said go out and be yourself and make some nice decisions. Put us in a position to win the game.”

Then came a touchdown just five passes later.

"It was a pretty cool feeling," he said of the first touchdown. "It was pretty nice, especially since we were down at the time. It was nice to put ourselves in a position to succeed.”

Miles said at halftime that Harris looked "uncomfortable." Etling looked almost like he was in an easy chair.

"I expect to play every week," he said matter of factly. "I prepared this week just like I would play."

Miles said he considered putting Etling in last week in the Tigers' 16-14 loss to Wisconsin, but in the end he said could not pull the trigger because the situation wasn't right.

This time was the right time for Etling.

“Maybe a little bit nervous," he said. "But I had kind of been there before - been on both ends of the spectrum on that one (quarterback switches). I just wanted to go out there and win the game for my team.”

Etling, a native of Terre Haute, Indiana, who started parts of two seasons at Purdue in 2013 and '14, completed 3 of 5 passes on his first drive for 65 yards with the 46-yard touchdown to give the Tigers a 6-3 lead after the conversion was blocked. Then he hit two more for 17 yards on the next drive and got a pass interference call to set up a 4-yard touchdown run by Derrius Guice, and LSU was up 13-3 after Colby Delahoussaye's extra point.

Etling found Guice on an 18-yard completion to set up another touchdown and 20-10 lead before a spectacular, backwards-forwards, 60-yard punt return by Tre'Davious White with 20 seconds to go in the second quarter gave LSU (1-1) a 27-10 halftime lead.

That was three touchdowns in three possessions for Etling. Then he scrambled for 10 yards on LSU's first possession of the third quarter - a play Miles particularly liked. He proved to be human, though, as he threw an interception into the end zone and went 0-for-6 passing in the second half with a fumble while being sacked. He added a 2-yard touchdown run on third-and-goal for a 34-10 lead with three minutes to go in the third quarter.

"He was productive about right away, so we decided to let him stay," Miles said. "Not perfect in any way. He missed some open receivers, but certainly performed well to a point."

Etling finished 6-of-14 for 100 yards and the touchdown. And Harris may be finished as the starter.

"Brandon, we've got to get him comfortable and settled down," Miles said. "I don't know if that'll happen. Depends on how the quarterback competition plays out."

The offense may have looked different with Etling under center, but it was not.

"No, it was just exactly the same offense we've been running for as long as I can remember," Miles said. "His 10-yard scramble was exactly the right thing to do." 

Guice led the Tigers with 155 yards on 19 carries and a touchdown.

Jacksonville State (1-1) outgained LSU 87 yards to 12 in the first quarter and had six first downs to zero, but it was only in the game briefly after Etling's entry. Gamecocks' quarterback Eli Jenkins' 76-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Krenwick Sanders cut LSU's lead to 13-10 in the second quarter just after Etling had taken LSU to its second touchdown. Jenkins completed 17 of 35 passes for 248 yards with a touchdown and an interception while rushing for 82 yards on 18 carries.

But Jacksonville State did not score again until a 33-yard field goal by Cade Stinnett got it within 34-13 with 4:27 to go in the game. LSU then put in No. 3 quarterback Justin McMillan to finish the game.

Miles stopped short of announcing that Etling was LSU's new starting quarterback, but said he would "absolutely" have a chance to compete for it this week in practice leading up to Saturday's Southeastern Conference opener against Mississippi State (1-1, 1-0 SEC).

"The season's a long season. We're going to need both of them," he said.

"I will just do whatever the coaches say," Etling said. "I haven’t really gotten the chance to sit down and talk with the coaching staff this fresh after the game. Whatever they tell me to do, I’m going to do.”

That will likely be - you're going to start.


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