We’re halfway through another LSU football season and yet again staring at the face of a miserable QB situation. Standards are so lowered in Baton Rouge that many will cling to single positive stats to justify Etling, or, worse yet, fetishize his toughness as explanation for his continued use:
In a roundabout way, Etling was the team MVP. Showed toughness and sacrificed his body for the team. That's what leaders do.— Poseur (@ATVSPoseur) October 8, 2017
I can appreciate that Etling is a consummate team player who is willing to put his body on the line for the good of the cause:
But frankly, Etling has been doing that all season and the “toughness rub” didn’t seem to take place until Saturday. I’m not picking on Poseur here (his quote is merely representative of what many have stated since Saturday), because he followed the earlier observation up with this quality piece of analysis:
But seriously, we're gonna need a passing game at some point.— Poseur (@ATVSPoseur) October 8, 2017
Therein lies the issue. Tough players are great, but if I wanted a team full of guys ready to run through a brick wall for middling success, I’d root for one of the service academies.
So, here we are again. New coach, new coordinator, new offense... same old LSU production:
LSU Passing Stats.csv
We have yet another body of statistics where the rate stats belie the fact that the passing offense simply isn’t effectively moving the football. LSU currently ranks 90th in Passing Success Rate, which is a fair representation of this offense.
Etling is oft-described as a “game manager” when, in fact, he’s anything but. This offense is based on chunk plays and struggles to maintain possession and consistently drive on opposing defenses in the passing game. This is further validated in a Passing ISOPPP that ranks LSU seventh nationally. The explosive plays are there; the consistent ones are not.
Many are quick to blame the offensive line, but it’s worth noting the opposite is true for the running game. The Tigers rank seventh in Rushing Success Rate, but 110th in Rushing ISOPPP. They can move the chains in the running game but aren’t breaking explosive plays.
Prior to the season I jokingly tweeted it was that time of year when LSU fans talked themselves into yet another marginal QB having a productive season:
It’s that time of year, folks, where we talk ourselves into believing an LSU QB will surely have a great season.— Dan Davis (@ATVS_PaulCrewe) July 26, 2017
My colleagues of course responded by trying to convince me a marginal QB would have a productive season:
I don't know that too many people think he'll be amazing, but a 2500ish yard, 20ish TD season is doable (I also wouldn't call that great)— Billy Gomila (@ATVS_ChefBilly) July 26, 2017
Trevor Knight passed for 2432 yards and 19 TD last season. That's doable for Etling, even without Jarvis and ODB.— Poseur (@ATVSPoseur) July 26, 2017
Exactly. I don't think it's a particularly high bar to clear.— Billy Gomila (@ATVS_ChefBilly) July 26, 2017
Alas, halfway through the season:
71/118, 1,046 Yards, 6 TD, 1 INT
Etling is pacing for:
142/236, 2,092 yards, 12 TD, 2 INT
Etling isn’t on pace to hit the not “particularly high bar” both believed he could eclipse. To hit this threshold by season’s end Danny needs to throw for 243 yards per game and 2.3 TDs per game. That’s not happening.
At this point, you are probably thinking, “Man, PaulDan is a huge dick.” Well, yeah. But the point here isn’t to single out either Billy or Poseur. Their thoughts are merely representative of a majority opinion.
And yet, I believe most would say Etling should remain the starter today.
But really, this all ties back to what I wrote in August.
If Etling is the clear cut best player on the field, then give him the job. But if there’s even a sliver a doubt, the coaching staff cannot back down. It will be no secret. The locker room will know. If you preach competition at every turn but fail to implement that in your quarterback decision, the team will take notice.
Orgeron’s model is competition. Play the best players, regardless of experience, history or irrational fear. Failure to do so is abandoning your core principles. Once you’ve casually eroded the foundation, the house will inevitably crumble.
Through six games, Etling has done little to establish himself as someone who’s job shouldn’t be up for competition. At every other position on the field, when players do not produce, we demand production. And yet, somehow, we treat the QB with kid gloves. I’ve argued before that Miles’ overprotection of his QBs actually inhibited their growth. At what point do you draw the line?
Etling amassed these meager statistics throwing against the 37th, 9th, 69th, 77th, and 56th ranked passing defenses. That’s middle of the road competition, which excludes his 227-yard performance vs. Chattanooga. That is highest yardage output on the season and accounts for nearly a quarter of his passing production on the year. Against FBS schools here’s Etling’s average line:
12.6/20.8, 60.5 percent, 164 YPG, 1 TD
The prevailing opinion for not switching to Brennan is that he’s not ready. In fact, it’s one I’ve peddled myself:
I think they WANT Myles in but know he’s not ready— Dan Davis (@ATVS_PaulCrewe) October 8, 2017
But I now find myself questioning: How much lower can the floor go? As established, Etling isn’t even hitting an exceptionally modest threshold we established in the preseason, and yet I’m to believe he remains the best option?
Yes, I know the sputtering offense doesn’t fall wholly at Etling’s feet. The line remains a work in progress... at best. The receivers aren’t consistently making plays. But these may actually be reasons to make a change, rather than reasons we shouldn’t. Brennan’s quicker release may aid in pass protection. His catchable ball may give the receivers better opportunities. But the real issue is we haven’t really seen enough to know what Brennan is one way or the other. On the other hand, we know exactly what we have in Etling, who after starting 20 games is producing like a first year starter.
And yes, I’m fully aware that young Brennan is likely to make mistakes. Many of them. I understand that he doesn’t yet operate the offense at full capacity in terms of getting players out of the huddle and making all the right calls. But that’s what the playing time is for. Especially in a season where a championship is no longer in the picture.
It’s time we as LSU fans acknowledge we’ve lowered the bar for QB expectations so far that we struggle to even recognize what poor performance looks like anymore. It’s also time that we let go of past wounds and the tendency to believe that every young QB is doomed to fail. We aren’t finding ways to succeed with Etling’s limitations, why not see if we can with Brennan’s?
I appreciate Danny Etling, but he’s not giving this team the best chance to win anymore.