Spreadsheet Quarterback: The numbers on Danny Etling and Myles Brennan through four games

By CODY WORSHAM | Tiger Rag Editor

Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a (hopefully) season-long look into LSU’s quarterback play. I’ll be charting every throw made by an LSU quarterback in 2017, with as much detail as possible. If you’d like any particular aspect of the Tigers’ passing game analyzed, comment below or hit me up on Twitter, and I’ll track it. This week: a summary of LSU’s first four games.  

Week One: First down success vs. BYU | Week Two: LSU shows off its deadly deep ball vs. Chattanooga | Week Three: Etling Under Pressure

Ed Orgeron insists there is no quarterback controversy at LSU, and he’s right. Danny Etling is the starter, and, right now, in the objective opinion of this writer, he is a better quarterback than his talented backup, Myles Brennan.

But at some point – and it’s coming sooner than later, I expect – Orgeron will have to decide whether to choose his lineups based on the present, or the future.

The quarterback position is the best microcosm of this dilemma on the roster, but it is by no means the only one. LSU will have decisions to make at wide receiver and offensive line, as well as some other spots, on whether to invest time in talented-but-young players or veteran-but-soon-to-graduate players.

That decision, of course, will be based on whether or not Orgeron sees something to play for this year that’s worth sacrificing the potential future benefits of seasoning his youngsters right now. Through four games, there is little hope that LSU can compete for a championship or major bowl berth in 2017, but teams improve, and LSU is far from out of any title race, mathematically.

Orgeron says Brennan will play Saturday against Troy, and perhaps after that game and the extra reps it provides would be a better time to compare his numbers with Etling. Right now, the sample sizes between the two are too out of whack to draw any substantial conclusions. But there’s a really good chance Brennan doesn’t play at all against Florida next weekend, and four games is a third of the season, so I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves, with these caveats:

  • Beware of sample size. Brennan has thrown exactly 1/7th the number of passes as Etling. He’s not played a conference foe on the road, as Etling has, either.
  • Consider context. Etling hasn’t just played more snaps than Brennan. He’s also played more meaningful snaps. I don’t need to explain the difference between fourth quarter reps up double digits and second quarter reps in tight games.
  • Numbers are only one (small) part of the evaluation. Not all 40-yard completions are created alike. Some are dump offs to running backs who make defenders miss, and some are downfield dimes put in the breadbasket of a receiver. The eye test matters.
  • My numbers are adjusted and sometimes subjective. I used adjusted stats to discount plays out of the quarterback’s control, like dropped passes or interceptions, throwaways, etc. Sometimes, when charting, I have to make a judgment call on whether or not a particular attempt is, say, accurate or inaccurate, or if an attempt is pressured or not. The raw stats are here.

With that said, let the comparisons begin.

[table] LSU QBs 2017, Danny Etling, Myles Brennan
Adjusted Attempts, 77, 11
Adjusted Completions, 49, 7
Adjusted Completion %, 63.64%, 63.64%
Adjusted Yards, 818, 147
Adjusted TDs, 3, 1
Adjusted INTS, 0, 1
Adjusted Passer Rating, 165.73, 187.71
Adjusted YPA, 10.62, 13.36
Accuracy %, 71.23%, 72.73%
Accuracy % Pressured, 45.45%,57.14%
Accuracy % Non-Pressured, 80.77%, 100.00% [/table]

Stylistically, Etling has been far more reliant on the deep ball and play action than Brennan has. In fact, Etling’s been excellent at both.

[table] Etling Play Type, Passer Rating

Play Action, 209.7

Throws of 20+, 267.2

Play Action Throws of 20+, 378.84[/table]

The problem for Etling has been getting that time. His average time of release is 2.86 seconds, and when he gets longer than that to throw, his passer rating is 195.4. When he gets it out of his hands quicker than average, on dump offs, swing and shovel passes, he’s less effective, with a 125 passer rating. Etling thrives with time to throw, but LSU has struggled to give him that time, as he’s been pressured on 42.8% of all his dropbacks.

Brennan, meanwhile, seems more comfortable getting rid of the ball quickly. Again, small sample size, and it could be that he’s limiting his options to make up for his inexperience, or simply getting quicker plays called for him, but he’s getting rid of the ball in 2.57 seconds, nearly 0.3 seconds faster than Etling (consider how big a difference 0.3 seconds is for a 40-yard dash time). His average distance of target is just 6.0 yards, compared to Etling’s 12.56. Three of his completions have been check downs to running backs, one of which Darrel Williams took 43 yards.

Truth is, we haven’t seen enough of Brennan to make any calls. Had Orgeron not given him four series against Syracuse, with the game not yet out of reach for the Orange, we’d have seen next to nothing. I loved that decision, by the way. LSU has been hesitant in recent years to play its backup quarterbacks meaningful developmental minutes. Brennan got crucial reps against Syracuse, and it didn’t cost LSU the game. He made some mistakes, including a ball that should’ve been intercepted that wasn’t (and one that shouldn’t have been intercepted that was), but he also made some plays.

We need to see more from Brennan before any comparison is fair, and against Troy, we likely will.

Then, however, comes Florida, and with it, each remaining week will pose a decision for Orgeron: play the best quarterback for now, who appears to be, today, Danny Etling; or play the quarterback of the future, who appears to be, today, Myles Brennan. Or, perhaps, a third option: play both.

Game results and quarterback performances are variables that will alter the equation, but the players themselves remain the constants. Etling and Brennan are Orgeron’s quarterbacks, and their first four games only give us the smallest glimpse into what the last eight will look like.

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