BATON ROUGE, La. — LSU came out sloppy. There were penalties, an interception on an easy overthrow on offense and a few long balls surrendered on defense. Head coach Ed Orgeron had called 17 runs to 11 passes at one point. The 11 a.m. kickoff time only made it more confounding for the fans at Tiger Stadium. The whole thing was just sluggish.
Were the Go-Go Tigers getting away from what had gotten them to 4-0 and No. 5 in the country?
That would be answered on the Tigers’ first drive of the second quarter. Up 14-6, LSU took over on its own 1-yard line thanks to a fantastic interception by freshman cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. — remember the name, he’s a star already.
That’s when Joe Burrow took over. The 2019 version of Burrow who has drawn first-round mentions in the 2020 NFL draft, not the one who looked a bit off early with the pick and a missed wide-open receiver later.
Burrow accounted for 100 yards of offense on the drive by himself, patiently picking apart the Aggies with short and medium passes — 8-of-9 on the drive for 86 yards, including the 25-yard TD strike to Ja'Marr Chase to put LSU up 21-6. Burrow took a sack on the drive and was hurried on his one incompletion. But he also scrambled 14 yards for a first down — one of six converted that series.
“He’s just as P.O.’ed as I am,” head coach Ed Orgeron said of his quarterback’s first-quarter interception. “Obviously Joe is going to be upset. He won’t think he played very well, and I think he did.
“But that’s going to keep him hungry for next week [against Florida].”
Imagine this quote coming from any former LSU head coach after a 42-6 victory, one in which the Tigers racked up 601 yards of offense — including 524 in the first three quarters, after which most starters came out. The Tigers are now 5-0, and Utah State fell to 3-2 with its first loss since the opener at Wake Forest.
Burrow became the first LSU quarterback to throw for more than 300 yards in four straight games. He completed 27-of-38 passes for 344 yards with five TD passes and one pick. He also ran 10 times for 42 yards — including a 21-yard scamper — and another score before leaving the game early in the fourth quarter of the blowout.
Burrow overcame a slow start and said “bye-week rust” was the reason for a few of his passes not hitting their intended targets early.
“I left some throws out on the field,” Burrow said. “Way too many balls on the ground.
“But we had 600 yards of offense — whatever, it happens. So that tells us where we can go.”
This was the swashbuckling, game-changing quarterback that NFL scouts are suddenly salivating over. There were nine teams attending Saturday’s game, which also featured the highly regarded Utah State QB Jordan Love. That included two decision makers: Green Bay Packers GM Brian Gutekunst and Cincinnati Bengals personnel director Duke Tobin.
Despite the ease of the game, LSU still had some solid situational tests in this one. The Tigers hadn’t faced many third-and-long situations this season, but they converted 10-of-13 with Burrow on the field. Even with Utah State dropping seven and eight into coverage quite a bit.
“I think that was the best thing we did all day,” Burrow said. “Third downs, I think we were 10-for-14, and if you do that you’re going to win a lot of games.”
If Love was the QB prospect who was hyped up this summer, Burrow has been his own hype maker with his play through five games. We mocked Burrow No. 30 to the New Orleans Saints earlier this week, and Love No. 20 to the Minnesota Vikings. We might want to edit that. Perhaps flip-flop the two?
No, one game does not alter a draft landscape that much, but the eye test showed that Love needs work and Burrow showed the ability to rebound after a balky start.
Love actually made some tremendous throws in the game, most of them downfield, including two 35-yard connections where he showed elite touch. But otherwise this was a forgettable day for the possible first-round pick. His decision making and short-pass accuracy need some work, and he was picked off three times. He finished the game 15-of-30 passing for 130 yards with no TDs.
Love’s teammates and coaches didn’t always do their part, however. There was a dropped pass — one of about four on the game by the Aggies — that could have led to a touchdown early on a drive in which the Aggies settled for a field goal. And Utah State’s offensive line was overwhelmed early on, allowing some early pressures and eliminating the Aggies’ run game quickly.
Head coach Gary Andersen also was quite passive as well, settling for two field goals in the first quarter against a heavily favored opponent and opting to punt on fourth-and-2 from their 45-yard line midway through the third quarter down 28-6. That’s not showing much faith in your own offense, even against such a stout defense of LSU.
No matter. This became Burrow’s day. The 99-yard drive helped spur it into action.
“He’s a competitor and he was going to go challenge us,” Orgeron said. “He was challenging the offense. We took our time and moved down the field.”
Burrow and LSU cranked up the intensity as the game went on and helped maintain his national buzz and possible Heisman Trophy footing. When Burrow connected with junior Justin Jefferson on a 35-yard TD pass late in the third quarter, the game was essentially over. Jefferson put on a show in the game, catching nine passes for 155 yards and two TDs on 11 targets.
The schedule gets harder from here. The Tigers host Florida next week, which should be a great battle and a tougher defensive test. Then it’s at Mississippi State before hosting Auburn and then going on the road for what surely will be the season-defining matchup of the season for Burrow and the Tigers — at Alabama on Nov. 9.
After Saturday’s victory, Burrow’s completion percentage dipped below the 80 percent mark for the season, perish the thought; he’s now at 78.4 on the season. And even with the interception, his TD-INT ratio of 22-3 remains sterling. The Bama game could feature the two most impressive quarterbacks this season in Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa, who is the only man in the country with a more impressive ratio at 23-0 (Tagovailoa and Bama had a bye this week).
When scouts look back at the Utah State tape, they’ll see plenty of good from Burrow, even with the game getting out of hand. And while the Bama game (and others) will carry more weight, it’s clear that he is becoming a weekly must-see quarterback.
He’s not looking that far ahead, however.
“I am a one-week-at-a-time guy, so that’s how I am taking it,” Burrow said.
Burrow has plans for Saturday night.
“Watch ball,” he said. “Just watch ball.”
Maybe these early kickoffs aren’t so bad after all.
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