BATON ROUGE, La. — As Danny Etling hurled himself around Florida’s Steve Spurrier Field with no apparent regard for his health, the light bulb went off in my head.
Etling’s game is nondescript, not inviting comparisons to other quarterbacks at the college or pro level. Against the Gators, he finally reminded me of someone: Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith. Whether that is a good, bad or indifferent thing is in the eye of the beholder.
There is a reason Smith has stuck around in the NFL since 2005. He’s pretty good. But there’s also a reason he’s only made two Pro Bowls in that span. He’s rarely been great. Smith finds ways to win and rarely puts his team in jeopardy, but he doesn’t make the laser throws that inspire fans into believing they are set at quarterback.
That summed up the way Etling played against Florida — it looked like Smith both at his best and his worst.
The throws were not there. Etling’s passing was meager. He was 9 of 16 (56.2 percent) for 125 yards and should have been picked off twice — maybe even 3 times, considering the D.J. Chark-Duke Dawson simultaneous catch that was awarded to Chark. He missed badly on a probable touchdown pass to a wide-open Darrel Williams in the first quarter.
Despite those passing woes, there was an element of moxie displayed by Etling that demonstrated why the Tigers value him as a leader. He was diving for the first-down marker if he could get it, helmet-jarring hits be damned.
“If it’s third down, you obviously don’t just want to slide and get off the field. I’m going to try to get the first down,” Etling said. “You can slide on first and second down.”
Surprisingly, Etling is LSU’s No. 3 rusher this season with 103 yards on 28 attempts. If you remove his 2 sacks from the rushing total, Etling ran for 37 yards on 7 carries against the Gators.
That escapability has always been in his game — Etling says he was called “Vanilla Vick” by his high school teammates. It’s also another way he is reminiscent of Smith, who has rushed for more than 2,000 yards in his 12-year pro career.
The comparisons don’t stop there. This spring, Kansas City drafted big-armed quarterback Patrick Mahomes II. Even though Mahomes isn’t ready, he’s the guy who had many Chiefs fans salivating heading into the season — not unlike LSU freshman Myles Brennan.
Finally, the similarities between Etling and Smith extend right down to the scheme each quarterback runs. Smith is off to the best start of his career, and the Chiefs are the last unbeaten in the NFL — largely because their offense has been built around concepts coach Andy Reid took from LSU offensive coordinator Matt Canada.
At this point in his career, Etling is past the point that he’ll become a star. But with Canada allowed to run the offense the way he sees fit going forward, being just good enough may be good enough for Etling and the Tigers against most of their opponents.
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