Burrow and Lawrence

LSU's Joe Burrow (left) and Clemson's Trevor Lawrence will lead a Tigers vs. Tigers showdown in the College Football Playoff National Championship in New Orleans on Jan. 13 (Advocate and AP photos)

As if there were anything left to underestimate with college football's reigning national champions, LSU coach Ed Orgeron found one more little unknown when watching Clemson's Fiesta Bowl win over Ohio State.

Down 16-7 just before halftime in the College Football Playoff semifinal, Clemson's Trevor Lawrence sped past an unsuspecting Ohio State defense on a quarterback draw. The lanky Lawrence juked past two defensive backs for a 67-yard touchdown — a run that went for more yardage than the quarterback had ever gained on the ground in any game before.

It was the catalyst in Clemson's 29-23 comeback victory. The weakspot in what had mostly been a half dominated by the Ohio State defense. The newest weapon for LSU not to overlook.

Running was the more rare of Lawrence's qualities. Now that play is one of the central highlights in the buildup to the most anticipated matchup within this year's national championship game.

Joe Burrow vs. Trevor Lawrence.

No. 1 LSU's 23-year-old Heisman Trophy winner vs. No. 3 Clemson's 20-year-old phenom.

The two quarterbacks have combined for more than 8,000 yards passing and over 80 passing touchdowns this season.

Did you expect to be talking about their abilities to run?

Orgeron knows how teams once underestimated his own quarterback's mobility. Burrow, LSU's second-leading rusher with 310 yards and four touchdowns, has joked people have called him "sneaky-fast" for the past 15 years.

Will LSU make the same mistake with Lawrence?

"Before this game, I probably would have," Orgeron said Thursday. "But not after I saw him. He's a big cat that can run, especially when he gets out in space. He won't be underestimated with us."

Lawrence's legs have garnered enough attention, Orgeron said wide receiver Jontre Kirklin has been emulating Lawrence as the scout team quarterback.

Kirklin recorded 147 career touchdowns and over 10,000 total yards as the star quarterback at Lutcher High, where he led the Bulldogs to two Class 3A state titles. The 6-foot, 185-pound junior was called the "Player of the Week" by Orgeron earlier this season by the way he quarterbacked Georgia Southern's gun-option offense.

But Lawrence is no Jalen Hurts. Oklahoma's Heisman runner-up rushed for 1,255 yards before LSU clamped down on his wheels, limiting him to 43 yards in the Tigers' 63-28 victory in the Peach Bowl semifinal.

Mobility was the main focus for LSU against the Sooners. Tigers defensive coordinator said the plan was going to make Hurts beat them with his arm, something Orgeron says Lawrence is more capable of doing.

"Trevor, he can beat you with his feet and his arm," Orgeron said. "That's the difference."

His arm, yes, the howitzer that helped Clemson win the national championship in 2018. Lawrence was then a true freshman, the nation's No. 1 overall recruit who beat out former starter Kelly Bryant and tore through Alabama's defense with 347 yards and three touchdowns in the 44-16 beatdown that was last season's title game.

By then, most everyone knew of Lawrence's skill, his poise, his lengthy blonde locks.

The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Georgia native reached the pinnacle of college football fame while LSU's Burrow was still trying to carve out his own place.

Burrow's Offensive MVP performance in LSU's Fiesta Bowl victory over Central Florida last season did little more on the national scale than reinforce belief in his potential. Thought spread that if the Tigers were to somehow break out of their history of offensive disarray, Burrow could be a good fit.

Burrow knew he could do more than that once LSU hired passing game coordinator Joe Brady to revamp the offense in tandem with offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger.

That's why Burrow said at the Manning Passing Academy in June that LSU would be scoring, "40, 50, 60 points a game."

Lawrence avoided the media scrum that day at Nicholls State. He'd attended the annual camp, and he said Monday it's where he met Burrow for the first time.

Lawrence said he then watched some of Burrow's biggest games this season, and he noticed "his pocket presence," "his accuracy," and his ability to "extend plays."

Burrow confirmed their meeting together in Thibodaux.

"Yeah, we got to spend some time together," Burrow said Thursday. "That was a fun week. We got to spend time with a lot of quarterbacks around the country. He's a super fluid guy for how big he is. He's fun to watch. You can tell he's a great competitor, tough guy. I respect those kinds of guys."

Burrow has earned his respect since transferring from Ohio State as a graduate before the 2018 season. This will be his one and only time to play in college against Lawrence, who unlike Burrow, has one more season to play before he is eligible to declare for the NFL draft.

Burrow is projected by some outlets to be the No. 1 overall pick in 2020, and Lawrence could possibly follow him in the same spot in 2021.

So this championship battle could be the start of a head-to-head matchup that could play out in years to come in the pros.

But, that's getting ahead of things.

"I know they worked really hard to get there," Burrow said, "and we're excited to get the opportunity to play in this game."


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Email Brooks Kubena at bkubena@theadvocate.com.