LSU’s offense has been a big hindrance to the teams overall success for the last few years and I think most would agree that it’s the primary reason that Les Miles will be watching this game from his couch like most of us. What makes this such a weird situation is that LSU has had one of the best players in recent memory in their backfield for three years in Leonard Fournette. The Tigers have also fielded outstanding defenses for years with a lot of NFL talent. What the Tigers haven’t had, however, is serviceable quarterback play. Not great quarterback play like you would expect from a school that recruits like LSU does. Just serviceable. LSU has only had one quarterback complete 60% of his passes since 2011 before this year.
Danny Etling has been the “at least serviceable” quarterback that this offense has needed for a few years. Last season the Tigers looked to Brandon Harris to lead the offense and he wasn’t too bad, but he made a lot of mistakes and he only completed 53.6% of his passes. Etling took over for Harris after the first game and since then he’s been good enough to compliment the great running game that LSU has. That’s really all LSU has needed and Etling has been a guy that protects the football pretty well and he’s been able to make enough plays with his arm to help the offense. Etling isn’t great by any measure, but do you really need a “great” quarterback when you have Leonard Fournette in the backfield? You really shouldn’t need one when you have him and Derrius Guice toting the rock. What you need is a guy that can take advantage of positive matchups outside as well as making smart decisions on 3rd and short. Etling can do those things well enough.
Louisville can do themselves a great service by pressuring Etling to the point that he gets uncomfortable. Etling doesn’t necessarily struggle with pressure as much as he struggles when he thinks he will be pressured. He has shown that he will stand in the pocket and he will throw a good ball even when he has guys bearing down on him. However, he really doesn’t do well when he gets pressured a lot early in a game. He starts to look for the pressure on the snap and his feet start to get very happy. Alabama really highlighted this issue. Louisville’s defense isn’t Bama’s buy a long shot, but they have consistently shown that they can get pressure on quarterbacks in pro-style offenses. They haven’t registered as many sacks as one might like, but the pressures have been there. James Hearns is unlikely to play (I’m just assuming here. No inside info.) but Devonte Fields and Jonathan Greenard should be able to provide plenty of pressure of the edges in passing situations.
LSU doesn’t have to have a great passing game to succeed and they shouldn’t have to have rely on Danny Etling to win the game for them. Etling throws a nice deep ball and I think that if he is able to do that in the Citrus Bowl, LSU would take it. He has the luxury of being a veteran quarterback who has been playing with the same set of coaches for most of the season. Unless Todd Grantham can concoct some new run blitzes and pressure packages over the break, Etling should be good enough to put points on the board for the Tigers.