No. 6 LSU buoyed by Burrow’s intangibles, if not his stats
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Joe Burrow’s pedestrian completion percentage and passing totals might be more of an issue if sixth-ranked LSU were losing.
For now, the Tigers’ transfer quarterback appears to get more criticism from himself than anyone else at LSU. Coaches and teammates rave about Burrow’s mentality, football IQ, toughness, leadership and other intangibles.
“He’s 3-0 as our quarterback. That’s the biggest stat — and his leadership, the tough runs, good decisions,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. “Joe is smart with the ball. Obviously, he hasn’t thrown a pick yet.”
Generally, elite college quarterbacks complete well more than half of their throws. Through three games — including one against second-tier FCS opponent Southeastern Louisiana — Burrow is 36 of 78 (46.2 percent) for 540 yards and three TDs. But he has not been intercepted and he hasn’t fumbled despite taking some big hits on scrambles and designed QB runs.
Consequently, LSU is plus-seven in turnovers.
Burrow explains that his approach early this season has been to minimize the risk of turnovers that comes with forcing throws into tight coverage. It’s a luxury he has, he explains, because of his confidence in the Tigers’ defense and running game. Indeed, LSU is averaging nearly 154 yards rushing and its defense has produced big plays in victories over Miami and Auburn , each of which was ranked in the top 10 when LSU beat them.
“When you go 3-0, you can’t complain,” Burrow began, but added, “I haven’t been incredibly happy with the way I’ve played so far. I’m going to keep working really hard to get better.
“I just don’t really feel like I’ve thrown the ball great,” Burrow added. “It hasn’t been up to my standard.”
Yet Burrow had three throws in particular at Auburn that provided evidence of his potential. He uncorked an accurate downfield pass just over the reach of underneath coverage, but low enough for receiver Derrick Dillon to rise up and snag it in front of defensive backs as he angled across the field for a pivotal 71-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
When LSU got the ball back, down 21-19, Burrow lofted a pinpoint pass to the right flat to Dee Anderson to convert a third-down. Several plays later, Burrow converted a fourth-and-7 with a decisive 9-yard pass over the middle to Stephen Sullivan. That play sustained a drive that ended with Cole Tracy’s winning field goal, followed by an on-field pileup of ecstatic LSU players celebrating only the third road-team triumph in the past 19 editions of the Auburn-LSU series.
“That game-winning drive kind of speaks for his excellence in his decision-making,” senior tight end Foster Moreau said of Burrow.
Moreau said Burrow’s offensive teammates view many of his incompletions as examples of minimizing risk and living to play another down until crunch time, when he takes more chances as situations demand.
“We preach ball security. Besides maybe that one throw that Derrick scored on, he’s been very protective of the football, which explains why his completion percentage is low,” Moreau said. “But we’re plus-seven in the turnover margin. We’re 3-0. It wouldn’t be my place to question his decision-making.
“Coming in two months prior, winning the starting job, he’s done a fantastic job for us,” Moreau continued. “I’m really proud of him, but I know he’d just kind of shrug it off and say, ’Hey man, let’s just keep winning games, because that’s what he’s all about.”
Burrow said he expects his approach to evolve with time and suspects LSU’s passing game is about to “take off.”
Burrow arrived at LSU this summer after spending three years at Ohio State. He was a redshirt as a freshman and served as a backup the past two seasons. Burrow decided to transfer after last spring, when it became evident that Ohio State’s coaching staff had settled on Dwayne Haskins as 2018 starter.
Early this season, Burrow has been gratified to see evidence on social media that Ohio State fans not only haven’t begrudged his decision to leave, but have actively pulled for him. In one video clip , Buckeye fans attending a game against TCU in Dallas could be seen cheering when the stadium’s video board showed LSU’s game-winning drive at Auburn.
“I enjoyed my time there and love the place, love the people, love the fans, and it really meant a lot to me,” Burrow said this week, adding that his mother, Robin, brought one such clip to his attention. “I’m sure she cried about it, because she’s a crier and she gets really happy. But I thought that was really cool.”