BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) – The 20th-ranked LSU Tigers are about to get a better idea of how concerned they should be about their quarterback play.
Danny Etling restored a measure of hope to the Death Valley faithful when he relieved season-opening starter Brandon Harris and produced three straight touchdown drives in a victory over Jacksonville State last weekend. He’s bound to get a tougher test on Saturday night when LSU (1-1) opens Southeastern Conference play by hosting Mississippi State (1-1, 1-0).
LSU coach Les Miles said his goals this week have included “exposing” Etling to “the things we need to have him do and allow him to show us that he can continue to do what he’s done.”
But with much still unknown about what Etling can do in SEC play, Miles has been careful not to marginalize Harris, who spent all of last season as the starter and took first-team snaps throughout spring practice and preseason camp in August.
“His talents and abilities need to be prepared to go into the game and play significant snaps,” Miles said of Harris. “We certainly have visited with him and would think that he understands his role.”
Etling completed six of his first eight passes for 100 yards, including a 46-yard touchdown strike, but finished 6-of-14 after missing on all six of his second-half passes with two turnovers – an interception and fumble.
Mississippi State, which labored through a stunning, season-opening loss to South Alabama, rebounded with a 27-14 win in their SEC opener against South Carolina last weekend. That victory gave the Bulldogs more confidence in sophomore quarterback, Nick Fitzgerald, who can give defenses fits with his feet.
Fitzgerald’s 195 yards rushing against the Gamecocks set a school record and brought about comparisons to former Bulldogs star QB Dak Prescott.
“He’s faster than Dak and a little bit more explosive than Dak with the ball in his hands,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. “I don’t know if he’s as physical as Dak was. It’s a little different style of running.”
Some other things to know about the Mississippi State-LSU matchup on Saturday:
JEFFERSON’S SURGE: Mississippi State defensive lineman A.J. Jefferson leads the SEC with six tackles for a loss and is tied for the league lead with three sacks through two games. The 6-foot-3, 280-pound senior had a breakout season in 2015 with 13½ tackles for a loss and five sacks, but might dwarf those numbers this fall. “He’s a hard worker,” Mullen said of Jefferson. “Maybe he’s not one of the freakier athletes that people have in the league. He kind of got it done through development and hard work.”
FOURNETTE’S FATE: LSU star running back Leonard Fournette, who sat out last weekend’s victory to rest his bruised left ankle, is expected to be in uniform. Fournette gained 138 yards in LSU’s season opening loss to Wisconsin, but might have a lessened workload if he plays against MSU. Miles said LSU coaches are aware of Fournette’s tender ankle. LSU has that luxury. Fournette’s backup, sophomore Derrius Guice, rushed for 155 yards in his first career start last weekend.
BEHIND THE LINE: Mississippi State’s defense has 22 tackles for a loss already this season, which ranks first in the SEC and third nationally. The Bulldogs had 11 TFLs against both South Alabama and South Carolina. They’ve also allowed a mere 60 net yards rushing per game. “If you are not careful, Mississippi State will eat your lunch,” LSU fullback J.D. Moore said. “They are built to stop the run.”
WHITE’S RETURN: LSU cornerback Tre’Davious White’s decision not to turn pro and return for his senior season is already paying big dividends for the Tigers. White has scored a touchdown each on defense (interception return) and special teams (punt return).
BOUTTE’S BACK: LSU starting guard Josh Boutte has returned from a one-game suspension stemming from his flagrant foul late in LSU’s loss to Wisconsin. Miles said he hopes Boutte solidifies an offensive line that played well in last weekend’s win.
AP Sports Writer David Brandt in Starkville, Mississippi, contributed to this report.
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