Sometimes you can’t win with the grace and ruthless efficiency as LSU has done most of this season.
Sometimes you have to dig one out of the dirt. Sometimes you have to just set your jaw — or punch yourself in the jaw, as is LSU coach Ed Orgeron’s pregame tradition — and out tough the other guy.
That’s what Joe Burrow did for LSU on Saturday in a 12-round grinder against fellow Southeastern Conference heavyweight Auburn. That’s why LSU is still undefeated going into this year’s Game of the Century two weeks from now at Alabama. That’s why he should be the Heisman Trophy front-runner and why he has an excellent chance to win it. And that’s why LSU has an excellent chance to win Nov. 9 in Tuscaloosa.
Burrow isn’t from here. He’s from Ohio. But he brings a rustbelt factory worker’s hardness to the game that would play well in any chemical plant or refinery in south Louisiana or any oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.
“Huge,” Orgeron said when asked about what a factor Burrow was in this game. “Huge. He was under pressure and made key first downs.
“Joe’s a competitor.”
Burrow is like a man from another era. With that closely cropped haircut he’s been sporting since the summer — better to deal with our tropical heat and humidity, my dear — he looks like a World War I flying ace. All he needs is a scarf and a pair of goggles.
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It took guts to fly those rickety biplanes into and out of combat and through the occasional crash landing. It takes guts to stare into the maw of what may be the best defensive line in college football and deliver the pass or scramble for the big yards.
One big scramble had a familiar, painful feel for Burrow and LSU. And resulted in a familiar outcome.
With LSU facing third-and-12 from its 9 to start the second quarter, Burrow scrambled right toward the Auburn sideline. He picked up 14 and the first down, but at the end of the play he was driven out of bounds by a helmet-to-helmet hit from Auburn cornerback Javaris Davis; a hard, potentially injurious blow.
There was no flag. There was just a moving of the chains. All of Tiger Stadium was enraged. Burrow, as is his modus operandi, seemed to draw fuel from the contact.
“If your quarterback shows toughness like that, it can get the team going,” Burrow said. “It’s what I try to do every day in the weight room and on the field, take hits and get back up.
“If you lay down and don’t hop right back up, it shows your team you’re not into it.”
Burrow was into it, all right. Seven plays later Burrow had LSU in the end zone, the drive ending with passes of 19, 27 and 20 yards — the final going to Terrace Marshall Jr.
It was Burrow’s 30th touchdown pass of the season, his only one of the day. But it was a cousin to another touchdown pass he threw after getting laid out on a pick six interception return by UCF in the Fiesta Bowl.
A reminder of that other time Joe Burrow took a brutal hit -- then peeled himself off the turf to go fully nuclear the rest of the game. pic.twitter.com/LVMtBaG02D— Jeff Nowak (@Jeff_Nowak) October 26, 2019
Burrow was LSU’s offensive MVP that day.
He was on this day as well.
It was hardly easy, though. While Burrow had yet another 300-yard passing day (32 of 42 for 321 yards) he was running and scrambling much of the afternoon with 13 carries for a net 31 yards. Sometimes, the Auburn defenders caught him and hit him and pretzeled him after overwhelming LSU’s blockers. He was officially sacked three times. At least twice Burrow came up gimpy, flexing his right knee after the pocket crumbled around him.
He came back for more. Early in the fourth quarter, he was still game enough to hold a beat (Oh-hi-O … then geaux!) on a delayed draw then scamper into the end zone on a 7-yard run, giving LSU a 23-13 lead that kept the game just far enough out of Auburn’s reach.
“That touchdown,” Coach O said, “was huge.”
It was hardly what they call the beautiful game in soccer for Burrow and LSU’s offense. He underthrew a pass that was intercepted near the goal line. He and tailback Clyde Edwards-Helaire — who also had a brilliant day with 187 yards total offense — both got stonewalled on some critical short-yardage situations, including at the goal line.
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But at the end there was Burrow and LSU once again, taking a knee in the victory formation as the clock finally ran down to all zeroes.
“We have a very talented team,” Burrow said. “We can win 7-6 and we can win 70-62. We have great players all over the field. Tough guys all around.”
Tough guys toughened by Burrow’s play. His leadership. Strengthened the way iron is smelted to become steel.
So, go ahead. It is time now. Time for the speculation and two weeks of simmering talk and talk and talk about LSU versus Alabama on Nov. 9 in Tuscaloosa. Whether LSU can at long last best its bogeyman. Whether Burrow, unlike Leonard Fournette four years ago, can leave Bryant-Denny Stadium with his Heisman front-runner status still intact.
“I’m not worried about the national championship right now,” Burrow said. “I’m worried about getting healthy in this bye week and going after that big one.”
The big one is big for LSU because of Burrow. Because of toughness you can’t teach.
As LSU's showdown with Auburn wore on in Tiger Stadium, the normally bright green Tiger Stadium turf was littered with more and more brown poc…