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LSU Football 2017: Quarterbacks

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Things are actually...okay...here?

NCAA Football: Citrus Bowl-Louisiana State vs Louisville Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a different spring at LSU for a number of reasons, because well, it’s a new program now with Ed Orgeron at the helm. And that’s not to say that things are all hunky-dory and there are no questions. We’ve covered those on both sides of the ball.

And yet...somehow...quarterback is...not that big of a deal?

Yeah, you heard me. LSU is...fine...at quarterback. Not great. Not set up to have some sort of record-breaking passing attack or anything but...fine. Don’t believe me? Look back at these advanced stats from last season.

2016 LSU Passing Game Metrics

Category Avg. Rk
Category Avg. Rk
Passing S&P+ 111.9 34
Passing Success Rate 41.00% 65
Passing IsoPPP 1.53 46
Adj. Sack Rate 108.8 44

And that includes Brandon Harris’ first two starts, which were dreadful.

The numbers were striking over the season’s final eight games: average passer rating jumped nearly 30 points, from 111 to 140, third down conversion rate improved by five percent (40 to 45) and the Tigers subsequently averaged 37 points per game, compared to just 21 in those first four.

Danny Etling, the man under center for those games, returns, with a new offense and a new quarterbacks coach in Matt Canada. Still, that blank slate also means an open competition from the rest of the depth chart.

2017 LSU Quarterbacks

Player Ht, Wt Comp-Att Yards TD INT Comp Rate Sacks Sack Rate Yards/ Att. Misc.
Player Ht, Wt Comp-Att Yards TD INT Comp Rate Sacks Sack Rate Yards/ Att. Misc.
16 Danny Etling (Sr.) 6'3, 215 160-269 2123 11 5 59.50% 17 5.90% 7.9 24 non-sack carries for 148 yards, 1 TD.
12 Justin McMillan (So.) 6'3, 210 1-1 19 0 0 100.00% 0 0.00% 19
2 Lowell Narcisse (Fr.) 6-2, 231 Four-star recruit.
15 Myles Brennan (Fr.) 6-4, 194 Four-star recruit.
Stats via Football Study Hall.

What do we like? A solid four scholarship quarterbacks on hand (with a fifth arriving in the summer), and a nice blend of youth and experience.

Question marks: limited upside to the veterans, and the younger players still have some growing up to do.

Etling is the obvious incumbent, and fits perfectly into the category of “fine.” Replacement value would be a more clinical term; you can do better, but you can also do a lot worse, as LSU fans have been too accustomed over the last few years. Etling has enough arm to make most of the typical throws asked with reasonable accuracy, makes solid decisions and has enough mobility to allow coaches to move the pocket some, avoid a rush and even scramble for the occasional first down. From a profile standpoint, he’s remarkably similar to Nathan Peterman, the quarterback Canada inherited at Pitt — even a transfer from another FBS program.

Etling was just good enough to help maximize the offense against most teams, but not good enough to take it to another level against the best defenses on last year’s schedule (Alabama, obviously, comes to mind). Although it is worth noting that he very nearly led comeback drives in two of the Tigers’ four losses — including a damn gutsy drive that put LSU in a position to win the Florida game, even if things fell short on the goal line.

With a minimal level of improvement and help from teammates and smart game-planning, Etling should finish 2017 with numbers in the neighborhood of a 60-percent completion rate, 8.0 yards per attempt average and a two-to-one touchdown/interception ratio. Not all-conference numbers, but enough for LSU to beat almost anybody on its schedule.

That said, the competition has been real this spring, and it's come from an unlikely source in sophomore Justin McMillan. He’s largely been an afterthought and most assumed that Lindsey Scott would beat him out, but right now McMillan is No. 2 on this depth chart and there is a chance he could take the job from Etling.

McMillan is one of the better pure passers on the team, and has plus mobility. More than anything, he’s impressed the coaches with the way he’s embraced a fresh start with a new staff and competed. It’s not probable that he beats out Etling for the job — it’s just really tough to beat out an incumbent without game film — but it is possible. And there’s been a clear delineation between McMillan and Scott.

The latter still has some work to do as a redshirt freshman, but provides solid depth and has been everything he was advertised in terms of intangibles and work ethic.

True freshman Lowell Narcisse has shown a huge arm, but still has some work to do to come back from the knee injuries he suffered in high school.

LSU still has ways to go to find a true, consistent playmaker at quarterback. The younger players on this team (or that will join it in the summer) will have to develop into that down the line. But there is enough here to win right now. And that’s something to be happy about.