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Joe Burrow
QB KlassRoom

QB Klassroom: LSU QB Joe Burrow, Part Three

by Derrik Klassen
Updated On: January 16, 2020, 1:12 am ET
LSU QB Joe Burrow vs Clemson (1/13/20)
  Left Outside Left Middle Right Middle Right Outside Total
20+ 1/3     3/3 (2 TD) 4/6 (2 TD)
16-20     1/2 2/2 (1 TD) 3/4 (1 TD)
11-15   0/1 3/4   3/5
6-10 2/2 2/2 4/5 (1 TD)   8/9 (1 TD)
1-5 5/6 (1 TD) 4/6 2/5 2/2 13/19 (1 TD)
0   1/1 1/1   2/2
Total 8/11 (1 TD) 7/10 11/17 7/7 (3 TD) 33/45 (5 TD)

Situational Accuracy

Outside the Pocket: 4/4 (plus 2 throwaways)

Under Pressure: 7/8 (1 TD, plus 3 throwaways)

Red Zone: 4/4 (3 TD, plus 1 throwaway)

3rd/4th Down: 6/9 (3 conversions, plus 1 throwaway)

Forced Adjustments: 1

Total Throwaways: 3

LSU's miracle season could not have wrapped up any better. After a slow start in the first quarter, suspense started to build as to how (or if) LSU would be able to take control of the game. It gave the game the slight boost in drama that it needed to distract us from LSU's season-long brilliance. From that point on, LSU's offense steamrolled Clemson's monstrous defense, putting up 21 points in the second quarter before choking them out for the rest of the game in the second half. Quarterback Joe Burrow was as fantastic as ever, slinging five touchdowns and running for another without giving up an interception. 

Yet oddly enough, it wasn't Burrow's passing ability necessarily that propelled LSU to a win. Burrow's incredible passing did, of course, help, but it was his ability as a runner that provided LSU's offense with another layer that Clemson didn't quite seem prepared to handle. Burrow has proven himself all year as a good athlete, but in this game, LSU really made it a point to use him on designed runs when they needed a clutch play. 

QB draw plays were a powerful cog in LSU’s offense against Clemson. While they’ve sprinkled in draw plays plenty throughout the season, I cannot remember a game in which they ran it more often than in this one. Perhaps that is a memory bias has to do with the gravity of the situations in which LSU was calling QB draw plays in this game, but it was a noteworthy part of the offense no matter how you dice it. 

Here is LSU’s second score of the game while they were trailing midway through the second quarter. LSU are in a 3x2 empty formation with the ball closer to the right hash. On defense, Clemson are playing man-to-man across the board with five defenders across the line of scrimmage, leaving the last defender as a middle of the field defender. If the middle of the field defender can be kept out of immediate run defense, then LSU should have five blockers on five defenders, theoretically giving Burrow room to scoot into the end zone. At the snap of the ball, Burrow steps back and props the ball up in a throwing position for just a moment to get the middle of the field defender to pause. Burrow then quickly tucks it down, stutters for a second to find his rushing lane, then punches it in over the goal line. 

And how about 3rd-and-10 while right around field goal range at the end of the half? LSU are in the same look and on the same hash as in the last clip. This time, however, Clemson is trying to run games up front with their pass-rushers, which includes linebacker Isaiah Simmons (11) dropping off the line of scrimmage from his blitzing position. The drop off opens up a hole for LSU’s OL to climb to the second level, give Burrow some room, and let him handle the rest. 29 yards later, Burrow was forced out of bounds at the six-yard line by a deep Clemson defender. Burrow threw a touchdown pass with just ten seconds left in the half on the following play

It’s not just that LSU was trusting Burrow’s rushing ability to be part of the offense, it’s that the spots they chose to give him the green light were at some of the most influential spots in the game. Had both of those drives finished in field goals, for instance, or even just one of them, would not have entered the half with as commanding of a lead. Both of Burrow’s efforts in those key spots propelled LSU to a two-score halftime lead instead of just one-score. 

Not all of Burrow’s rushing yards were by design, though. While they did feature him more than usual, Burrow also had to take matters into his own hands on a number of occasions. 

Whether it was just flipping a sack into a short gain or ripping off a chunk gain to move the sticks, Burrow was constantly using his legs to get out of trouble. What’s surprising is that Burrow was sacked five times throughout the game, but with how often he was being pressured on anything beyond quick passes, it’s impressive he wasn’t sacked even more. 

Of course, the star QB had his fair share of dazzling passing moments that highlighted his NFL potential for the last time. Outside the pocket, inside the pocket, down the field, short passes, under pressure, you name it: Burrow impressed in just about every split there is to evaluate a quarterback by. 

Let’s start with outside the pocket play. As highlighted in all the clips above, it’s clear that Burrow is a good athlete who can escape the pocket. Once outside the pocket, Burrow shows a rare sense of calmness and rationality when searching for potential pass-catchers. Seldom does Burrow panic and make a regretful throw. In this particular game, Burrow was a perfect 4-of-4 outside the pocket, in addition to a pair of throwaways. 

The throw itself isn’t anything spectacular, but the way he arrives at it is impressive. After trying to scan the field, Burrow is forced to start moving to get away from the pass rush and try to free up a receiver with the threat of his scramble. Burrow bounces around the pocket for a quick second before eventually slipping out to the left. Burrow’s path takes him right in front of where WR Justin Jefferson is running his short route. Knowing where his receiver is, Burrow holds onto the ball for as long as possible while threatening the run in order to get the defender to peel off of Jefferson. The moment the defender takes the bait, Burrow flips the ball out to Jefferson, who trots down the left sideline for over 30 yards. 

As the last play also helped showcase, Burrow is generally fantastic under pressure. At least for the regular season, Pro Football Focus had Burrow down for a 76.6 percent completion rate and 146.5 passer rating while under pressure in 2019. Burrow also rated higher in their grading system under pressure than Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield did in their respective Heisman-winning seasons. In this particular contest, the biggest and brightest stage of his career, Burrow was a stunning 7-of-8 when pressured in this game, aside from his trio of throwaways. 

Burrow is a great testament to one truth about play under pressure: it doesn’t always have to be flashy. Sometimes all a quarterback needs to do to negate pressure is one small slide, an arm angle adjustment while hanging tough in the pocket, or speeding up their throwing process by just a split second. It can look like nothing at first, but upon further examination, it’s quite impressive what all the best quarterbacks can manage to pull off to negate pressure. 

As Burrow is pulling the ball out of the RB’s stomach, the area in front of him is crowded. Normally on these RPOs plays, Burrow will get to set his plant foot in front of him and drive on the drive. That isn’t the case here. Instead, Burrow has to keep a tight base that is almost parallel with the line of scrimmage. If Burrow tried to widen out any more, he would be impeded by a defender. If Burrow tried to bail from the pressure, the timing of the play would be ruined and it would become a chaotic free-for-all. Despite the narrow base, Burrow is able to draw power from his back leg and push it up through his torso, then push the ball out with a quick snap right as the ball reaches its highest point. At no point in this play is Burrow comfortable by traditional standards, but his mechanics are so flexible that he can find a way to make it comfortable and deliver a perfect, well-timed ball.

There isn't anything new or profound to say about Burrow at this point. By around the midway point of the 2019 season, we have all known what he is. Since then, he has only continued to solidify that image of him with dazzling pocket movement, rare accuracy, and near-perfect decision making. While one may feel inclined to debate the overall quality of his prospects given he has just one year of production, that one year may be the best single season of quarterback play that college football has ever seen, depending on how you want to adjust for Cam Newton's best pass-catcher at Auburn being a punt returner who had a cup of coffee in the NFL. 

Burrow's rise in NFL Draft status has been meteoric, unlike anything we've seen in some time. Other quarterbacks such as Kyler Murray, Dwayne Haskins, and Mitchell Trubisky have been one-year wonders as well, but none did so after having already started in a previous season. All of them only played the one year, while Burrow played a middling 2018 season before blossoming into a juggernaut in 2019. Burrow's development and continued success is hard to deny, even if you believe his arm strength is among the NFL's elite or are worried he is an "older" prospect. There is nothing more Burrow could have done in 2019 to prove he is worth the first-overall pick.