AUSTIN, Texas — It doesn’t take a magnifying glass to see all the connections between the Texas Longhorns and LSU Tigers ahead of Saturday’s prime-time showdown at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.
As the Tigers have increasingly relied on Big Ten castoffs to play the most important position on the field, head coach Ed Orgeron secured a transfer in 2018 from Ohio State quarterback Joe Burrow after the multi-year backup lost the starting job to Dwayne Haskins in the spring.
Despite considering staying close to his home in Athens, Ohio, and playing at Cincinnati, Orgeron and his staff were able to win over Burrow with some boiled crawfish and the opportunity to play in Baton Rouge.
Now, with Burrow seemingly poised to become one of the SEC’s best quarterbacks this season, much of the talk this week has been about the Ohio State ties on the Texas staff.
So one of the most compelling storylines is the deep connection between the Texas head coach Tom Herman and offensive coordinator Tim Beck to Burrow.
When Burrow was playing at The Plains High School as a top-10 dual-threat quarterback in the 2015 class, Herman was his lead recruiter as the Buckeyes offensive coordinator. The opportunity to play for home-state Ohio State was too much to pass up, especially because none of his other offers were nearly as prestigious. And so, in late May of 2014, Burrow committed.
After Herman helped Ohio State win the national championship that season, he took the head coaching job at Houston. When it came time to make sure that Burrow was still willing to sign with the Buckeyes, it was Beck, Herman’s replacement, who visited with Burrow and his family.
As a result, both coaches have a deep understanding of Burrow as a person and a player.
“I love Joe,” Herman said on Monday. “I recruited him. I got to know his family. He’s a coach’s kid — his dad is the defensive coordinator at Ohio University. He reminds me of our guy.”
On Wednesday, Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando echoed the thoughts of his head coach by doubling down on the comparison to Longhorns junior quarterback Sam Ehlinger, as did Beck before Orlando. But what is it specifically about Burrow that reminds the Texas coaches of Ehlinger?
“He’s physically, mentally tough, he’s uber competitive, he’s a leader among leaders, so to say you gotta pressure him, as with any good quarterback, you do, but we got DB coaches that are saying, hang on, can we cover him every now and, again, too, and give my guy some help. So you’ve got to vary the looks,” Herman said.
Now a fifth-year senior in his second year at LSU and first year in the new offense coordinated by Steve Emsminger and former New Orleans Saints offensive assistant Joe Brady, Burrow is comfortable enough to make the right pre-snap reads.
“I don’t think you can just say we’re going to dial a blitz up every snap and say we’re good enough to hold up in the back end, especially as smart as Joey is in terms of knowing where his issues are and his match-ups are,” Herman said. “We definitely know how intelligent he is and we will be cautious with how we approach that.”
Brady also brought some passing game concepts to the Tigers that offenses in the Big 12 don’t use that often.
“A lot of spacing concepts, which means just release five guys as fast as you can get them set up, read the coverage, throw it to him, and then extend plays,” Orlando said on Wednesday. “So that is a little bit unique in terms of our league. There’s some guys that run a little bit of it, but not a lot. That part is a little bit different.”
The idea is to trust the quarterback to make the right coverage read, find the open receiver, then put that athlete in a position to turn up the field and make plays.
Burrow is a true dual-threat quarterback who even has some explosiveness — he had a 59-yard run last season to go along with seven rushing touchdowns. Three of them came against the Aggies, the only game in his career in which he’s run for 100 yards.
Against Georgia Southern in the opener, Burrow got off to a tremendous start as a passer in the new-look offense, throwing for 278 yards and five touchdowns on 23-of-28 attempts, with one throw going for 44 yards. Last season, he had three games with passing plays of 50 yards or more and only threw four interceptions.
However, his completion percentage was mediocre at 57.4 percent and he only threw 12 touchdowns.
Still, expect a much-improved Burrow this season, in part because of the changes to the formerly prehistoric LSU offense and in part because he’ll be much more comfortable in his second season as a starter.
The biggest question that remains is how well he can perform when the spotlight is the most intense, the discussion of which prompted a minor Thursday controversy on Twitter.
Ketchum’s tweet prompted a response from Burrow’s father, Jim, a longtime college coach who served as the defensive coordinator from Ohio University from 2005 until his retirement after last season. Now he has the time for such things, apparently.
Willing to bet things change this weekend— James Burrow (@jburrow3) September 5, 2019
If things do change for Burrow in a big game this weekend, the Texas coaches probably won’t be surprised.