Transplant Quarterback: How LSU is Helping QB Joe Burrow Succeed

by Owen Riese

Despite their success recruiting seemingly every other position, the LSU Tigers’ quarterback success has hurt them in recent year. After years of being unable to upend Alabama in the SEC West, something had to change. The Tigers went and got the closest thing to a free agent that there is in the sport, a graduate transfer by the name of Joe Burrow. LSU is hoping that he can be the catalyst to a national championship season, something those in Baton Rouge have not seen since the 2011-2012 season. 

A former Ohio HS football player of the year, Burrow went south after three seasons in Columbus at Ohio State. The Buckeyes coaching staff named redshirt sophomore Dwayne Haskins the starter following their spring game battle to replace J.T. Barrett. When Haskins was announced as the starter, Burrow, who graduated in May, immediately looked elsewhere for playing time. 

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In what was a very even quarterback battle, both candidates featured a lot of the same attributes. An educated guess could be made that Haskins was given the keys to the car due to the fact that he was a year younger than Burrow, meaning that Ohio State had less to lose in a transfer situation with the now Tiger walking out the door. It is also worth noting that both are above average athletes, though Haskins has a slightly superior arm.

Burrow played well during the Buckeyes’ spring game, finishing with 22 passes for 238 yards and a touchdown, displaying accuracy to all levels of the defense and the functional athleticism to extend plays. On what appears to be a fairly routine play here by Burrow, he hits the tight end on a crossing route. This is something that the LSU offense has struggled with in their passing game over the past couple of seasons. The intermediate passing game is something that is becoming less and less common in college football, but it’s an important area of the field to attack for pro-style run games like LSU employs. 

Burrow gives the play action fake, looks at his first progression, then looks down to the tight end running across the field, steps up into the pocket and delivers an accurate ball. With the athletes that LSU recruits at running back and the physicality that their offensive line plays with, the play-action passing game will always be something that LSU uses to their advantage.

Here Burrow shows his arm strength with his ability to drive the football down the field on a line with a limited trajectory in order to beat the defensive back to the receiver. Burrow delivers a nice, catchable, accurate ball to his receiver in stride, and is able to throw his only touchdown of the day. 

Moving In

Mentioned during the television broadcast of LSU’s opening game against Miami, Burrow discussed the direction of the offense during his visit to Baton Rouge. LSU’s offense has been described as archaic and mundane in the past, lacking the bells and whistles of contemporary offenses. Burrow, coming from Urban Meyer’s spread offense that stresses defenses in multiple ways, wanted to ensure that he wouldn’t be subjected to the lack of originality in play calling during his time at LSU, and the Tigers’ staff did a good job of diversifying the offense in his debut. 

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Here is Burrow’s first touchdown pass as an LSU Tiger, although it wasn’t called one on the field. In LSU’s offensive scheme, Burrow will rarely be asked to be the entire offense. After riding the running game to an early lead in the season opener, Burrow throws a beautiful deep ball, this one with much more touch than he used in Columbus. He puts the ball where his receiver can get it, and allows the mega-athletes that LSU recruits at wide receiver to make a play on the ball. 

Clearly, LSU did their research on Burrow and have molded their offensive scheme to concepts he’s comfortable with. While he didn’t turn his back to the defense often at Ohio State, utilizing play-action to create a window behind the linebackers and allowing Burrow to take advantage of his precision accuracy to the second level of the field is an ideal way to get Burrow’s feet wet, still only in the third quarter of his first collegiate start. 

Making Himself at Home

While Burrow’s stat line of 11-24 for 151 yards with two touchdowns won’t wow anyone, his ability to simply avoid the mistakes and erratic play that has plagued the Bayou Bengals over the past decade provides this LSU offense, while lacking some of the star power it has possessed in the past, some of the most upside they’ve had in quite some time.  Burrow appears to satisfy the proclivities the LSU coaching staff has in their quarterback, which is somewhere in the happy medium between the quarterbacks they’ve featured over the past five years.

From a statue-esque Zach Mettenberger to the athletic Brandon Harris, LSU’s offense has often lacked an identity, and Burrow looks to have cured some of those ailments. He will never be a transcendent collegiate quarterback who sets the football world on fire, but Burrow can certainly be the transmission that controls the speed of the engine that is this LSU offense on their way back into College Football Playoff contention. His above-average arm strength, as well as accuracy in the short and intermediate areas of the field, will allow LSU to force defenses to remain honest, which is all their running game needs to establish itself as one of the best in the country. While the book is still far from written, early returns are certainly positive in Baton Rouge on their new quarterback.

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