HOOVER, Ala. — A perpetual smirk plays around the corners of Joe Burrow’s mouth. That look that suggests he knows something you don’t.

Maybe it’s how to trick a defense. Or calm an anxious team in a key moment. It’s definitely how to take a jarring hit like the one from UCF’s Joey Connors when Burrow threw that pick six in the Fiesta Bowl, brush himself off like Luke Skywalker after that seemingly lethal volley in “The Last Jedi” and throw a touchdown pass on the next possession. Like it was nothing.

Burrow was never going to leave here after Monday’s appearance at Southeastern Conference media days supplanting Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa as the preseason all-conference quarterback. But he certainly left an impression as a guy who oozes confidence. It takes confidence to complete your suit and tie ensemble with purple rimmed dress shoes (a gift from his mother Robin) and Road Runner — as in Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner of Saturday morning cartoon fame — blue socks.

“It’s because I’m so fast,” Burrow said of the socks. It may be July, but his swagger is in midseason form.


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What Burrow may lack in pure talent compared to Tua or Georgia’s Jake Fromm or Missouri’s Kelly Bryant he makes up for with that undefinable “It” factor. The quality that leads other men and compels them magnetically to follow. The jangling self-confidence of a frontier lawman that tells them, “Come on, you (bleeps), follow me. We’re going to win some games.”

Joe knows leadership. And his teammates, like center Lloyd Cushenberry, know it about him, too.

“Having a quarterback like that who is a true competitor rubs off on the team,” Cushenberry said.

Opponents like Florida’s superb defensive lineman Jabari Zuniga sing a similar tune.

“He doesn’t say much, but you can tell he’s a competitor,” said Zuniga, who sacked Burrow in last year’s game. “I have a lot of respect for him.”

Respect that must be earned, because Burrow holds the key to that treasure chest of promise this 2019 LSU football team possesses this fall.

The old standbys about the game are still true. The Tigers have to be able to block, and there are questions to answer there. They have to be able to tackle and turn the other team over.

But Burrow is the focal point for summoning up all the glittering bits and divergent threads of greatness that this LSU team has in it and making it a cohesive whole. The Tigers need dynamic quarterback play, something they have not always had since Matt Flynn led them to LSU’s last national championship in 2007.

For LSU to get to the playoffs, to a return trip to the Fiesta Bowl or a date in the Peach Bowl for this December’s semifinals, there are going to be at least a couple of times when Burrow is going to have to lead the Tigers to a crucial score. Or make the play that helps them hold onto the ball and keep it away from the other team. Or both.

They say LSU is going to the spread attack this season. Is going to incorporate the state-of-the-art wizardry of the run-pass option into its offense. If that’s true, it’s Burrow who is going to have to execute it.

No sweat, Burrow essentially says with a diamond cutter’s calm. Joe knows RPO. Knows how to light the fuse. As a matter of fact, crouching down under center as he did in his first season at LSU after transferring from Ohio State was as foreign to Burrow as speaking fluent Czech.

This offense, he promises, suits his style. You can almost imperceptibly see the corners of his mouth turning upward in delight at the thought.

“It’s getting closer to my comfort zone, to what I’ve been doing my whole life,” Burrow said. “The RPOs. The speed. That’s something I’ve been doing since I was 14 or 15. We’re still going to have some of that smash mouth LSU football, but I think we’re evolving a little bit.”

It’s important to remember that Burrow has spent just over a year on the LSU campus. In the LSU locker room. With these LSU teammates. He made one last Hail Mary pass at winning the Buckeyes’ starting quarterback job in the spring of 2018 but lost out to Dwayne Haskins. So he decided to take a chance on LSU.

“Last summer I didn’t know if I’d ever be a starting quarterback in college,” Burrow said. “This year, with 13 starts under my belt, I want to be a leader and want to make everyone around me better.”

Now Joe knows this team. Its strengths. Its weaknesses. LSU 2019 is, in a very real sense, Joe Burrow’s team, though he tries to brush aside any “Built by Burrow” stamp.

“I don’t look at it like that,” he said. “It’s our team. We need to build this thing together if we’re going to do what we want to do.”

What Joe wants to do in this offense is continue to infuse this team with his brand of toughness.

“I tell Coach E,” Burrow said, referring to offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger, “I want us to run more reverses so I can blindside some linebackers.”

That has to make Coach O, Ed Orgeron, smile, too.

“Joe has that linebacker mentality,” Orgeron said. “He fires everybody up. He fires me up.”

To quote the Road Runner, "Beep, beep."

Email Scott Rabalais at srabalais@theadvocate.com