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Underdog Xs and Os, Good Quarterback Danny Etling and the Turning Point of the Orgeron era.

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It’s Underdog Week here at SB Nation, and I thought it’d be cool to, with my expanse of free time in the age of social distancing, examine the best underdog moment in recent LSU history. Ed Orgeron’s underdog status has been very well publicized from the jump, with a majority of the LSU fan base flabbergasted at the move. Come October 2017, the detractors looked to be vindicated: LSU got blown out by Mississippi State, had just lost to TROY in Death Valley, and the Tigers were unranked. Honestly it looked like an unmitigated disaster.

With 10th ranked, excellent looking Auburn walking into Death Valley, I remember sitting in my room before the game expecting a blowout. LSU went down 20-0, but crawled back, beat a top 10 team, and completely changed the course of the Orgeron era, setting LSU on a road that led to the best season ever just two years later.

So how did it happen? How did the LSU offense, one mired in a power struggle between prickly OC Matt Canada and O, manage to mount a comeback against the eventual SEC West Champions and beater of BOTH National Championship game participants (somehow, weird year)? Well, it was in large part due to the often unfairly maligned, solid quarterback, Danny Etling. No, he wasn’t a great QB, but he was a solid one, and he continues to be unfairly lumped in with the real disaster areas LSU has put behind center. Danny Etling got ousted from his starting job at Purdue of all places, and came to LSU looking for some kind of shot. He didn’t end up with some eye popping stat line, but in the Auburn game, Danny Etling kept the offense on schedule and made a handful of plays that allowed LSU the chance to win. Let’s look at specifically what happened.

First 3rd down of the game is an annoying one but a really good play by Etling. Auburn is simply playing cover 2 with tight man by the corners. Downfield, LSU has a 3 vertical called, which is actually pretty similar to the one Ensminger and Brady called a lot last year. It’s all very much like the “Doubles’’ or “Double Strut” concept Sean Payton has carried since his days with the Giants.

(Football Xs and Os, Giants 2000 playbook)

So here, given the cover 2, Etling just has to read the field safety. He shades toward the interior vert so Etling moves his eyes to Chark on the outside. The safety is breaking hard though, so Etling has to put this to the back shoulder which he does beautifully. Good read, strategically placed ball puts Chark away from a huge hit and allows him to catch it. Of course...nothing Etling can do about what ended up happening here.

Another 3rd down play. The motion moves LSU from a 2X2 set into a 3x1. This forces Tray Matthews (28) down a bit as the defense rotates into cover 1. This concept, a double vert Y sail combo is a good cover 1 beater because Matthews is responsible for a potential vertical by Dillon, meaning he needs to be backpedaling hard and keep everything in front. The 2 sideline verts clear out the space and Dillon can just break into it. The timing on this is great by Etling, if it’s too late Matthews can make a play or Dillon ends up out of bounds. 3 step drop, throw off 1 hitch, good timing.

This one really put LSU back in the game, and almost feels like a precursor to the end of half TDs that Joe Burrow trademarked this past year. At least on the playside of the concept, this is pretty close to identical to Joe Moorhead’s design of the “Portland” concept as detailed here: https://fishduck.com/2020/04/joe-moorheads-portland-concept/.

GoArmy Edge Football

So for Etling, the read is simple. Etling reads the corner over the Z receiver (Dee Anderson to the bottom). If he drops deep, you throw the hitch to the Z, if he stays shallow (which is to be expected since Auburn played man the whole game pretty much), you throw the corner route over his head. Great ball by Etling, HUGE TD in this game.

This is just a 2 man post/wheel on a switch release off play action. Etling’s read is from post to wheel. So the single high safety and corner bracket the post so Etling, off one hitch moves his eyes and throws the wheel. The corner has some inside and vertical leverage on Chark so he throws it underneath him and toward the back shoulder.

We finish with what may have been the best throw of Etling’s career. This is just an absolute dime, a true Joe Burrow level throw. 3rd and 15, yet another Danny Etling 3rd down conversion. The concept looks to be 4 verts with Auburn playing a tight cover 1. Honestly I respect the hell out of the idea of playing cover 1 on 3rd and 15 but it’s a bit of an unnecessary risk in such a long yardage situation. The single high safety stays just enough inside for just long enough for Chark to have tight 1 v 1. Chark’s completely blanketed here, but the defender’s back is turned, and if the defender’s back is turned, your guy is open. Chark has a sliver of outside leverage, and Etling just puts this PERFECTLY on the back shoulder, sneaking it behind the defender with pressure in his face. Every once in a while Etling would make a throw like this. Chark had himself a day, including his own Odell Beckham, Billy Cannon moment.

Danny Etling continues to get a lot of undue flak from LSU fans. The fact of the matter is, Danny Etling was solid, and a big part of stopping the bleeding that occurred during the Miles-Orgeron transition. He came it at a dark time for LSU QBs and delivered solid, passable play for 2 seasons. Here, he did his part in LSU completely reversing the trajectory of Orgeron’s tenure in a big upset win. During Underdog Week, Danny Etling deserves a shout.