By CODY WORSHAM
Tiger Rag Editor
DJ Chark and Danny Etling have connected on dozens of touchdown passes.
Just never in a game — until Saturday night.
In the first quarter, Etling dropped back on third down and found his former scout team teammate on a deep post — as deep as posts get. The junior quarterback dropped the ball into Chark’s lap, and the junior wideout made it count for his first career receiving touchdown.
“It was one on one,” Chark said. “Danny threw a great ball. I just tried to look it into the tuck, like Coach tells us, and get my feet in bounds.”
He succeeded. Chark’s score put LSU up 7-0 early and set the tone for LSU’s offense, which converted 7 of 16 third downs on the night — not a staggering number, but far better than State’s 1 of 14. This, despite facing an average of 7.8 yards needed per third down.
Etling was the key. The junior, who finished the game 19-of-30 for 210 yards, was a marksman on third down, completing 6-of-10 third down passes for 100 yards and five first downs (another was called back for a holding penalty), including the first quarter touchdown to a streaking Chark.
“When you’re working with Danny, if he messes up, he takes credit for it, and if you mess up, he still takes credit for it,” said Chark. “That’s a great leader right there.”
One of Etling’s mistakes, Chark helped erase. Early in the fourth quarter, Etling lofted an out route just over a defender’s fingertips, but too low, it seemed, for Chark to snag. But the Alexandra, La. native dove and snatched the ball just above the turf.
It was the best catch of a memorable night, as Chark established career highs for receptions (3) and yards (52), while grabbing that first score — much to the delight of his teammates.
“That’s something he and I have been talking about a long time,” said Travin Dural, who grabbed 4 catches for 40 yards. “I was so happy for him when he caught it, I felt like I scored. To see him grow and mature as much as he has, it’s been a long road for him, and it’s finally paying off.”
Asked about his night, Chark deflected any chance to talk about himself. He pointed, instead, to the play of Malachi Dupre, who overcame a case of the drops suffered in weeks one and two to finish the SEC opener with four catches on five targets for 54 yards.
“When your number is called, you have to make the plays,” Chark said. “Malachi, who struggled the first few weeks, did real good today, which I’m really proud of. I didn’t feel that much pressure because Malachi and Travin were getting open and catching the ball. We were really in sync.”
So, too, were Etling and Chark. A year ago, neither factored in LSU’s passing game. On Saturday, they orchestrated it.
“DJ and I were on scout team last year together,” Etling said. “I think we’ve come a long way since then. He’s an extremely talented receiver. I’m glad to have him.”
Ethan Pocic has never played left tackle in his college career. Not in a scrimmage, not in a game, not even in a live period of practice.
Might as well start somewhere.
The senior center slid over to the highest profile place on the offensive line for several plays on Saturday night, forced wide by an unfortunate string of injuries up front. At different points in the game, four of LSU’s five starting offensive linemen — all of them, except Pocic — left the game with some knock or another.
“When stuff like that happens, it’s not going to be perfect,” Pocic said. “But I thought we played physical.”
Pocic’s move came after right tackle Toby Weathersby had already been sidelined with a leg injury. Left tackle K.J. Malone suffered what Les Miles called after the game a bruise, forcing Andy Dodd to enter at center and sliding Pocic wide.
His first crack wasn’t pretty. State pass rusher AJ Jefferson slide inside and drew a holding call that negated an Etling first down strike to Dural.
“I overstepped the guy a little bit,” Pocic said. “Just one of those thing. Gotta learn on the fly.”
Leonard Fournette didn’t talk with the press after his 28-carry, 147-yard, 2-touchdown performance, perhaps discouraged by a pair of fumbles in the second half. The first wasn’t all that costly, but the second set up State’s first touchdown and sparked a comeback that nearly saw LSU cough up a 23-3 second half lead.
Miles said after the game that the injuries which have kept Fournette out of practices recently and slowed him during fall camp could have contributed to his rare lack of ball security.
“He’s ready to be gotten into great shape and be a great back again,” Miles said. “But one of those pieces is ball security and that’s something that you always pay a tremendous price for if you don’t work on it prior to. So, he’s one of the most ball secure runners that I’ve ever had. I’m sure he’ll continue to be, it will just be a little refreshing course there.”