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Burrow’s Brilliance Leads New LSU Past Longhorns

By Matt Smith
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After Saturday night’s 45-38 win for the sixth-ranked Tigers over No. 9 Texas in Austin, LSU fans should finally feel comfortable with the state of their head coach, their offensive scheme, and, without a doubt, their quarterback.

For most of the 21st century, LSU has had the DNA to be a consistent national title contender. Despite a pair of national titles in the previous decade, Tigers fans have often found themselves disappointed. Why is that? Coaching, scheme, quarterback play and Alabama would be the top four reasons cited by the rabid and rambunctious Tigers fanbase.

All four reasons led to the unceremonious firing of head coach Les Miles in September 2016, but those concerns persisted during the first two years of the Ed Orgeron era, as the Tigers posted a solid but unspectacular 19-7 record.

In the last two games of the 2018 season, which included an unforgettable 74-72 seven-overtime loss to Texas A&M, LSU offered some hope for the folks on the Bayou. Junior quarterback Joe Burrow looked like a legitimate weapon for the first time all season. Orgeron kept his hands off of the offense after meddling for much of his first season, and he added Joe Brady from the New Orleans Saints as passing game coordinator in the offseason. Maybe 2019 would be the year.

After Saturday night’s 45-38 win for the sixth-ranked Tigers over No. 9 Texas in Austin, LSU fans should finally feel comfortable with the state of their head coach, their offensive scheme, and, without a doubt, their quarterback. Alabama is a whole different problem that will be addressed on Nov. 9 in Tuscaloosa, but for now, all is well in Baton Rouge.

LSU quarterbacks have rarely had to win games on their own. It was different on a steamy Saturday night in the capital of Texas. Burrow had to win it. LSU’s defense broke down in the second half, as injuries, heat, and a hot Longhorns passing game produced three consecutive touchdown drives on Texas’ first three possessions of the half. The Ohio State transfer had an answer all three times, leading the Tigers to a field goal followed by directing a pair of touchdown drives, the first culminating in a 26-yard pass to Terrace Marshall. All three scores extended LSU’s lead from one scores to two.

Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda’s defense finally regained its composure early in the fourth quarter, holding Texas to a field goal on a six-minute drive that brought the game clock under four minutes. Then Burrow cranked his game up to an unprecedented gear. Clinging to a six-point lead, Burrow needed to either score one more time or grind out the final four minutes. He did the former. With Royal-Memorial Stadium rocking, Burrow converted a 3rd-and-17 with a third scoring pass of the night to Jefferson, this one for 61 yards and the nail in the coffin. Add another score on the two-point conversion to Chase, and it was over. Texas scored in the final seconds to bring the final margin to seven, but failed to recover the ensuing onsides kick.

Burrow was brilliant in the first half as well, finding Justin Jefferson for two touchdowns in the second quarter, as LSU built a 20-7 lead at the break. His only turnover came on a deflected pass, but Texas was unable to capitalize after being stopped on downs inside the 5-yard line.

For the game, Burrow finished 31-of-39 for 471 yards and four touchdowns. Burrow’s counterpart, Sam Ehlinger, was excellent as well, throwing for 401 yards and producing five total touchdowns, as the Longhorns scored on every drive in the second half. But the night belonged to Burrow.

It was LSU’s first 400-yard passing performance since Rohan Davey in 2001, and the Tigers needed almost all of those yards after the defense failed to force a punt in the second half. The three top receivers – Chase, Jefferson and Marshall – all went over 100 yards. In recent seasons, even a single 100-yard wideout was rare.

LSU’s schedule, while always brutal, actually could work in its favor this year. Top-15 teams Auburn, Florida and Texas A&M all have to come to Tiger Stadium. The non-Alabama road games remaining are Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and Vanderbilt. In the SEC West, it doesn’t get much more favorable than that.

If the Tigers can defend their home turf, there’s a fairly clear path to 11-1 that doesn’t even require getting the big crimson elephant off of their backs. The last 11-win LSU team, the 2011 team that went 13-1, was carried by its defense. This LSU offense doesn’t require that level of aid. On Saturday night, it was just the opposite, as the Tigers defense failed to get a stop in the second half, but still beat a top-10 team on the road.

This LSU team is a national title contender. With Ed Orgeron. Because of their passing game. Because of their quarterback. Maybe the season ultimately ends in disappointment, but it won’t be for the same old reasons, except for maybe Alabama.

This is a brand new LSU. We’ve been fooled before by the promise of a different LSU, but even after two weeks, it’s clear that this time, it’s for real.

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.