LSU’s New Triggerman: Danny Etling

Quarterbacking is hard in so many ways and people are always trying to figure out who will be the next great one. Mark Schofield thinks LSU might have a winner in Danny Etling.

The LSU Tigers entered the 2016 full of promise and potential. Ranked in the Top-5 to start the season, they enjoyed an embarrassment of riches on both sides of the football, including perhaps the top running back tandem in the country. But what was unanswered was the production they would get from the quarterback position, especially out of returning starting QB Brandon Harris.

That question was answered early in 2016 – and not in a good way.

During the Tigers’ season-opening loss to Wisconsin at Lambeau Field, Harris threw two interceptions – including a game-ending throw with under a minute left – as LSU was on the verge of field goal range to take the lead. Things did not improve a week later against Jacksonville State from the FCS and, after LSU punted on their first two drives, Harris was lifted for junior Danny Etling, a transfer from Purdue.

His first drive? LSU scored a touchdown.

While it is much too early to state definitively that he is the answer at the position, his work over his first two games for the Tigers is a cause for hope.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Thrown Into the Fire

Etling entered the game against the Gamecocks early in the second quarter, as the Tigers were trailing 3-0 against last season’s FCS runners-up. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron wasted no time in putting the quarterback to work, dialing up this vertical concept on his first play:


Etling takes his drop, and is a bit unsettled in the pocket with his feet, perhaps due to some pressure in his face. But he takes a shot here on the out-and-up route from tight end Colin Jeter (#81):

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The pass is broken up, but it was a sign of better things to come from an LSU offense that had struggled to this point. After a draw play on second down picked up five, Etling smartly checked the ball down on 3rd and 5 to pick up LSU’s initial first down of the game. Armed with a fresh set of downs, the Tigers lined up with 10 offensive personnel and Etling in the shotgun. They utilize a slot formation to each side of the field, and put the running back to the left of the quarterback. Jacksonville State aligns with their 4-2-5 nickel defense and they show two-high safeties before the snap:


The Tigers dial up a smash concept to the short side of the field. The Gamecocks run Cover 1, blitzing the nickelback from the wide side of the field:


Etling will read the cornerback to that side of the field and throw off his movement. If the CB crashes forward on the hitch, he’ll throw the corner route. But if that defensive back sinks, Etling will check the ball down to the hitch. The CB makes his mind up quickly, and so does Etling:

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Once the QB sees the CB squat on the shorter route, he sets his feet and delivers a well-placed throw on the corner route. It is dropped, but this is solid play from the quarterback from snap to finish. He reads the defense exactly right, shows good footwork in the pocket, and puts the football in a catchable spot for his receiver.

Two plays later, the Tigers finally cashed in:

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This might be the most interesting offensive design I have seen in awhile. Not only does LSU use a wheel route from the wing TE, but they also have the running back execute an out-and-up route right behind him, giving Etling three vertical route on that side of the field, with Derrius Guice (#5) trailing behind the WR and TE on his out-and-up route:


DeSean Smith (#89) takes advantage of the design. As he cuts upfield on the wheel route, the traffic from the other vertical route prevents the linebacker from getting a good angle on the coverage:

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Etling sees this, and drops in a perfect throw for the score.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]First Collegiate Start

The Tigers went on to win 34-13, and when they opened their SEC schedule the following week against Mississippi State, it was Etling who got the call to start. He threw a touchdown pass on their opening drive as LSU raced out to a 20-0 lead, enjoying a 23-3 lead at the halftime break. But they would need to hold on down the stretch in the second half, withstanding a Bulldogs comeback to escape with a 23-20 win. For his part, Etling was solid, completing 19 of 30 passes for 215 yards and the single touchdown. A few of his throws that night – apart from the scoring pass – are indicative of what LSU can now expect from the QB position.

Early in the second quarter the Tigers face a 3rd and 4 on their own 35-yard line. They empty the backfield and put the quarterback in the shotgun, putting three receivers to the right and two to the left in an inverted slot formation. The Bulldogs employ a 3-2-6 dime package and show Cover 4 before he snap:


The Tigers employ a stick concept to the trips side of the field:


Look at the #2 trips receiver, Malachi Dupre (#15), as well as the defender across from him. That defender uses inside leverage, trying to take away any route breaking inside. Etling sees this before the play so, when Dupre cuts to the outside, Etling is quick and decisive with this throw:

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The simple pitch-and-catch nets the Tigers an easy first down. This quick, decisive nature with the football is a welcome departure for LSU fans from some of the plays from Harris.

On this play, Etling shows a pump fake to the right, before climbing the pocket to hit a dig route coming from the back side:

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Finally, one of the struggles suffered by Harris early this season was a problem with accuracy. He was leaving many throws high, including sailing some easy out routes more than a few feet over open receivers. In contrast, watch the touch and placement on this deep out pattern from Etling:

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This throw comes from the right hashmark to the left sideline. Etling shows good footwork in the pocket, hitting the depth on his drop and then using a hitch step to gather his feet and throw. He drops in a perfectly-placed out route along the sideline, just over the underneath coverage while keeping the receiver in the field of play. This big gain on 2nd and 22 sets the Tigers up with a very manageable third down.

It seems every season down in Baton Rouge comes with a little bit of spice. While the Tigers entered this season with high expectations, that opening loss to the Badgers knocked them down a few pegs. But with their first SEC win under their belt, a somewhat favorable schedule ahead the next few weeks (the Tigers play at Auburn and home against Missouri), and perhaps their answer at the quarterback position in Danny Etling, perhaps LSU might live up to some of the preseason hype after all.

Follow @MarkSchofield on Twitter.  Buy his book, 17 Drives.  Check out his other work here, such as how Alabama passes to attack the flat, or Tennessee’s use of the double post concept, or how LSU runs play action.

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All film courtesy of DraftBreakdown.

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