BATON ROUGE, La. — LSU quarterback Danny Etling and wide receiver DJ Chark rediscovered their timing Saturday afternoon.
In LSU’s loss to Alabama, Etling and Chark seemed like magnets repelling one another. Any time Etling heaved deep, Chark couldn’t bring the pass in. Some plays were Etling’s fault. Others were Chark’s. None ended up complete.
But Saturday? This was a different story. In LSU’s 33-10 win over Arkansas, Etling targeted Chark 5 times, completing 4 passes for 130 yards and 2 touchdowns. Both touchdowns came on deep passes, one going 45 yards and the other going 68. And if you ask Chark, the throws couldn’t have been more perfect.
“Danny couldn’t have thrown a better ball,” Chark said. “I had to thank him both times. He made my job way easier than it’s ever been. Probably two of the easiest touchdowns I’ve ever scored with Danny throwing the ball like that.”
Using the NFL’s passer rating statistic, Etling posted a perfect 158.3 grade when throwing at Chark on Saturday. That was a stark change from the Alabama game when Etling missed on four deep throws to Chark and another to sophomore Derrick Dillon. It was also a return to normalcy for Etling, who thrived throwing deep early in the year.
But for Chark, Saturday was a new experience of sorts. It’s easy to forget because of his 2 punt return touchdowns and his rushing score, but Chark’s 2 touchdowns Saturday were his first 2 receiving TDs of 2017. After Chark muffed a punt in the first quarter and almost cost LSU a possession, being the star of the game Saturday didn’t look like it was in the cards. But to LSU coach Ed Orgeron, Chark’s ability to recover from blunders like that define his character.
“He’s mature,” Orgeron said. “He sticks with it. He believes in himself and he has confidence.”
Confidence was a running theme for Orgeron after the win. After the Alabama loss, Orgeron was under some fan pressure to ditch Etling as his starting quarterback and move on to freshman Myles Brennan to prepare for 2018. But Orgeron didn’t feel like it was the right time to do that.
He wanted to reinforce Etling’s belief that this is his team.
“We stayed with him, man,” Orgeron said. “I wanted Danny to know we have confidence in him. It would’ve been easy to pull him, but I didn’t want to do that. Danny has bled purple and gold. I was not going to do that to him. I wanted to give him the chance.”
Of course, Orgeron went on to say that had Etling not played well in the third quarter, he would’ve yanked him. But Etling was close to perfect in the third, going 4 for 5 for 52 yards. He followed that up with an equally efficient fourth quarter, completing 2 of his 3 pass attempts for 89 yards and a touchdown. By NFL passer rating, Etling’s second half grade was 156.3. Not quite perfect. But pretty darn near it.
And it doesn’t hurt when you have Chark catching passes. He might be reluctant to admit it, but he’s about as lethal in the open field as any receiver in the SEC.
“I just try to do my job, man,” Chark said. “Whenever I’m able to get in the open field I try to make the most of it. Then I go back and look at it and I see I did a pretty good job. So apparently I’m pretty dangerous.”