Moments after playing his worst game in an LSU uniform, Joe Burrow didn’t mince words. The quarterback chastised himself for throws missed in a 19-3 victory over Mississippi State and even went so far as to say he played like a middle schooler.
Burrow was 16-of-28 for 128 yards with no touchdowns and one interception against the Bulldogs. LSU finished with a season-low 239 yards of total offense on a sloppy night when defenses were dominant.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron has pushed back on perceived criticism of his quarterback’s play this season. When asked about Burrow’s middling completion percentage, Orgeron once responded that the only statistic that mattered to him was victories — he’s got seven of those against just one loss this season.
Not this time. When asked about Burrow’s play during the bye week, Orgeron endorsed Burrow’s blunt critique of his own play.
“I agree with him,” Orgeron said. “I was mad at him. I love him to death though. You know Joe reminds me of Bobby Hebert. Bobby was a tough quarterback, a leader who is going to be hard on himself and tell the truth. The truth he didn’t play well, but the truth is he’s won a lot of games for us, we love him and we love who he is.”
Ok, so that’s not exactly a stinging criticism or a threat to re-open the quarterback competition any time soon, but clearly Orgeron and Burrow agree that the latter will need to play better if LSU is going to win its next game.
As much as Auburn or Georgia felt like the games LSU brought in a quarterback like Burrow to win, Alabama is the granddaddy of them all for Orgeron and his Tigers.
Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide have won seven straight meetings dating back to the infamous BCS title game debacle, and if Orgeron can be the coach to break that streak — particularly against this perceived juggernaut of an Alabama team — the results will be transformative.
The past two iterations of Alabama weren’t as high-powered offensively as this club, but Orgeron hasn’t been shy about his feelings that LSU was a quarterback away from victory in each of the past two seasons.
“We felt like we stayed with them physically last year but didn’t make the plays,” Orgeron said. “The year before it was 0-0 going into the fourth quarter. We expect that same kind of battle.”
Though he didn’t come right out and say it, Orgeron believes he now how the quarterback to make that happen in Burrow. Both men also understand that it won’t happen if the Ohio State transfer plays the way he did against Mississippi State. Hence the harsh self-critique.
This might not be your older brother’s Alabama defense, as there appears to be plays to be made down the field against their young secondary if an offensive line can hold up in pass protection.
The uniquely daunting aspect of this Alabama team is the idea of keeping pace with its machine-like offense. Led by Tua Tagovailoa, the runaway favorite for the Heisman Trophy at this point, Alabama is scoring a national-high 54.1 PPG without playing its starters in the fourth quarter of most games.
Tagovailoa hasn’t faced a defense of LSU’s caliber this season — though he eviscerated a comparable Georgia unit in last year’s national championship game — but at the level he’s playing at right now, holding the Tide below 30 points would require a Herculean effort.
That was before LSU lost star linebacker Devin White for the first half due to a controversial targeting call. Seemingly everything Alabama does is a run-pass option with Tagovailoa at the helm, and LSU will be without its emotional leader and most experienced defender for 30 minutes.
“This is a very dangerous football player,” Orgeron said of Tagovailoa. “I believe he’s the best player in the country right now.”
If LSU can keep it a game until White joins in on the fun, it has a fighting chance. The problem is Alabama has outscored its opponents by an average margin of 39-7 in the first half of games this season.
That’s where Burrow comes in. He must engineer drives that’re both time consuming to limit the defense’s exposure and end with points. Three-and-outs are deadly against this Alabama offense that can put up points in the blink of an eye via the big play.
Equally importantly, LSU must be more efficient when it gets into scoring territory. Cole Tracy has kicked nine field goals in the past two games, which is fine, but trading 3’s for 7’s is no a tough way to win against Alabama. LSU spent extra time during the bye working on red zone situations.
“That’s what we really need to get fixed,” Burrow said. “If we turn half of our field goals into touchdowns, we’d be scoring 50 points, and that’s been a struggle for us. I think we have a great game plan for this week in terms of experimenting, creativity, all that stuff.
“We’re not going to be able to settle for field goals next week. That’s the No. 1 scoring offense in the country. We’re not going to be able to score 15 points and win the game.”
For Burrow, he’ll approach correcting those red zone shortcomings with the same workman-like demeanor that’s ensconced him as a leader in the locker room since arriving this summer.
As he tells it, playing quarterback for LSU is more like a graduate internship than another college experience.
“I’ve been telling everybody since I got here, I’ve already had my three years of being a college guy,” Burrow said. “I graduated and moved down here, and I’m kind of looking at it as my first job out of college. That means you have to be a pro. No nonsense. No parties. Nothing like a normal college guy. I’m looking at this like a regular job.”
The quarterback continued on his work habits: “It’s all amped up a little bit. It’s all the same stuff I was doing there, but just a couple hours more every week.”
Will those extra hours be enough for Burrow to go toe-to-toe with a phenom who will likely be taken first overall in whatever NFL Draft he decided to enter? Can he be the savior that slays the dragon that is Saban and Alabama, finally restoring some level of balance to a rivalry that’s been one-sided for years?
Tune in Saturday night to find out. It ought to be quite the time.