BATON ROUGE, La. — Danny Etling is LSU’s starting quarterback. But Ed Orgeron has a peculiar way of showing it.
Through two quarters of LSU’s 35-26 win over Syracuse Saturday night, Etling was rolling. He had completed his last 5 passes, going 10-for-17 overall with 188 yards and 2 touchdowns. The scores went for 43 yards and 87 yards respectively, showcasing Etling’s ever-improving deep ball and putting LSU up 21-10.
But with 8:46 remaining in the third quarter, Orgeron called to the bullpen. After throwing a few warmup passes and taking a few practice snaps from center Will Clapp, freshman quarterback Myles Brennan trotted onto the field for the most meaningful snaps of his career.
Etling put on a baseball cap and a headset and went into clipboard mode as he watched Brennan lead the Tigers 91 yards down the field on six plays, 80 of which came from running back Darrel Williams. Brennan was 2-for-2 for 46 yards on the drive, though he never threw deeper than 3 or 4 yards downfield. Williams capped the drive with a 20-yard TD run.
After the game, Orgeron said the decision to put in Brennan was to see if he could do just that.
“We wanted to give Myles Brennan some reps when the game was on the line to see what he can do,” Orgeron said. “Obviously, he did well in some situations, has got to get better in other ones. Danny is our starting quarterback. I just wanted to give Myles a chance when the game was on the line.”
Through one drive, Brennan did everything Orgeron could’ve asked for. He made quick decisions. He checked down to underneath routes when no one was open downfield. And he didn’t try to make plays that weren’t there, deferring to the run game to work his way downfield.
Brennan’s second drive didn’t go as well. It lasted one play and ended in a safety. Such is life when you’re pinned inside your 1-yard line.
The third drive, though? It was the inverse of his first. Brennan was 2-for-4 for 29 yards, but one of his misses was an interception and his other one should’ve been, too. His decisions still came quick, but they weren’t necessarily the right ones, culminating in LSU’s first turnover of 2017.
After the pick, Syracuse charged down the field and scored a touchdown, trimming LSU’s lead to 28-26. As soon as LSU’s offense returned to the field, Etling was out there to lead. The Brennan experiment was over, at least for one night.
“I thought [Myles] did good,” Orgeron said. “He held his own out there. He’s going to be a fine quarterback for us. We wanted him to get some tastes of live action to see what he can do. But Danny’s our quarterback. Myles didn’t beat him out or nothing like that tonight. It’s just in case. Myles is one play away if Danny gets hurt. So we wanted him to get some experience tonight.”
About that experience…
Senior fullback J.D. Moore didn’t know LSU was going to make the switch. Neither did sophomore wide receiver Drake Davis. Redshirt freshman wideout Stephen Sullivan said he thinks he read an interview where Orgeron said he might pull this sort of maneuver, but he didn’t see it coming. Clapp said until Brennan took his warmup snaps, he received no indication a change was coming.
Heck, even Etling himself didn’t seem to see it coming.
“I didn’t think much,” Etling said. “I just do whatever the coaches say and move on from that.”
Brennan wasn’t made available for comment because LSU is one of the many colleges that doesn’t allow true freshmen to speak to the media, so there’s no way of hearing his side of the story. But the fact that no one on the team seemed to know LSU was going to make a quarterback change on Saturday speaks volumes to the adaptiveness of this team, both in the game and on the sidelines.
On the sidelines, things were easy. Moore said Etling continued to lead from the bench, sounding off in Brennan’s ear and embracing his role on the supporting cast.
But on the field? Most players said they didn’t feel much of a difference from when No. 16 gave way to No. 15. Sullivan did.
“Things kind of picked up, I thought,” Sullivan said. “Some guys thought he was going to go in there and freeze up a little bit. But he came in there and did what he had to do and we scored a touchdown.”
If anyone on the field should’ve known how to react to Brennan’s presence, it would’ve been Davis. Davis and Brennan were teammates for a semester at St. Stanislaus in Bay St. Louis, Miss., before Davis transferred to IMG Academy. In that time, Davis learned a lot about Brennan’s play style and what kind of competitor he is.
Traits he noticed on display Saturday night.
“Myles is a playmaker,” Davis said. “You’ve just got to play with him and match his intensity. It was a pretty good experience to play with him in high school for a little bit, and in college.”
Davis had another connection to Brennan Saturday night. That came on Brennan’s interception, the play that ultimately sealed his fate. Brennan targeted Davis on that play, a throw that ended significantly behind Davis and could’ve been returned for a long distance had the Syracuse defender not had his knee on the ground when he caught the ball.
After the game, Davis took the blame for that interception. He said it was an option route that he got impatient on and cut off early underneath the linebacker. Brennan didn’t read Davis’ undercut and threw on instincts to where Davis should’ve been, leading to the interception.
Regardless of whether the interception was Davis’ mistake or Brennan’s mistake, it happened. Orgeron yanked Brennan afterward and Etling returned to the game to make sure he “got out of there with a win.” Given the circumstances surrounding the game, the decision to put Brennan in and the decision to take him out were both peculiar from an outsider’s perspective.
But again, to Davis, this was just decision making in its normal state.
“No, it’s just football,” Davis said. “You do what you’ve got to do to win.”