BATON ROUGE, LA (WVUE) - There was some good and bad in the Tigers home opener against Jacksonville State. We'll call them first downs and fumbles.
The first and most obvious first down mark comes at quarterback, and the logic is simple. With Brandon Harris in the game, the Tigers didn't pick up any first downs. With Etling, they put the ball in the endzone on their first three drives.
His numbers weren't outstanding. Etling completed just six of 14 passes for 100 yards with one touchdown, one interception, one rushing touchdown and a fumble, but it's far more than Harris accomplished against Wisconsin. And not to pile on Harris too much, but Les Miles claims they ran the exact same offense with Etling. They didn't change the play-calling. It was all in the execution and Etling's comfort. There is officially a quarterback competition again at LSU, and it's number 16 with the advantage.
Special teams return unit:
Donte Jackson had a kickoff return called back, and Tre White ran 21 yards in the wrong direction before returning a punt of his own. All night, it felt like the return unit could break a big one at any moment, and it's one of the best uses of the Tigers' wide range of athletes. If only they could shake out all the wrinkles with the kicking game after a blocked extra point attempt and more shaky punting from freshman Josh Growden.
They bent at times, but only broke once, and it was on a broken play. Jacksonville State, and particularly their offense, is one of the better "cupcake opponent" teams you'll see. Ask Auburn if you don't believe me. The Tigers held them to just 13 points, and had some key stops on their own side of the 50.
LSU's pass rush made much more of an impact later in the game and was able to force a few third and long situations. Arden Key, Lewis Neal and Kendell Beckwith all contributed with sacks, and when they didn't, they were getting pressure that forced wild throws like the one intercepted by Donte Jackson.
He's the Tigers top receiver, and he's listed at 6'4" and 195 pounds. However, Malachi Dupre is yet to take advantage of his size and come down with some of the tough catches. If he does, maybe we're talking about a different result against Wisconsin, and maybe Harris isn't run out of the game so quickly against Jacksonville State.
Don't get me wrong. The plays Dupre's not making aren't easy. But he's the type of player that has to turn the 50/50 balls into 60/40 with how much size he usually has on his defender. Too many are coming off of his hands right now, and the deeper into the schedule the Tigers get, the fewer mistakes they can afford to have from their receivers.
Watching the game at field level, it appears they improved from game one against Wisconsin, but there was still a fair amount of pressure getting to the quarterback and a few costly penalties. That being said, the Tigers put up 34 points and rushed for more than 200 yards with Derrius Guice averaging 8.2 yards per carry. If that's an "average" night for the line, the Tigers should be good enough in that department for now.
Final thoughts: This was a step in the right direction for the Tigers, but a small step. They improved a quarterback, but whether they've still got what they need at that position to win the SEC is still unknown.
It's also alarming how many times coach Miles used the phrase "work in progress" talking about a team that returns so many starters that should be used to playing with each other. But then again, when the quarterback position, the field general and team leader, regresses, so does the team.