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Competition Tuesday Asks Is Danny Etling A Good QB?

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PodKATT: This article was originally published in an incomplete state. The error was on me. Paul/Dan is a good writer.

There’s a growing meme among LSU fans. “Danny Etling is a Good Quarterback” is starting to make its waves around social media networks:

First, the bad. Naturally, when hand-picking some choice statistics, Etling comes out smelling like roses. Yes, he’s tied for 2nd in the SEC in Y/A and sits alone in 3rd in passer rating. And yes, he even ranks top 25 nationally in both of those statistics.

But the numbers don’t really paint the picture of the QB that’s played for LSU. Seemingly, Etling’s biggest strength has been his penchant for not making back-breaking mistakes. He won’t kill the offense, but he won’t make many plays either. It’s valuable to have a QB that won’t actively hurt your offense, but trying to push that into complimentary territory is excessive.

Preseason, most expected Etling to be a sorta Greg McElroy-ish clone, who thrived in keeping the offense on schedule and distributed the ball to playmakers. We’ve seen mixed results. Etling’s poor arm proves limiting in downfield passing, and he’s routinely under throwing targets and forcing them to come back and make plays on the ball. It’s not so much that no big plays are happening; it’s that even bigger plays could be happening with greater frequency. Even his decision making isn’t razor sharp, as Seth illustrated two weeks ago. He’s locked onto targets, outright missed open looks, or just been generally a step behind on his reads.

Even still, LSU’s offense still ranks 14th in success rate. This suggests Etling keeps the offense on schedule. But this is heavily rooted in the success of another strong rushing attack in Baton Rouge. LSU is currently 6th nationally in Rushing Success Rate and 3rd nationally in Rushing S&P+.

The passing numbers tell the true story of Etling. LSU’s passing S&P+ is a respectable 33rd nationally. But when pressed into duty, Etling is struggling. LSU ranks 79th in passing success rate, 86th in passing downs S&P+, and 99th in passing downs success rate. If those numbers mean nothing to you, this is what they are saying:

When LSU needs to pass, they can’t.

Etling’s passing is largely living and dying on the big play. In fact, LSU ranks 5th nationally in Passing IsoPPP (compared to just 80th in rushing IsoPPP). LSU’s passing features all of the explosiveness and none of the consistency. That’s not exactly “staying on schedule.”

This backs up what we’ve seen on the field. Etling doesn’t consistently move the chains as a passer, but he’s prone to hitting the occasional big play. These aren’t all deep balls, mind you. Etling’s biggest passes in recent weeks have largely been receivers, backs and TEs making plays with the ball in their hands after short catches. Again, there’s value there but this isn’t a case of Etling making outstanding throws to put them into position.

LSU’s offense is built heavily on big plays. If we use the methodology of a rush gaining 12 yards or a pass gaining 16 yards, here’s every LSU drive which led to a TD in 2017:

LSU Explosive Plays

Team/Score TD? Run/Pass
Team/Score TD? Run/Pass
BYU
1st score X 13R
2nd score X 52P
3rd score RZ
CHAT
1st score X 17P, 36P
2nd score X 46P
3rd score X 25R
4th score X 19R
5th score X 48P
STATE
1st score X 25R
CUSE
1st score RZ
2nd score X 43P
3rd score X 87P
4th score X 43P, 20R
5th score X 24R, 20R
TROY
1st score RZ
2nd score X 17P, 34P
3rd score X 20P
UF
1st score X 15R, 30R
2nd score X 47P,
AUB
1st score X 13R, 70R
2nd score X 37P
OM
1st score X 59R
2nd score X 33R
3rd score X 18P, 26R
4th score X 60P

The X indicates a TD was scored. R/P is the type of play (run/pass). The numerical value is the distance of the big play.

LSU has scored 3 TDs this year without hitting a big play. They all started in the RZ.

Yes, your eyes are not deceiving you. Every single LSU TD drive that started outside the RZ featured a big play. Now, I’m not trying to bro-science this here. Of course, drives that featured big plays lead to TDs. That’s a fairly obvious observation. What’s interesting is that LSU is completely unable to meticulously drive down the field on opponents and score. 8 games into the season and LSU hasn’t done it once.

And when it comes to explosive plays, LSU does them BIG. Only once did LSU drive with a run sub 15 yards (opening game vs. BYU). Only twice did they drive and score with a play sub 20 yards. LSU is taking the field by chunks and then capitalizing via points when they do.

At this point, with 8 games of data, it’s safe to say we know what the LSU offense is. An efficient running team that makes big plays in the passing game. The marriage of efficiency and explosiveness may be the recipe they’ve been missing the last few seasons. To say Etling plays no part of that would be foolish.

So it’s best to acknowledge the full picture. Etling isn’t an elite QB, but he largely keeps the running game in positive down and distance and keeps himself out of needing to pass to keep drives alive. This enables LSU to pop big plays with regularity, as they’ve done in every single game this season. The trouble is, if the offense goes off schedule, Etling isn’t equipped to pass them back on to it. He’s not skilled enough as a passer to take over a game. More accurately, a lot of credit goes to Matt Canada for creating an offense where big plays are happening even despite Etling’s limitations.

It two weeks, Etling faces his biggest task to date: the Alabama defense. This is a defense that is going to force Etling to pass well to beat them. To date, he’s done nothing to show he’s up for it. No matter how handsome he might be.