**Note: yes, the “it was just Jacksonville State” caveat applies to all of this. That should be beyond obvious.**
LSU overcame a really ugly first quarter, and rode some big plays to put away a pesky Jacksonville State team, but the win still leaves a number of major questions for this team with SEC play beginning this week.
That means Les Miles doesn’t have a lot of time to answer them.
Why bury the lede? Let’s start right off with quarterback. The coaching staff made the smart move and didn’t mess around with Brandon Harris, as he came out firing all over the map early, missing some relatively easy throws. After two three-and-out drives, Danny Etling came in.
My overall impression of Etling, is that he’s a general “backup” type. A calm hand that can run the offense in place of the starter, but not a long-term solution. I am by no means dismissing the kid, but an 0-for-7 second half really threw some cold water on the idea of him being “the answer” to the quarterback problem. That said, he has absolutely earned a chance to show more and should start this week against Mississippi State.
More than anything, he just looked more comfortable than Harris. He rarely looked too rushed, bounced through his reads and made very few “bad” decisions. There were some that could have been better, but no “what was that?” type plays. He also did a nice job of avoiding some negative plays as well, particularly with his feet.
A lot of people have been bringing up the comparison to Harris coming in versus New Mexico State in 2014, then falling apart when he received the start next week at Auburn. And while I don’t think that analogy is totally out of line, I would point out that should Etling get the next start, it will be at home as opposed to on the road. Plus, whereas Harris was a true freshman, Etling is a fourth-year junior with multiple previous starts from his time at Purdue. We won’t really know if that means anything until we see the results, but it’s something worth noting.
On to some specifics…
- Odd piece of symmetry that both quarterbacks had the same first completion in this game — to Darrel Williams on a check-down stop route. Etling keeps the chains moving on third down right out the shoot, so it didn’t take long for him to out-play Harris.
- He got his feet wet with a couple of easy throws to Williams (and one long miss to Colin Jeter) and then Cam Cameron came up with a very nice call for Etling that resulted in a 46-yard touchdown to DeSean Smith. The play was a play-action flood to the boundary, with Travin Dural running a post, Smith on a wheel route up the sideline and Guice trailing behind. Versus man-to-man, one of those three is winning deep. Smith and Guice both had very easy releases, and Etling could have hit either. I’ve seen LSU run it a few times under the current staff, but I believe that’s the only time they’ve hit it successfully.
- On Etling’s third quarter interception:
- He shows some nice poise to step up in the pocket when Jeter allows some pressure from the edge -- that’s something Harris has definitely struggled with. This is a pure “shot” play, with two deep wide receivers. Malachi Dupre is the more open of the two, and with a high throw maybe he has a shot to make a play. This is too low to put the catch totally on him, but as we’ll detail later, he was consistently out-muscled by JSU’s corners all night, and that’s pretty sad. He could have at least done something to try and break this up.
- Etling showed some nice poise again on the next drive, admittedly in a futile effort, to scramble and find Jeter for what would have been a first down, if not for a holding penalty.
- On his overall second half, in which Etling didn’t complete a single pass, there was good and bad. Some of the incompletions weren’t totally his fault -- Dupre alone cost Etling two completions with drops, and 8-of-13 just on its face sounds a bit better. But he also missed a very easy flat throw, threw a deep ball that was nowhere near Dupre, and gave up a fumble on a sack. And on the long incompletion to Guice on the wheel route, he had Williams again on an easy check-down. At best, its uneven, but it all ties back to what I said earlier. What it all really means remains to be seen.
- After last week I theorized that the reason LSU doesn’t do a ton of easy throws on first down because they don’t really trust Brandon Harris to make them. Looking back over his first two possessions, there may be some credence there. After a nice check down to Williams on the first play of the night, Harris completely air-mailed a very easy, very open pass to D.J. Chark, and then on third down, he kind of almost nonchalantly throws high curl that Dupre probably could have brought down, but didn’t. Harris barely even put a lot of effort into his throw and didn’t even step. Not so much a back-foot throw -- he certainly wasn’t under pressure. Just terrible mechanics, and frankly it just looked like he wasn’t putting a ton of effort into it either.
- And it got worse on his second drive, nearly throwing a pick on what should have been an open to completion to Jeter on a deep crossing route. If he leads Jeter to open space, there was a lot of room but he put it up for grabs over the top and JSU had two defenders on the ball.
- I don’t know if it’s just a mental block, or yips or something like that, but Harris just looks like a player that can’t handle the pressure of his position right now. Maybe some time on the bench will help to relax him a bit. Because he might very well be seen again this season.
- Still, far more disturbing than the quarterback play remains an offensive line that just isn’t getting a ton of push, and is also struggling to move in space a little. I’m starting to wonder if Ethan Pocic and Will Clapp’s injuries are more serious than has been reported. Toby Weathersby also badly whiffed on the sack-fumble JSU forced in the second half.
- The line, and Derrius Guice did work well on this 44-yard run:
- Delayed counter, and Maea Teuhema hits a great kick-out block. Jeter pulls around and doesn’t do a great job, but does at least get in the linebacker’s way enough to spring Guice into the open field.
On the defense: overall, I thought tackling was better, which is a very controllable thing, although the corners played very loose coverage and gave up more slants than I would have liked. Jenkins is a tough QB to pressure, and he’s also a very steady ball-handler on read plays. Expect to see teams try to do that to try and handle Arden Key and LSU’s other edge defenders in the future.
- On the 76-yard touchdown -- you often hear that DBs should play the ball and not the man, and well, sometimes that’s true. But if two guys both play it on a slant and nobody maintains leverage, that’s what you get. Jamal Adams tried to jump the throw for a pick-six, but the ball was right out of his reach. Donte Jackson looked like he thought he might be catching an overthrow, but Krenwick Sanders hauled it in and had lots of room to gather his balance and keep running.
- On Jamal Adams’ coverage bust in the third quarter:
- He’s over the top to the field, as he should be versus a trips set, but with Rickey Jefferson coming up to take the running back from the other safety spot, he has to be mindful of rotating back to the middle of the field. Kevin Spears (hey kid!) just runs down the seam and you can’t expect Kendell Beckwith to stay with him. He seems to pass him off expecting some help. Spears did a nice job of running to where there was the most room and Jenkins made a nice scramble and throw.
- The fact that JSU had a number of FBS transfers got a lot of play in the broadcast, and one of them, former South Carolina corner Al Harris, Jr., gave Malachi Dupre all he wanted. If Harris were a bigger corner that’d be one thing, but he’s listed at about 160 pounds. Dupre should have been able to high-point a couple of passes over him, and he couldn’t. At least four times by my count, Dupre was beaten up by a player he has 30 pounds on. Given this team’s desire to push the ball down the field and the aggressiveness that it clearly wants from the quarterback, it’s time to get more plays for the other big receivers on this roster, like Jazz Ferguson, Stephen Sullivan and Drake Davis.
- On Tre’davious White’s punt return -- I hate to poo-poo a play this fun, but…yeah, I wouldn’t try it too often kid. At least it shows WHY the staff views White as a valuable returner, despite his judgment issues.
- On another note: more backups definitely got in, with Frank Herron rotating in heavily. Savion Smith also had a really nice block on punt team, and nearly a pick at the end of the game.