You might not have heard of LSU quarterback Danny Etling. He was widely unheard of until this season, when the signal caller took over for Tigers quarterback Brandon Harris.
Here are a few things to know about the former Purdue Boilermaker, who has the tough task of leading No. 13 LSU’s offense against No. 1 Alabama’s defense on Saturday night.
1. He transferred to LSU after two seasons at Purdue. Per 247Sports, Etling was the No. 17 pro-style quarterback in the 2013 class. He completed 55 percent of his passes for 2,490 yards with 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 13 career games for Purdue.
And The Valley Shook at the time of his transfer:
Etling was a four-star recruit in the class of 2013, who managed to start as a true freshman on a very bad Purdue team, but fell out of favor as a sophomore and has decided to move on.
Etling is also a former tennis player and Eagle Scout who grew up a big Drew Brees fan.
2. Wait, what happened to Harris? LSU entered 2016 with Harris as the starter.
He had an okay 2015, but head coach Les Miles said he’d be a “totally different quarterback” heading in the Week 1 game against Wisconsin. The Tigers wound up losing to the Badgers, 16-14. The loss was put on ice with a Harris interception. In Week 2, he started 1 of 4 passing for 8 yards against FCS Jacksonville State. Miles pulled him for Etling early in the second quarter.
Etling finished that game 6 of 14 for 100 yards, a touchdown, and an interception after starting with a clean 6 of 8 mark. It’s been Etling’s job ever since.
3. How has Etling done since then? In LSU’s last three games — since Ed Oregon and offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger took over — his numbers have been much better than earlier in the season. The Tigers’ offense also began passing a lot more than before, with more wide-open tactics.
In a loss to Auburn, he impressed his new teammates with his toughness:
“Danny showed a lot of toughness,” [defensive lineman Arden] Key said. “He was taking a lot of hits and getting banged up. Get right back up and come back and throw a completion. Now we know Danny’s got some toughness and some heart. He’s a dog.”
One of his more promising games came against Missouri. Etling threw for only 219 yards, but a decent 7.3 yards per pass and without any interceptions. This opened things up drastically for the run game, as the Tigers’ 634 total yards set an LSU school record for yards in an SEC game.
In his last two games, against Southern Miss and Ole Miss, he’s combined for 480 yards, four touchdowns, and two interceptions as LSU’s running game has continued to trample weaker defenses.
His play has been mixed, but he has made some nice throws. ATVS breaks down his game against Mizzou and highlights this pass:
4. Nick Saban offered some high praise for him: "He's a very smart player," Saban said, via the Chattanooga Times Free Press. "I think he checks into the right plays at the line based on the defense that they're playing against. He plays within himself very well, and they've made a lot more explosive plays because of his ability to pass the ball. They have very good skill players who can make big plays down the field, and that balance with their great running game makes it very difficult on defensive teams, and he's the guy who makes it work for them."
5. He’s seen something like Alabama’s defense before. Etling faced a brutal 2013 Michigan State defense, going 14 of 25 as his team scored zero points, though LSU’s overall talent is closer to Bama’s than Purdue’s was to MSU’s.
“I think Etling is a calm, level-headed guy.” ESPN’s Marcus Dupree told SB Nation earlier this week. “Now, he’s never seen anything like he’s about to see Saturday.”
Orgeron described how LSU is preparing Etling for what he’s about to face.
“Run him through a meat grinder or something,” Orgeron said via The Advocate. “We have to put pressure on the quarterback (in practice). We have to make him throw off his back foot. Now, he’s not live. We do all of the things Alabama does, but we do it full speed. We match up pretty good. We’re not like them, but our guys are pretty good also.”
6. Taking care of the football will be key. Alabama has scored 12 non-offensive touchdowns this season, a figure that leads college football. What’s more impressive, and perhaps more dangerous for Etling, is the fact that nine of those scores have been either fumble or interception returns for touchdowns.
“You never want to turn the football over. Make sure you protect the football,” Etling said this week via SEC Country. “That’s something we’ll be highlighting a lot in practice. You want to play your game still. Be aggressive, but don’t be reckless.”
Etling has thrown three picks in 147 attempts at LSU, one every 49 attempts, after throwing 12 in 13 games at Purdue, or one every 35. Taking care of the ball appears to be a bit easier in LSU’s offense than it was in West Lafayette, at least so far.
7. If he succeeds against Bama, he’ll be one of the few recent LSU QBs to do so. Below are the last five LSU quarterbacks to have faced Alabama:
- 2011 win, 9-6: Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson: 9-of-17 for 92 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT
- 2011 BCS loss, 21-0: Jefferson: 11-of-17 for 53 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT
- 2012 loss, 21-17: Zach Mettenberger: 24-of-35 for 298 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
- 2013 loss, 38-17: Mettenberger: 6-of-23 for 241 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
- 2014 OT loss, 20-13: Anthony Jennings: 8-of-26 for 76 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
- 2015 loss, 30-16: Harris: 6-of-19 for 128 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
We’ll see if Etling can be the one to break the trend.