Why Joe Burrow's 2018 heroics vs. Auburn set the foundation for what he's doing in 2019
A freaking dime.
That’s the only way to describe the pass that Joe Burrow delivered last year to silence the Jordan-Hare Stadium crowd. Down 21-13 in the middle of the 4th quarter against No. 7 Auburn, it was Burrow or bust time. He hadn’t been needed to deliver clutch throws in his first 2 career starts; LSU hadn’t trailed.
On a shotgun set with 3 receivers split out wide, the LSU quarterback took a 3-step drop after a play-action fake to Nick Brossette. With perfect protection Burrow stepped into a ball over the middle that traveled 27 yards through the air. With not 1, not 2, not 3, but 4 Auburn defenders within 5 yards of a streaking Derrick Dillon, Burrow threaded the needle.
CBS color commentator Gary Danielson let out an uncontrollable “Woah!” as Dillon hauled in Burrow’s pass. “Unbelievable!” was the call from CBS play-by-play announcer Brad Nessler as Dillon scampered the remaining 50 yards for the LSU touchdown.
Joe Burrow: “I saw it was two high safeties in Cover 2. Against two high safeties, that’s where you’ve got to go with the ball. I just tried to get it up over the linebacker, and Derrick Dillon made a great play for me.” pic.twitter.com/plH6nsYzWq
— Cody Worsham (@CodyWorsham) September 17, 2018
Little did we know that flash of brilliance would set the stage for Burrow’s unprecedented 2019.
On Saturday, Burrow will face the team he devastated a year ago. To say a lot has changed since those Auburn matchups would be the understatement of the year. To this point, LSU hasn’t needed a game-winning field goal to beat a top 10 team like it did on that afternoon at Jordan-Hare. Now, Burrow beats top 10 teams by making throws like that all afternoon en route to offensive-fueled statement victories.
OK, maybe Burrow doesn’t make throws like that all afternoon. That window was microscopic. With Joe Brady on board, Burrow often gets bigger windows to throw into.
But he can still thread the needle for 6:
A bit of history for @LSUFootball.
Joe Burrow sets the school’s single-season passing TD record with his 29th of the year…and it’s only LSU’s 7th game. pic.twitter.com/n1ZGdWnM6b
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) October 19, 2019
That play, as mentioned, gave Burrow the LSU single-season passing TD record … in just 7 games. Through 7 games last year, he had 6 touchdown passes. He was a different quarterback in a different system when he saw Auburn last year. This year, there are more chances than ever to attack downfield with more receivers split out wide and an improved offensive line giving Burrow time to throw. That’s no secret.
What remained the same is that when Burrow is delivering his best dimes, they’re over the middle into tight windows. Burrow, just as he did then, seems to have an all-world ability to read safeties and deliver the ball between the hashes. It’s essentially automatic in LSU’s offense.
On throws between the hashes this season, Burrow has 1,634 yards on 84% accuracy with 20 touchdowns and 1 interception (via Cody Worsham). Goodness.
And while Burrow is the guy who’s earning all the deserved Heisman Trophy consideration, the most underrated element of that success is that he has receivers like Justin Jefferson, Ja’Marr Chase, Terrace Marshall (when healthy) and the aforementioned Dillon who are all comfortable catching balls in the middle of the field. They don’t shy from contact, they can find the soft spots in zone coverage and they trust Burrow to put the ball on the money.
A simple play like this has moved the chains countless times for the LSU offense:
Joe Burrow middle of the field throw. pic.twitter.com/axXE8wYiyd
— Derrik Klassen (@QBKlassClips) October 15, 2019
Secondaries continue to struggle to defend that. And the beauty of Burrow is that he’s not just a one-read guy. He doesn’t force the ball into the middle if it’s well-covered. That’s why he’s a 79% passer with just 3 interceptions in 218 total pass attempts.
Put too much focus on the middle of the field and Burrow will find the open receiver streaking down the sideline, too. He did that against Mississippi State when Racey McMath was left virtually uncovered on the left sideline for an easy throw and catch for 6:
Joe Burrow-goes-for-history TD thread …
— Jeff Nowak (@Jeff_Nowak) October 19, 2019
Believe it or not, it actually took LSU 25 minutes to score its first touchdown this past Saturday. Burrow and the Tigers still put up 36, which was the worst offensive output for LSU this year.
In other words, one might be able to contain LSU for a quarter or so, but for 60 minutes? Good luck with that.
That’s a daunting task ahead for an Auburn defense that has been incredibly good this year but hasn’t faced an offense quite as explosive as LSU. That includes Oregon.
It has been 20 years since Auburn won in Tiger Stadium. Baby Burrow probably didn’t catch that game but if he did, he would have watched LSU score just 7 points. If Auburn can hold LSU to 4 times that, it’ll be a major victory. What seems unlikely is that Burrow and LSU are stuck on 13 points in the middle of the 4th quarter in need of a dime.
And if the situation does yield another clutch dime from Burrow, well, you can bet Danielson and Nessler won’t be so surprised.