By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — There were plays to be made down the field against the vaunted Alabama secondary.
Russell Gage and LSU saw it on film during two weeks of preparation for a trip to Tuscaloosa. And no matter what the stats show, the world saw as much on national television as the No. 2 Crimson Tide survived No. 19 LSU, 24-10, at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday night.
LSU had receivers running free down the field for the kind of big plays that would’ve vaulted the Tigers right back into the game, but for a variety of reasons — overthrows, underthrows, mistiming and shaky protection — the plays didn’t get made.
“We could beat these guys. We knew we could,” Gage said. “So I’m not going to sit here and praise them. They’re a good football team, but if we hit those deep balls, we can beat these guys. We’re not just going to have a moral victory over not executing.
“We draw the plays up. We saw they’re not as sound in coverages as we kind of exposed them on, and we’ve got to finish them.”
Most of the blame will fall on the right shoulder of LSU quarterback Danny Etling. He finished the game 12-of-26 for 137 yards with a costly interception that set up Alabama on a short field to take a 14-0 lead.
“I’m not sure. I’m not the quarterback, so I’m not in the backfield or anything,” Gage said. “Like I said, all I can speak is from a receiver’s perspective. It worked out just how we draw it up, and it’s frustrating that we didn’t hit them, but we’ve got to move on.”
Nobody threw the veteran signal caller under the bus, but his deficiencies as a passer were clear as day on a pristine Tuscaloosa night.
The senior misfired on no less than five deep throws to open receivers down the field. He hit on his first one, a 31-yard strike to Stephen Sullivan thrown under pressure out of his own end zone, but he underthrew speedster D.J. Chark on a few balls that could’ve went for touchdowns.
One in particular could’ve been caught as Chark adjusted back to the ball — he dropped it — but the receiver was five steps behind the defense when Etling uncorked it and wound up having to break stride and work backward.
“Pretty disappointing,” Etling said of the misfires. “Just missed timing. Just misjudging and things like that. Whether it was a misjudged ball or maybe I should have put it out there a little further; that was on me.
“There’s just like three of them that’ll stick with me, and that’s that. I’ll watch the film, get better and move on.”
LSU coach Ed Orgeron wasn’t interested in assigning blame one way or the other, deferring judgement on the missed plays until he gets a chance to review the film.
Etling himself put it in blunt terms: receivers were open, and he just couldn’t get them the ball.
“I just missed a lot of throws,” he said. “I had guys that were open and I just missed them. I wish I would’ve put the ball out there a little more or timed it up better. That’s about it.”
Orgeron did pull Etling in favor of freshman Myles Brennan to give the rookie some playing time on the game’s final drive. The rookie went 3-for-5 before getting bowled over by an unrelenting pass rush that pinned their ears back late in a two-score game.
Neither Orgeron nor Etling spoke as if a quarterback change was imminent, but with three games left in a season that’s devoid of championship aspirations, every misfire will be met with more calls for the big-armed freshman of the future.