SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — If you want to know Joe Burrow, get in the huddle.
There, between the hash marks, yards away from the enemy, beneath the echo of a hundred-thousand voices, the LSU quarterback will stroll up with a lighthearted grin.
"Every time he comes in the huddle," freshman receiver Terrace Marshall said Sunday, shaking his head. "He's a real funny guy."
Miami. Georgia. Alabama. Rice.
No matter the team.
"Right in the middle of the game, he'll say something real funny to keep everybody going," staring right guard Damien Lewis said. "One time he said, 'Hey, D-Lew, you want to go eat some pig?' That man never had no pig before."
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Burrow, a graduate transfer from Ohio State, hadn't eaten a lot of things.
When Burrow went on his official visit to Baton Rouge in the spring, senior tight end Foster Moreau took him to Mike Anderson's and taught him how to eat crawfish.
"That was a chore," said Moreau, a New Orleans native who hosted Burrow along with his roommate, reserve quarterback Tiger Scheyd. "Joe's not really the type to dive into anything exceptionally new, all on free will. He kind of had to ease himself into it."
No, Burrow already knew what he wanted when he arrived in Baton Rouge.
He'd already earned a bachelor's degree in personal finance at Ohio State. A long-time backup for the Buckeyes, he was ready to take care of business.
"I'm looking at it like it's my first job out of college," Burrow said during the season.
And he approached the season like a job. He got himself an apartment to himself, and he enrolled in online liberal arts graduate courses.
Burrow said he has really only been on campus once, when he took the graduate record examination in the offseason.
"I was able to spend more time at the facility, watching film," Burrow said. "I'm going to do the same thing next year. So, kind of balance my schedule with getting my work done and being there."
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Marshall remembered receiving an introductory text message as soon as Burrow arrived on campus during the summer. Every Sunday, Marshall said, Burrow met up with the receivers to run routes and get timing down before fall camp began.
Burrow took command of the four-man quarterback competition and won the starting job, earning the respect of his teammates along the way.
Then, when a pregame fracas broke out before LSU's high-profile, season-opener against Miami, Burrow was in the thick of it, emerging with his right hand raised with the Tigers' trademark "L."
"You see those country Westerns?" said Scheyd, who along with Moreau is part of Burrow's inner circle. "That's him. He's the John Wayne guy. Nothing bothers him."
In a fitting analogy here in the Arizona desert, Burrow will saddle up against No. 8 Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl — the most prestigious bowl game for LSU in the playoff era.
That oddsmakers predicted the Tigers would be nowhere near this game is worth noting again, and Burrow's consistent play (2,500 yards passing, 12 touchdowns, four interceptions) is a major reason they've made it this far.
"It's amazing what he's done," LSU offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger said. "Coming in during the summer and learning the offense and everything else and taking it over."
And as the season went on, anyone watching the Tigers learned plenty about Burrow — the son of a coach (Ohio defensive coordinator Jimmy Burrow), who has made stable one of the more rocky position groups in LSU history.
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But what has Burrow learned about himself?
"I just try to play 100 percent every game," Burrow said. "And I think if people see you do that, then they'll embrace you no matter who you are."
See, John Wayne just needs to be John Wayne. He comes in, beats the bad guy and rides off as the credits roll.
"I think that is opening up to him," Scheyd said. "Opening up to him is on the field and balling out and seeing what he's got. I think that's just kind of the guy he is. It's not that he's closed off. That's just Joe, you know? Cool, calm, collected."
Don't expect a cowboy hat and boots.
That's not Burrow's style.
"He's always wearing those Looney Toon pullovers," placekicker Cole Tracy said. "I remember during camp, he was wearing pajamas to the dining hall. And we're just like, 'What? This guy.'"
Marshall said Burrow wears colorful socks, and he traditionally wears one sock inside out.
If you notice the bright orange Bowser bracelet on his wrist, you'd tell Burrow is more of a video gamer — which Moreau and Scheyd found out during one of their Tuesday dinners at Rotolo's during the summer, where they chowed down calzones, $5 a plate.
Soon enough, free time was devoted to Super Smash Bros., a popular multiplayer game of melee between digital Nintendo characters.
Moreau said Burrow's go-to character is Ness — a complicated fighter, that, if mastered, can devastate and extremely frustrate opponents.
Scheyd sits the Smash Bros. sessions out, and he joins in whenever they break out NCAA Football — a discontinued game with rosters that would be stuck in 2014, were it not for an unknown, rogue gamer who supplies updated rosters for public download.
Yes, Scheyd said, Burrow is in the updated download, but they don't really remember his player's rating point totals because LSU is off-limits whenever they play.
"It's just kind of like, 'Find somebody else,'" Scheyd said. "It's kind of cheating."
Room for improvement
No, the LSU Tigers are left for reality.
And Burrow knows there's still further improvements before he's playing at a championship-competing, NFL prospect level.
"I would say my accuracy was not what it has been this year," said Burrow, whose 57.4 completion percentage ranks 82nd nationally. "I made some throws in some big games that were pretty decent, but just overall (I need to improve on) consistency in my game."
Dropped passes and poor pass protection account for a portion of Burrow's inaccuracy, and he partly made up the gap by protecting the football. He set a school record with 158 consecutive pass attempts without an interception, which he threw in a Week 6, 27-19 loss at Florida.
"I'm excited to see when we protect him, when we can get wide receivers catching every ball he throws, where he goes," punter Zach Von Rosenberg said. "I think he's a lot better quarterback than his numbers show this year."
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Ensminger sees the same potential, and the coordinator said Friday he wanted to expand the offense through Burrow next season, adding more quarterback runs and spread passes in four- and five-wide receiver formations.
The expansion of spread passes will await the resolution of protection issues (LSU ranks 99th nationally with 33 sacks allowed), but Ensminger can freely add more runs for Burrow — LSU's third-leading rusher with 375 yards and seven touchdowns — now that backup Myles Brennan has fully recovered from injury.
The coaching staff turned Burrow loose in the season-finale at Texas A&M, where the quarterback rushed 29 times for 100 yards and three touchdowns in the 74-72, seven overtime loss.
So, should Central Florida expect more quarterback runs in the Fiesta Bowl?
"I guess they'll find out, won't they?" Burrow said.
The credits roll
The gamer never wanted it to be easy.
More than once this season, Burrow used what may have well have been a catch phrase, saying LSU had to put its "big boy pants on" and "fight these teams to the death."
And after the team's first loss to Florida, he bore down before LSU's 36-16 win against then-No. 2 Georgia.
"You grow up wanting to play in games like this," he said then. "You don't want to cakewalk through the whole season. You want to be challenged, and you want to play the best teams that there are."
It's the same attitude Burrow's carried in the final weeks leading up to Central Florida, and on Sunday he said "winning 10 games would be huge" for the program heading into the next season.
"To me, it's the best confidence you can have," Scheyd said. "He knows within himself what he has and how good he is. He can portray that in a way his teammates can see it and his coaches can see it."
Who at LSU doesn't want to see it portrayed the same way?
John Wayne coming in. Beating the bad guy. Riding off as the credits roll.
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