BATON ROUGE, La. — LSU quarterback Danny Etling was resilient enough to absorb a pounding from Syracuse’s pass rush, as well as a possible blow to his ego.
Etling responded to a barrage of bruising blitzes with touchdown passes of 87 and 43 yards, D.J. Chark added a game-clinching 20-yard scoring run in the final minutes, and No. 25 LSU held off the Orange 35-26 on Saturday night.
“The long balls saved us tonight,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. “We’re very inconsistent right now.”
Etling, who left the game for several series in the second half in favor of highly-touted freshman Myles Brennan, finished 10 of 17 for 188 yards and two touchdowns. His longer scoring pass hit Drake Davis early in the third quarter and the other went to Stephen Sullivan in the second. Darrel Williams rushed for 92 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
Brennan entered the game in the middle of the third quarter with LSU (3-1) leading 21-10. Orgeron said he “just wanted to give Myles a chance with the game on the line.”
When asked what he thought of the substitution, Etling said, “I didn’t think much. We just do whatever the coaches say and go on from that.”
Brennan’s first series produced a touchdown. LSU also threatened to score on Brennan’s third series — until he was intercepted by Juwan Dowels. Syracuse (2-2) responded with a touchdown drive, pulling as close as 28-26 with 5:40 left.
“Very proud of our young men, but by no means are we satisfied coming in here and getting a close loss,” Syracuse coach Dino Babers said. “We could have won that football game and we didn’t and they need to understand that that hurts.”
Taking advantage of a failed onside kick, the Tigers marched 56 yards with Etling back under center, capped by Chark’s touchdown on an end-around an end-around with 1:52 left. Etling chased Chark all the way to the end zone and was among the first to congratulate him.
“I was glad I was able to get us out of there with a win,” Etling said.
Leading an up-tempo offense that Orgeron compared to “basketball on grass,” Orange quarterback Eric Dungey mixed an array of throws, scrambles and even a jump-pass into a 32-of-53 passing performance that netted 265 yards.
Receiver Steve Ishmael caught 11 passes for 123 yards. His 22-yard touchdown catch from Dungey in the fourth quarter pulled Syracuse within a field goal and had Orange fans in one corner of Tiger Stadium making themselves heard among the seemingly stunned, disenchanted home crowd. Dungey also rushed for 24 yards, including a 14-yard score that made it 28-19 late in the third quarter.
“Everything was working. It was really just one or two plays that just didn’t work in key spots,” Dungey said. “We were so close.”
The first play that didn’t work was the first of the game. Dungey was intercepted Andraez “Greedy” Williams, who returned the ball to the 1, setting up Derrius Guice’s touchdown.
The LSU cornerback was pleased by his third interception in four games, but disappointed that the Tigers didn’t bounce back in more convincing fashion from a 37-7 loss at Mississippi State a week earlier.
“We aren’t playing to the standards we set for ourselves as a program,” Andraez Williams said. “You don’t play like we did the last two weeks when you are at LSU.”
Syracuse: Whether or not they emerge as an ACC contender, the Orange could be a compelling team to watch this season. Syracuse made its share of plays on both sides of the ball, giving LSU fits at times. The Orange offense nearly matched LSU statistically, while Syracuse’s defensive front punished Etling and pressured Brennan into a turnover.
LSU: The Tigers’ latest outing might not have done much to boost their confidence or impress AP Poll voters. The offense was hampered by inconsistent blocking and was stifled on several drives, including four that stalled short of the Tigers 40 in the first half. LSU entered the game favored by about three touchdowns, and if not for Williams’ interception and a pair of long TD passes, Syracuse might have become the first non-Southeastern Conference team in 49 years to beat LSU in Death Valley.
Syracuse, which trailed 21-3 early in the third quarter, scored its first TD on a gadget play that also required some improvisation. Receiver Devin Butler was prevented by penetrating LSU defenders from passing back to Dungey as apparently planned. He scrambled instead before throwing 30 yards over the middle to Ervin Phillips.
Syracuse gave LSU’s offensive line fits throughout the game, once getting into the backfield to bring down Williams for a safety on the first play of a drive that began at the Tigers 1.
“Danny was under duress the whole night,” Orgeron said. “Without watching the film, I’d say Syracuse’s defensive line won” at the line of scrimmage.
When asked if he thought his unit played well, LSU center Will Clapp responded, “No. Not particularly.”
Syracuse visits North Carolina State to open ACC play.
LSU hosts Troy.