A Danny Etling think piece

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(KALB) -- If any soap opera writers are in need of a new story to pitch, they should just camp outside of the LSU football operations building. Chances are that they will have something worthwhile within 24 hours.

The latest “Days of Our Lives”-esque plot to surface out in Baton Rouge centers around the future of offensive coordinator Matt Canada beyond Monday’s Citrus Bowl against Notre Dame.

It’s another excerpt in a series of misadventures of a Tiger offense that has been on a wayward journey for the better part of 10 years now. Through all of that, the brunt of the criticism has rested on the shoulders of the play-caller, but maybe more so on the quarterback.

Since the day that heir-apparent and four-Heisman-Trophy-promiser Ryan Perrilloux was dismissed from LSU back prior to the 2008 season, LSU has trotted out seven different starting quarterbacks.

The 2018 season will see number eight, but before that happens, Danny Etling will be under center against the Fighting Irish in what will be his 23rd and final start in an LSU uniform.

The irony in all of this is that, in a perfect world, Etling was never supposed to start a single game for the Tigers. In fact, he probably should’ve never even transferred to LSU from Purdue. Yet win or lose on Monday, the case can be made that Etling is behind only Zach Mettenberger when ranking the Tigers’ most productive post-Perrilloux quarterbacks.

“I’ve had a lot of ups and downs,“ said Etling when asked about his college career after tossing 3 touchdowns and 347 yards in a senior day win over Texas A&M.

“That’s kind of the thing with college football. I transferred from a place where I was really down and I came here and it gave me some new life and I got an opportunity to play and just ran with it.

“It’s crazy to think how far I’ve come in the three years I’ve been here.”

It really is crazy, considering that Etling came to Baton Rouge because of his Terre Haute, Indiana connections with then-LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, but the thought of him passing up Brandon Harris and Anthony Jennings on the depth chart was inconceivable.

Not only did that happen three games into his first season of eligibility in 2016, his first full season as the Tigers starting signal caller saw him put up a 78.6 total quarterback rating according to ESPN, which ranks 13th among all quarterbacks in the country.

Since 2008, the only other occasion that an LSU quarterback ranked in the top 20 in that category was Mettenberger who placed fifth in 2013.

In his two eligible seasons at LSU, Etling has thrown for 4,357 yards, completing 59.8 percent of his passes with a touchdown-to-interception ration that was nearly 4-to-1. Including this season where he threw to the other team just two times.

Beyond those numbers though, he also showed astute pocket presence…

better mobility than given credit for…

endearing toughness…

He also checked through his reads, as evident by tight ends making 19 percent of LSU’s receptions in 2016 and 2017 as opposed to just 10 percent in 2014 and 2015 with Jennings and Harris.

Etling was the protect-the-ball game managing quarterback LSU’s run-first offense has always been clamoring for. But despite how good he was statistically in 2017, he never really won over the fan base or had the full trust of his head coach.

Despite the multiple times this season that Ed Orgeron affirmed that Etling was his starting quarterback there were three games this season where the outcome of a game was still in doubt and in came freshman quarterback Myles Brennan, the third quarter against Syracuse and Troy, and the fourth quarter against Alabama.

But after that Texas A&M game, Orgeron was team Etling all the way.

“He went through some bumps and bruises, like we all do in life, but he fought through it,” said Orgeron of the senior quarterback. “He’s a winner.”

And Orgeron is correct there. LSU is 16-6 in games with Etling under center, a record that many college quarterbacks would take in a heartbeat.

However since 2008, the Tigers have won 10 games via a touchdown scoring drive with under five minutes left in the game. Jarrett Lee actually leads the way with four, while Jordan Jefferson, Mettenberger and Jennings have each done it twice.

No such fairy tale ending to a game for Etling.

He had LSU in position back in September against Troy, but a last second interception squashed that. It looked like he did lead his team to a last second win back in 2016 against Auburn, however the refs correctly ruled that the snap didn’t go off in time, effectively ending the Les Miles era.

For all of the good Etling did at LSU and how much his skill set fit the offense, he never had that signature moment or even a true signature win, and the Tigers never truly were a threat in the SEC race throughout his tenure.

His biggest detractors point to the Tigers loss this season to Alabama, a game in which Etling threw for just 137 yards and was not able to connect on a couple of long passes to D.J. Chark which could have changed the outcome of the game.

It was that game where the twitter war of #DannyEtlingIsAGoodQB versus #DannyEtlingIsABadQB had its most fierce battle.

Ironically enough, it was also in that game against the Tide in which Etling probably had his most NFL-like pass of his career.

It’s a 16-yard completion third down completion in double coverage to Derrick Dillon on a post route, where he threw to the spot as opposed to throwing to the receiver.

The game manager showed a glimpse of a game changer.

And that is where this story goes next: does Etling have a future in the NFL?

If so, it will more than likely be as a late-round pick in the upcoming draft and a backup role, but he has overcome the odds once already, so there is precedent, albeit on a smaller stage.

The man who is responsible for bringing Etling to Baton Rouge believes it can be done.

“Without question he has an NFL future,” Cam Cameron told a local station in Indiana earlier this month. “In a lot of ways the NFL game will fit his skill set. The emotional maturity, Danny has that.”

Etling, though, is not ready to look that far ahead. For now, he is laser focused on improving his bowl record to 2-0 and playing his last game in the purple and gold.

“LSU is the place where I’ve really grown up with football,” he said. “I’m really excited to have one last go with my teammates, the guys who I consider my best friends.

“I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”