Fab four former LSU QBs wax poetic on Joe Burrow

Jon Mailhes


They were starters at the position with the most responsibility in the brightest spotlight.

They played in different eras at the same school, so there is an unbreakable lifetime bond.

They take great pride when they see the latest member of their brotherhood play well.

Former LSU starting quarterbacks Bert Jones, Alan Risher, Jeff Wickersham and Rohan Davey are definitely sticking their chests out more this football season.

Because like everyone else who has watched Tigers’ fifth-year senior quarterback Joe Burrow’s weekly march to one of the best passing seasons in college football history, they are simply dazzled.

They also have the credentials to analyze Burrow’s abilities.

Jones entered this season as the only LSU QB ever to earn first-team all-America honors.

Risher, the first LSU QB ever to throw for 300 yards in a game –308 vs. Mississippi State in 1982 – remains ranked in the top 10 in several Tigers’ career passing categories.

Wickersham, now third on LSU’s all-time career passing yard list behind Tommy Hodson and Burrow, was the first LSU QB to pass for over 5,000 career yards. Wickersham’s son Kyle, a Class of 2021 quarterback prospect, just led Rummel to a Louisiana Division 1 state high school title over Baton Rouge Catholic.

Davey happily had his LSU single season passing yardage record set in 2001 was erased by Burrow this year

As the No. 1 and 13-0 Tigers enter the postseason with their first College Football Playoff appearance set Dec. 28 vs. Oklahoma in a semi-final at the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl, Burrow will go there with a target on his back as LSU’s second Heisman Trophy winner ever which he’ll be awarded Saturday in New York City.

Burrow’s passing numbers are staggering, far beyond the comprehension of LSU fan base which for decades has watched mostly run-dominated offense and conservative playcalling.

For instance, Burrow’s current total of 4,715 passing yards this season is more yards gained than the entire season total offense yardage of 53 LSU teams dating 69 years back to 1950.

Through 13 games, 60.5 percent (207-of-342) of Burrow’s completions have been for first downs and/or touchdowns.

His stats against five Top 10 opponents, games that matter most to Heisman voters, have been sizzling – 143-of-182 (78.5 percent) for 1,827 passing yards, 15 TDs and two interceptions and 187 rushing yards and a TD on 53 attempts.

Here’s what the LSU QB roundtable said about Burrow.

Q: When I say Joe Burrow, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?

JONES: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a college football another player like him ever in this style of offense. He is just fabulous.

RISHER: When it’s time to put away the game, he has responded every time. That’s what wins a Heisman Trophy, when you do it in the clutch.

WICKERSHAM: He’s got everything you could possibly want in quarterback – super smart, makes great throws, makes fast reads and makes a lot of plays on his own.

DAVEY: The guy is a football junkie and that’s what you want as your quarterback. He takes the onus on him, he has this stealth focus even when bombs are dropping all around in the pocket and things are going crazy. He’s the total package, everything you’d want in a Heisman Trophy winner and a first-round pick. He’s the best quarterback in this year’s class.

Q: How gratifying has it been watching Joe Burrow and this LSU offense produce points at a pace none of us has ever seen before?

JONES: I’d like to think I had more fun than anybody else on a football field my whole career, but I’m not sure I had as much fun as they (LSU’s players) do. It’s so much fun to be a spectator and see the fabulous performance and the presence on the field Joe has and watching Coach O’s (Ed Orgeron’s) enthusiasm. It’s just doesn’t get any better than that. I’ve never had as much fun watching college football as I have these last two years ever.

RISHER: We’d all be lying if we didn’t think we weren’t a little skeptical before the season if there would actually be a dramatic change in the offensive style. Obviously, they’ve (LSU) proved all the skeptics and cynics wrong.

I think the whole shooting match was geared around seeing if they could come up with an offensive concept that could impact Alabama’s defense. Obviously, they did by scoring 46 points (in a 46-41 road win on Nov. 9).

WICKERSHAM: I’ll always love LSU whether they go 0-10 or 10-0, but it has been frustrating in the past for everybody who has watched the offense. We’re just fortunate now to have the right mix. We have the right coordinators, the right head coach, the right players to be able to do it.

For so many years, it looked like the defense carried LSU. Then, this year it’s the opposite. Now the defense is still playing well, but our offense has carried the torch and our defense has played well enough to win. It’s kind of the changing of the guard. It’s been a lot of fun.

DAVEY: Really in my heart after the Florida game I thought it was going to be a special season. I booked my hotel for New Orleans (site of the national championship game) after the Florida game (a 42-28 LSU win on Oct. 12). I just felt it was going to be a magical season.

Q: After watching Burrow in his first season at LSU last year when he was 10-3 as a starter, are you surprised at the huge leap of improvement he’s made this year?

JONES: People don’t realize Joe played excellent football last year. He was really exciting to me last season. But this year’s offense fits Joe’s style perfectly. He knows what to do and he knows how to handle it.

RISHER: Joe had a pretty good year last season, but this offense has definitely highlighted his abilities. What happened to Joe from last year to this season is a little bit like what happened to me when I played.

In 1981, we had a bad football team at 3-7-1 and I wasn’t worth a damn. I was a pretty good quarterback, but it wasn’t reflected in the offense we were running.

The next year in 1982, Mack Brown came in (as quarterbacks coach) changed the offense and did some things to magnify my abilities (as LSU advanced to the Orange Bowl).

That happened this season with (new passing game coordinator) Joe Brady coming in and switching the offense to something that has highlighted Joe Burrow’s abilities. So, I look at Joe Burrow’s situation like mine, though he’s had a helluva lot better season this year than I had in 1982.

WICKERSHAM: I really liked (offensive coordinator Steve) Ensminger’s offense from day one last season. With the right people and the right combination which they now clearly have, I thought it could be really, really good. I give a lot of credit to Ensminger and Brady for coming up with this offense that is virtually unstoppable.

It looks like it’s a fairly complicated offense that takes a while to learn. It took a little getting used by all the parties involved – Ensminger, Brady, Burrow, and everybody else, even the backs and receivers.

Now that they’ve mastered it and Ensminger has been able to open up the offense, it has been really hard to defend.

DAVEY: I’m not surprised at what they’re doing. What surprises me is their consistency at quarterback position with Joe.

The play he had at the end of last year continued on into this year. I really believe the end of last year was when I said, `Oh yeah, we’ve got us a quarterback.’

Being a quarterback and me having the opportunity to play the NFL with Tom Brady and New England, there’s just a standard that’s held by the guys on that team. It’s the same the way Joe plays and approaches the (QB) position. That’s why I marvel what he’s doing.

Q: What is Burrow’s most impressive trait?

JONES: He has a poise on the field, a sense of presence, a tenacity, that just doesn’t come around very often. I don’t know where he gets it all. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a quarterback who knows what to do every John Brown time he touches the football. There’s a sense of confidence in what he’s doing.

RISHER: Every time LSU has needed a response on a drive in a big game against those top 10 teams they’ve beat this season, Burrow has come up with the goods. That doesn’t always happen. I choked a couple of times when I had to come up with the goods, but he hasn’t choked. He’s played damn well when the chips are down and the offense needs a response.

WICKERSHAM: I haven’t seen him make very many bad reads, if any. He’s on target, he’s throwing the ball to the right place, he’s throwing with beautiful timing letting it go before the rush gets to him. He’s got great, great receivers, the offensive line has been doing a tremendous job. It’s like everything is clicking.

DAVEY: He has improved his pocket awareness. He does understand now where the pressure is coming from better than he did last year. Last year, there were times when there was somebody coming off the edge and you think he’d see it, but they would come around and get the sack.

He understands that, he understands where his outlets are, he knows where the danger zones are and where to miss on balls. He also knows where his safe throws are.

That comes from being an NFL student the last couple of years with the ability to take just a couple of graduate course classes and devote the rest of the day to football. That helps tremendously.

Q: How would you rate Burrow’s competitiveness?

JONES: There’s a sense of confidence in what he’s doing. He just does it. It’s so matter-of-fact, it just doesn’t get any better than that. It just reminds me of drawing it up on the board and saying, `Joe, if they do this where do you go with the ball? He says, `I go here’. Now, he’s on the field. Here they are. Where’s the defense? Where do you go? You go there, you make a perfect throw and you move on down the field.

RISHER: He’s a cool customer. You don’t find guys who can stand in there and he knows when to step up, when to move left or right, when to stand in there and take some hits. I’ve seen him take shots the last two years most mortal men wouldn’t get up from. He’s a tough cookie.

WICKERSHAM: He’s probably one of the toughest quarterbacks I’ve ever seen. And his guys get behind him. He takes shots to the head. Looks like he’s going to be out for three games, but he pops right back up and runs to the huddle.

DAVEY: His decision-making and his accuracy, his toughness and his leadership are reasons where we are now. I always tell people the quarterback has to be the toughest guy on the field because that’s the only position where you can get hit but you can’t hit back. I see a bunch of guys not play the position because they won’t stand in there, because they can’t take get slammed.

Even if you’re hurting at times, you can’t show it. Joe’s a war daddy.

Q: What specifically what makes this offense explosive – the scheme, the playcalling or the components?

JONES:  The style of offense suits Joe perfect. Being in the shotgun is such a great advantage for him. He lives in it, he should never come out of it. He’s a very accurate passer, good strong arm, he’s got great tools around him, his field presence is over the top, his motor skills are 9 out of 10. His field presence is 120 over 10, it’s just over the top.

RISHER: These guys (Ja’Marrr) Chase and (Jefferson) do not drop the football if it’s anywhere around them. They catch everything thrown to them. I can’t remember where most of the receivers have dropped the football. That says a lot, they are getting some really good people.

I think (Clyde) Edwards-Helaire is the most underrated college football player in the country. I predicted he was going to be the difference against Florida and Alabama, he played great football in both of those games. He’s perfect for this offense.

The playcalling has been fantastic. The first down and third down situations when they’ve had to respond whether it’s calling Joe Burrow’s number on read options when he’s picked up some huge first downs, especially in the red zone.

And on first downs when they’ve called a few plays that shocked me.

The one that jumps out to me is in the Alabama just scored, we had the ball at the 25, we needed that response drive again. Burrow almost looked like he was going to run a quarterback draw by taking two or three steps towards the line until he hit Chase on a post route.

I thought that was the coolest play all year. I’m sitting there watching the game thinking `Man that was pretty cool.’ It was a pretty unique play call. They pulled it out at right time.

WICKERSHAM: The playcalling has been unbelievably great. Nobody knows what’s coming. And even if they do, they can’t stop it because if the guys are covered, Joe will still complete a pass to them on their back shoulder. It doesn’t matter if they are covered. It’s not like they are 10 yards open and he puts it on the dime, which he does. But the ones they are completely covered and he still completes them, it blows my mind. They are just hitting on every cylinder. I just don’t see any weakness in their offense.

DAVEY: It’s a mentality and the confidence guys around him. The way these guys are playing and the way they feel about what’s going on, it doesn’t matter if it’s first-and-30 or second-and-30.

That’s the type of year they’re having, the type of swag, the type of confidence that Coach Ed Orgeron has put in in these guys and that these guys have put into each other. They know what each other is capable of, they know what the unit is capable of. When you have that bravado and swagger about yourself, it permeates through the whole team.

The defense is going to get it together because they know the offense is counting on them, The special teams isn’t going to let them down. Those guys don’t want to let each other.

Those guys have taken the `I’ out of themselves and put it all into `T.’ That’s why you have all these guys who are finalists for awards.

The guy pulling the trigger, Joe Burrow, his decision-making and his accuracy, his toughness and his leadership, he’s the reason where we are now.

Q: Would you have loved to run this offense when you played for the Tigers?

JONES: If I played in this offense, I would probably feel like Joe does now. It doesn’t get any better. I can’t think of anything better than just sitting back there and playing sandlot football and watching everything develop in front of you and knowing where to go.

RISHER: Compared to what they are doing now, I was in the stone age. We won a game at Kentucky (in 1980) 17-10. We ran the option and scored on the first series and last series of the game. I was 2-of-10 for 16 yards passing. That’s tell you how screwed up the passing game was compared to now.

I thought I had a great time in 1982 when Mack Brown came in as our QB coach. But looking at the play selection this year and offense itself I would have loved to play in this offense. I coached Arena Football a couple of years and LSU’s offense is like that. You can score on any play.

WICKERSHAM: What quarterback or receiver or running back wouldn’t want to play in that offense? You’re slinging the ball, it’s fast-paced.

Hell, I would have loved to have played in the shotgun for just one play. I was under center every single play of my career, so it would have been neat to be five yards back and get the ball snapped back to me. You get to see the field a lot better. You don’t have to take those five steps to get back there.

DAVEY: I would love to have played in this offense and had a chance to pull the trigger. Not for just one game, but for a whole season.

2 Comments

  1. At every game, I say I wish my dad and my husband were still alive to experience this season. Both were LSU graduates and fiercely loyal to the Tigers. I have never enjoyed an entire season as much as I have this year. I don’t want it to end. Thank you Coach O, all the assistant coaches, all the players, and all the support staff. Let’s do it again next year!!Geaux Tigers !
    I

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