Justin Jefferson says it all started during the summer.
When quarterback Joe Burrow transferred to LSU in May, three months before coach Ed Orgeron even declared him the starter, Burrow and the receiving corps began practicing almost immediately.
Even before the fence-jumping, fine-inducing, “Here, Joe Burrow, put this beer hat on to celebrate beating Georgia … woo hoo!” crowd was final…
Jefferson and the other receivers spent every Saturday during the summer running routes and working to build a connection with their soon-to-be starting quarterback.
Burrow’s connection with Jefferson has stood out through seven games this season.
“(The chemistry) is still developing and it’s been really good for us so far,” Burrow said. “We have a lot of work to do, but I like where we’re at right now.”
Jefferson and Burrow’s chemistry has clearly manifested itself. The two have connected for 27 passes, 453 yards and two touchdowns — almost 300 more yards than the next-closest receiver.
Jefferson is on pace for 50 catches, which would be most by an LSU receiver since 2013, when Odell Beckham Jr. had 59 and Jarvis Landry had 77.
Burrow, the Ohio State transfer, said Jefferson is one of the best receivers he’s ever been around. Jefferson’s understanding with any read on the defense allows him to get open, providing a clear path for Burrow.
“He can change direction quickly and can make plays being contested,” Burrow said. “We have really good chemistry. He’s always open and is just really solid at making big plays in big situations.”
While Burrow was new and adjusting to a new place and team, the sophomore wide receiver did not have much experience, either. Jefferson played limited snaps last season as part of a deep group of receivers, and he had one rushing attempt for 4 yards.
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“I had to adjust to the speed of the game,” Jefferson said. “Just adjusting to the play style and the competition I have been going against. Going in practice every day against these big-time cornerbacks and linebackers has helped me prepare for the game each week.”
Jefferson has emerged as LSU's clear No. 1 receiver, and Orgeron has not hidden that — but others, too, have continued made big plays in each game.
Junior receivers Stephen Sullivan (6-foot-7) and Dee Anderson (6-foot-6) have been able to use their height and strong bodies to get open or reach over defensive backs.
“We always say we never know whose game it's going to be,” Jefferson said. “One game could be for me, one game could be for Dee (Anderson). We just always have to be prepared, and (we're) just going out there and doing what we have to do.
“We don’t really care who makes the big plays, we just want to have another win on the board.”
Former five-star recruit Terrace Marshall Jr. and four-star Ja’Marr Chase, both true freshmen, have shown flashes of the potential Orgeron expected when they signed with the Tigers.
Chase has nine catches for 105 yards and two touchdowns, while Marshall has seven for 124 yards.
“(Marshall and Chase) are really good players,” Burrow said. “They’re going to get even better in the next few years and throughout the rest of the season. They’re young guys, but they’re going to continue to make plays for us.”
It may not be high-flying, but LSU's offense is nothing if not consistent.
The emergence of the passing game, of course, has grown along with a revamped offensive staff.
LSU entered this season with its third full-time offensive coordinator in three years, Steve Ensminger. He and passing game coordinator Jerry Sullivan have quickly made the Tigers' attack more dynamic.
Sullivan’s technical, precise approach emphasizes route-running more than catching the ball, Jefferson explained. It allows the receiver to “paint a better picture” for Burrow.
Burrow has been SEC Offensive Player of the Week twice this season, bolstered by the play of the Tigers receivers — whether it was Jefferson, who had six catches for 108 yards against Georgia, or Stephen Sullivan, who had a crucial first down during LSU's game-winning drive against Auburn on Sept. 15.
“(Ensminger) has given us the opportunity to go out there and throw the ball and make these big plays,” Jefferson said. “If we keep making these big plays, especially after the catch, then we can continue to throw the ball.”
Terrace Marshall Jr.