BATON ROUGE, La. — Trips to Auburn haven’t been kind to LSU in recent years. If that is to change, coach Les Miles’ 18th-ranked squad will need poised performances from a banged-up offensive line and a recently promoted quarterback making his first road start in the Southeastern Conference.
Auburn has already been beaten at home twice this season by Clemson and Texas A&M. In fact, six straight SEC teams have won in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
But LSU has dropped six of eight at Auburn, and LSU’s offense doesn’t exactly look like a juggernaut as it prepares to meet an Auburn defense run by former LSU defensive coordinator Kevin Steele.
Quarterback Danny Etling has made only one start for LSU. That was at home this past Saturday, when he completed 19 of 30 passes for 215 yards and one touchdown. Those were by no means staggering numbers, but compare favorably to what LSU quarterbacks have produced during the previous two seasons.
“Danny understands what he is supposed to do,” Miles said Monday. “When you go on the road, you connect with your teammates and you connect with your coaches. You make sure you communicate with your teammates. Do your job and focus on things on the field.”
Etling, a junior who transferred from Purdue, said his action with the Boilermakers as a freshman and sophomore have given him at least a taste of the environment he’ll have to contend with at Auburn (1-2, 0-1).
“I have started road games in the Big Ten and that will help me this week,” Etling said, noting that Penn State was the toughest place for him to play. “I was maybe a little nervous at Purdue. Now, I understand what it takes to win the game. Playing on the road is something I take seriously. But, that is not going to be the deciding factor. I have gotten some good experience. I have some good coaches who can teach me some stuff.”
Etling first replaced season-opening starter Brandon Harris in the third series of LSU’s second game, a victory over Jacksonville State. LSU (2-1, 1-0 SEC) has won both games in which Etling has played, but has stalled a bit in the second half of both games, scoring just one TD after halftime in each.
“Danny does a great job moving the ball around,” Miles said. “He is doing the things we ask him to do. Should this offense come to play for 60 minutes, we’d be happy about it.”
Meanwhile, LSU’s offensive line has resembled a game of musical chairs, with eight total linemen seeing action during this weekend’s victory over Mississippi State because of a spate of apparently minor injuries.
Right tackle Toby Weathersby was the one starter who was unavailable at the end of the game with the Bulldogs. Backup Maea Teuhema, who took snaps at both right guard and right tackle, ended the game in Weathersby’s spot.
“We had guys who caught cramps, get injured and got nicks,” Miles said. “We had seven different combinations.”
Miles credited offensive line coach Jeff Grimes for doing “a great job” cross-training the players he oversees to handle multiple spots along the line.
“They allowed no sacks. Thank goodness (Grimes) works these through in practice,” Miles said. “All of these combinations had been seen by coach Grimes. There is some camaraderie on that line. The players are committed to each other. No one is rigid about staying in one place. That makes it more comfortable for these guys to move to other spots. This group thinks team first.”
Center Ethan Pocic was the only starting offensive lineman who did not leave the game because of an injury. Pocic had to switch positions due to the injuries as he played left tackle for two fourth-quarter possessions.
“It was a rough time Saturday because you hate to see guys going down. But, we’re used to it — lining up with different guys,” said guard Will Clapp, who was among the lineman that went down, but returned. “We have to learn more than our position. Coach Grimes trains us to be big picture. He wants us to learn the whole line, the whole offense.”
Online: AP College Football: http://collegefootball.ap.org/