By CODY WORSHAM
Tiger Rag Editor
Danny Etling’s face has seen better days.
Meeting Monday with reporters, Etling sported a gash above his right eye, another above his lip, and a nose not quite as straight as it used to be.
“I feel good,” he said, smiling. “The only lingering effect is I look like Rocky when he asked Mick to cut him in the end. It hurts a little right now, but it’ll get better by Saturday.”
The external wounds tend to care of themselves. It’s inside Etling that’ll require the most attention.
LSU’s junior quarterback enters a new era of his career: one without longtime friend and coach Cam Cameron, who was fired alongside head coach Les Miles on Sunday. The Cameron-Etling relationship goes far beyond quarterback-coordinator. The two attended the same high school in Terre Haute, Ind. — though separated by a decade or two. Cameron mentored and trained Etling as a prep, when Etling caught Cameron’s eye by calling a “super technical” play when Cameron was in Terre Haute to have his high school hoops jersey retired.
That relationship was crucial in bringing Etling to LSU when he transferred from Purdue after the 2015 season. Etling picked LSU over Arkansas, mostly because of Cameron.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Etling said of Cameron’s firing. “When I left Purdue, I didn’t know what I was going to do. I walked into the office and asked to transfer, and I had no idea where I was going to go. I didn’t know if I wanted to play football or if I was going to go D-2 or 1-AA. I got a call from Coach Cameron and (Arkansas) Coach (Bret) Bielema, and they both gave me opportunities to try and play football again. They said, ‘Don’t quit on it. Give us another try.’”
Etling listened. If he hadn’t, LSU currently would either be riding a slumping Brandon Harris, or playing a freshman quarterback in Justin McMillan or Lindsey Scott. Instead, when Harris began the season slowly, Etling stepped in. Through three games and two starts, he’s completed 40-of-71 passes (56.3 percent) for 433 yards, 3 touchdowns, and just 1 interception. Not earth-shattering numbers, but a marked improvement on Harris. Etling’s not been a superstar, but he’s been a much-needed bandage on a wounded offense.
His bandages from Saturday’s game are a reminder of just how physically demanding LSU’s 18-13 loss to Auburn was. Etling left the game for one play after suffering multiple cuts when one Auburn defender knocked his helmet off mid play and another put a helmet to his unprotected face.
But the most painful play, Etling says, was LSU’s last. His last-second touchdown pass to D.J. Chark from 15 yards out, which looked to have won the game for LSU, was overturned when officials said LSU didn’t get the snap off in time.
The cause of the chaos was the play prior. Etling had just converted a fourth down to Travin Dural, who was marked down with one second left, but LSU was whistled for illegal shift. As Miles and the staff tried to decipher where the ball would be marked and with how much time, Etling began lining the team up for the next play. And as soon as center Ethan Pocic could snap him the ball, Etling called for it, believing he’d beaten the clock.
“I thought I did (get the snap off in time),” he said. “I didn’t even wait for his whistle. I might have even been trying to cheat the whistle. As soon as he left the ball, I was kind of waiting for the whistle, but I snapped it before. I figured I could time the whistle up. All of a sudden, the clock had already started. I guess the white hat is the one who starts the clock. We aren’t even allowed to snap it until he blows the whistle, and he had already started the clock, and he hadn’t blown the whistle yet. I thought that guy had a good look. It sucks that happens like that, and the next day, you know…that’s cause and effect.”
The effect, of course, being Miles and Cameron’s firing.
“I replay that final sequence a lot regardless,” Etling says. “Just hoping, wishing it would’ve gone the other way. You can’t beat yourself up too much over it. It was a foregone conclusion, I guess.”
Saturday was tough, but Sunday was tougher. Etling said he spent the day talking with former coaches, trying to figure out how to move on from yet another setback in his career. One of those conversations was with Cameron. Etling, of course, declined to share the message of the conversation.
“That’s between us,” he said. “It was positive things. Emotional.”
But Etling did share one thing he was told by an ex-coach.
“I think the best thing told to me was, ‘Football is the greatest game in the world, but it’s also the worst business sometimes,'” he said. “That’s evidenced by my career and, unfortunately, what happened yesterday.”
Now, Etling knows, it’s time to move on. Despite a heartbreaking weekend, he’s ready to move forward with his teammates under the leadership of Ed Orgeron and offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger. Orgeron coached Etling on scout team last year, and Ensminger was the position coach of Etling’s roommate, tight end Foster Moreau.
“They both have manly voices,” he laughed.
And, close as he was with Cameron, he knows his loyalty now is with the rest of the guys lining up with him on Saturday night against Missouri.
“You have to move forward,” he said. “You have a lot of loyalties to your teammates, and you’re still going to be loyal to your coaches. I’m going to be loyal to my coaches no matter who they are. You have loyalty for your teammates, and you want to move forward for them.”
And so move forward, he will. Etling will remain the team’s starting quarterback. He’ll lead LSU’s offense as they look to get a win in Orgeron’s first game, looking to build hope for the rest of the season and set the table for a new era of Tiger football.
Life goes on for Etling. That is goes on with football as a major piece, well, that’s down to Miles and Cameron.
“When I got down here on my visit, I met with Coach Cameron and Coach Miles,” he said. “They breathed some new life into me. I can’t thank them enough. I don’t know if I would want to play football right now if it wasn’t for them. It was heartbreaking, and it was tough (Sunday) night, but you have to move forward.”