Like a phoenix from the ashes, Joe Burrow has risen from the ground where the Florida Gators’ defense planted him a year ago and turned himself into a Heisman hopeful.
The Gators plan to end that hope Saturday in Baton Rouge.
LSU has played 12 games since they lost to Florida last season — a full season’s worth of games — going 10-2 in the process. Burrow has been great. Since a woeful two-interception performance in Gainesville, the Ohio State transfer has completed 68% of his passes (279-409) for 3,835 yards (319.6 per game) with 33 touchdowns to just 7 interceptions.
This season Burrow has been phenomenal. He leads an LSU offense that is scoring 54.6 points-per-game (1st in the country). LSU’s passing offense has been very un-LSU like as well. The Tigers lead the SEC in passing (416 yards) and Burrow’s 22 passing touchdowns trail only Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa for most in the conference.
However, Florida’s defense is legit. They’re one of if not the best defense in the country. The Gators have given up just 57 points this season. They lead the SEC in sacks (26), interceptions (12), red zone defense (35.71%), red zone touchdown percentage (21.43%) and passes defended (35).
Last year the Gators sacked Burrow five times and Louisiana native Brad Stewart iced the game with a pick-six in the fourth quarter. So Burrow’s comments about his feelings towards Florida make sense.
“I don’t like them very much,” he told local reporters. “They did beat us pretty good last year.”
The Gators aren’t resting on last year’s production. This is a different LSU offense than a year ago. The addition of Joe Brady has helped the Tigers’ passing game immensely and Burrow is playing as confident as he ever has.
“He’ll be the best quarterback, obviously, we’ve seen so far this year,” Dan Mullen said. “He can make all the throws. He’s got experience; he’s been out there on the field.”
The Gators pass rush will look to get after Burrow on Saturday but the senior hasn’t wilted in the face of pressure in 2019. According to Pro Football Focus Burrow has faced pressure on 58 of his 162 dropbacks this season. He’s completed 70.7% of his pass attempts under duress with six touchdowns and no interceptions.
“I think their offense as a whole is executing well, meaning the line is doing a good job in protection, he feels pretty clean in the pocket, he’s got some really talented players who can make plays,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “He’s a very competitive guy, understands where to throw the ball, does a really good job of staying in the pocket, keeping his eyes downfield on his target. And he can go to the second and third progression, which makes it a challenge when a quarterback can do that.”
The Gators will still play their brand of football and they’ll enjoy getting a healthy Jabari Zuniga back to bolster an already scary pass rush. It’s going to be a great test for LSU’s offense just as much as it will be for Florida’s defense.
“He’s a great player,” Jeremiah Moon said. “I’m excited to get after him a little bit. May the best man win.”
Burrow has been Joe Cool all season. The Gators want to turn him into Joe Dirt Saturday at Death Valley.