BATON ROUGE, La. — Patience is paying off for a pair of LSU players. The ultimate reward may be the much-ballyhooed diversification of the offense that Tigers fans have been hearing about since springtime.
New starting quarterback Danny Etling found seven different targets against Mississippi State in his first LSU start. That’s a far cry from the season opener in which Brandon Harris completed passes to three different receiving options outside of Leonard Fournette.
One of the beneficiaries of Etling’s “Every Man a Catch” policy has been junior D.J. Chark.
Before Etling was handed the reins in the second quarter of the Jacksonville State game, Chark had zero catches in his two-plus seasons as a Tiger. That finally changed with a 12-yard reception against the Gamecocks. Chark had 3 catches for 52 yards, including a 37-yard touchdown, against the Bulldogs.
That Chark and Etling are emerging together should be no surprise. The two spent last season refining their craft on LSU’s scout team. Etling could not play immediately after transferring from Purdue, and Chark was buried on the receiver depth chart.
“That started on scout team last year, me and D.J.,” Etling said. “He came down on scout team after maybe the first week, and I tried to give him the ball a lot. We have a nice connection from there.”
The connection was apparent on Etling’s touchdown strike to Chark. From the press box, it looked as if Etling had oversailed his target considerably. But Chark made up the ground in a heartbeat, hauling in the ball in the back of the end zone for his first career score.
“I think it’s tough to overthrow D.J. He’s so fast,” Etling said. “The only worry is that it would fall out the back of the end zone.”
Etling and Chark were so on the same page that it was an only-in Tiger Stadium pitch-and-catch. Anywhere else and Chark’s second stride out of the end zone would have been directly into a goal post. Because of Death Valley’s H-shaped goal standard, he was able to proceed merrily.
Coach Les Miles concedes familiarity may be a factor in the Etling-Chark connection, but he says there is more to it.
“I think Danny enjoys all of our wide receivers and certainly those guys that get open. I don’t know if it’s just the rapport that (D.J.) has with Danny,” Miles said. “It’s just the fact that D.J. is getting a lot better and continues to, and Danny is going to use all the weapons that he can gather to move the football.”
Though four other receivers transferred since the end of last season, Chark is glad he stayed. And Chark’s emergence isn’t just important for himself.
Perhaps attempting to give Malachi Dupre something to focus on other than his drops, LSU experimented with putting Dupre in the slot and Chark outside. Dupre had no drops against the Bulldogs, catching a team-high 4 passes for 54 yards. LSU played about 35 percent of its snaps with three-receiver sets on Saturday, a move most LSU fans have been waiting to see.
“I think Dameyune Craig has done a really great job with those wide receivers, and I think they have an aggressive, more confident demeanor,” Miles said. “I think D.J. has really had, you know, some times where he had put himself in position to get a lot of playing time, and I think now he’s making it count.”