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Same QB Questions, Still No Answers

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Etling isn't the answer just yet, but Harris isn't it either

Becoming the Man
Becoming the Man
Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

When Les Miles said that Brandon Harris was "a totally different quarterback than he's been," we didn't think he meant that Harris has gotten worse. But that's exactly what happened.

Last year, Harris averaged 7.8 yards per attempt and boasted a 130.49 QB Rating. He took good care of the football, and even threw in some decent rushing numbers. He had issues with accuracy and he had a low number of attempts, but all in all, he had a solid statistical profile, particularly for a first year starter as an underclassmen.

So far this season, he's thrown for 139 yards on 13/25. He's averaging 5.6 yards per attempt and a "hide the kids" awful 95.90 QB rating. He's thrown 2 picks, completed just 52.0% of his passes, and even his running ability abandoned him. He's 4 for -15 yards on the year on the ground.

After starting his second consecutive game with two three-and-out drives in the first quarter, Les Miles had finally seen enough and pulled the plug on the starting quarterback. He couldn't even connect on the safest of throws, and his game has utterly fallen apart. There's no way around it, there were virtually no positives to pull out of Harris' play this season.

Danny Etling entered the game and immediately, the LSU offense looked world's better. He completed 6 of 8 passes for 100 yards and a TD, guiding LSU on three long touchdown drives. Unfortunately, the second half then happened, in which Etling did not complete a single pass. What we're left with is a Brandon Harris-esque line of 6/14 for 100 yards and 1 TD and 1 pick.

Your general mood regarding the quarterback play going forward most likely depends on how you interpret that second half performance. If you see that as Danny Etling turning back into a pumpkin, then you think we've just traded Harris' performance for one that is remarkably similar. If you think he was the victim of some dropped passes or that he was simply protecting a huge lead in a game that had ceased to be competitive, then you're likely readying your #16 jersey purchase.

Both interpretations are perfectly valid, and we won't know how is the Real Danny Etling for a few weeks. I will point out that Harris can play the same card regarding drops, but on the other hand, Etling's final line really was a lot better than Harris'.

It's not just the passing numbers, though that is a part of it, the offense simply worked better once Harris left the game. The running backs found more holes, the receivers not named Malachi Dupre found the seams in the defense and made catches. Heck, the line even seemed to block better. Things looked like they worked. And it's not just the eye test, the stats back it up as well.

Yds/Att

ATVSQBPI

Yds/Play

YPP Rate

3rd Downs

3 & out

(or worse)

Etling

7.1

6.82

364/50

7.28

7/9

2/9

Harris

5.6

2.90

264/56

4.71

2/12

5/12

Do those numbers look similar to you?

This gives Etling no special credit for drops or discounting the second half performance. The only bonus he gets is that I included the final drive led by McMillan in his overall numbers. You could look at the overall offense numbers not as Etling v. Harris but Harris v. Not Harris. Because it's not as if Etling unlocked some sort of magic, his biggest contribution to the offense, unfortunately, was simply not being Brandon Harris.

With Harris at the helm, LSU's offense went three-and-out or worse on nearly half of their possessions. Etling reversed that trend and even including his oh-fer in the second half, he kept the chains moving. This shows up most obviously in the third down numbers. A Harris-led offense converted as many third down chances as the offense failed to convert in total without him. That's a stunning reversal of fortunes, and a damning statistic.

But I know what you're thinking, Etling just put up good numbers on the adrenaline of getting the nod to come in the game. He created a spark, but then the spark went out. That's true, but let's look at that spark and how the offense performed after the spark died.

LSU's first three drive with Etling in the game went 6-70, 8-79, and 5-64. That's three straight significant drives, all resulting in touchdown, all going for at least five plays and well over half the field. In total, those first three drives went 19 plays for 213 yards.

By contrast, the best three drives with Harris at the helm went 6-33, 7-49, and 6-40. Those three drives were non-consecutive, and they resulted in two punts and an interception. Not one went for 50 yards, though it came close. All in all, Harris' three best drives went 19 plays for 122 yards.

So, in their three best drives, Etling averaged 11.21 yards/play while Harris averaged 6.42. That means the Harris-led offense, at its best, performed nearly a yard per play worse than the average non-Harris-led drive. But once we remove those drives from the numbers, the offenses do like fairly similar. Harris went 37 plays for 142 yards and a 3.84 yard/play average while the non-Harris offense went 31 plays for 141 yards for a 4.55 yard/play average.

Even taking out those 2nd quarter drives, the offense performed better with Harris out of the game. The 4.55 yard/play average is not very good, but most offenses will suffer similarly if you take out their three best drives.  And that 4.55 average is just shy of the Harris-led offense in all situations.

There's also the matter that LSU's offense ran 56 plays in five quarters with Harris at the helm and then 50 plays in three quarters when he left the game. The offense averaged more yards, more plays, and more scoring.

This may not be because Danny Etling is the Answer. But given his play so far this season, Harris certainly wasn't either. I don't see how he can bounce back from this performance. He would have to radically improve just to get to last year's level, which doesn't cut the mustard. Brandon Harris left Miles and the staff no choice, they had to bench him. And there is rarely any coming back from this move.

It doesn't matter if Danny Etling is the Answer or not, we have to go all-in on him now.