By CODY WORSHAM | Tiger Rag Editor
NEW ORLEANS — For fans accustomed to subpar offenses, LSU’s outburst in Matt Canada’s debut was a sight for sore eyes.
For Danny Etling, it was a flashback to days gone by.
“It was basically just the 2015 scout team out there,” said Etling.
Etling teamed up with fellow scout team alumni Derrick Dillon, D.J. Chark, and Russell Gage for one of the most efficient passing performances in recent LSU history. Etling completed 14-of-17 passes for 173 yards to eight different receivers, and all eight targets to his trio of wide receivers were completions, good for 134 yards.
Two of the biggest were the only two receptions by Dillon, and both came on third down on LSU’s first drive. Twice on 3rd and 8, Etling dropped back and found Dillon on the right sideline, good for completions of 10 and 11 yards, respectively.
It’s a vast improvement from a year ago, when LSU converted just four first downs all season through the air on third downs needing seven to nine yards.
“Derrick was down with me and D.J. on scout team,” said Etling. “I have a great rapport with him. He’s somebody that’s really worked hard the past two years, and I’ve seen the growth he’s made year by year, day by day. He’s earned all his playing time.”
Chark, who paced all receivers with four grabs for 77 yards, was just as fired up for Dillon, a redshirt sophomore who has persisted through three receiving coaches, two offensive coordinators, multiple teammates transferring, and no touches through his first two seasons to suddenly emerge as a key cog in Canada’s attack.
“I was really excited for Derrick,” said Chark. “Derrick is a playmaker. He came out and caught those two passes. He didn’t blink. He just went in and did his thing like a veteran. A young guy, stepping in under the lights in the Superdome. A lot of guys would get nervous and get fidgety, but he showed no signs.”
The main course of the offense for the evening was the running game. Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams combined to register 212 yards on 42 carries, scoring all three LSU touchdowns on the night. Etling was perfectly happy to take what BYU’s defense was giving him, misfiring on just three throws all evening – two throw-aways near the goal line and one drop from a tight end. It was an encouraging debut for the senior coming off offseason back surgery.
“I felt as good as I’ve ever felt playing a game,” said Etling. “I was just sitting out there in warm ups, and I was feeling really good, and I was like, ‘I haven’t felt this good before a game in a long time.’ It was a big difference.”
If the running game was the battering ram of the attack, slowly but surely breaking BYU’s will, the passing game proved to be the opportunistic artillery, more than happy to provide some explosives when called upon. Etling’s 52-yard strike on a post route to Chark in the second quarter to set up LSU’s second touchdown in four minutes came after six straight runs and nine rushes in 10 plays. Chark, less concerned with volume and more with quality, made the most of the moment.
“Today that was my main focus: working on my routes and getting open,” said Chark, who finished with 114 all-purpose yards. “Like on the post route, I really suck with my technique and got open. I feel like moving forward, working on it every day, we’re going to be unstoppable.”
Meanwhile, there’s more in Canada’s locker. Orgeron’s seen his playbook, and there’s plenty more inside.
“All the first down passes, all the intermediate passes, there’s a lot of stuff he didn’t have to run,” said Orgeron. “But he had it on his call sheet. He gave me his call sheet. It’s about like that” – Orgeron mimed an object far larger than the average sheet of looseleaf. “I guarantee he might have used 10 percent of it.”
There are kinks the offense must iron out, like converting more effectively in the red zone. Of its six red zone trips, LSU scored just three touchdowns. There were also a number of penalties the unit would like to clean up.
But the Tigers backed up a typically dominant defensive performance and rushing attack with a newly efficient aerial compliment. Canada may not have called all his plays, but the ones he did dial up worked to perfection.
“He was on fire tonight,” Orgeron said of his first-year play-caller. “You saw how good our defense was tonight. There’s some days (this fall) we couldn’t stop him. A-plus.”