Coming into Monday’s clash between the LSU Tigers and Clemson Tigers, I was hoping to see Joe Burrow face an opponent who could cause him problems and force him to adapt and overcome adversity in-game.
As odd as it sounds given that Burrow threw 5 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, and a National Championship record 463 yards, I think I got my wish.
Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables had an excellent game plan and his team fought hard. It wasn’t easy, but Burrow was able to take whatever they threw at him and do what it took to win.
Burrow has been extremely efficient throughout the season and finished the year with the second highest completion percentage ever posted (Burrow’s 76.3% falls just short of Colt McCoy’s 76.7% 2008 season). His worst completion percentage for a single game was 71.1% prior to the National Championship, but Clemson held him to 63.3%.
Now don’t get me wrong, that’s not bad. It’s just not Burrow.
Clemson played a lot of press coverage and brought a lot of heat. Because he got pressured and coverage was tight, the offense’s timing was off and Burrow’s placement was not as precise as his pass catchers are accustomed to. To his credit, he stood in the pocket and delivered balls down field, knowing he was going to take a hit. He’s a tough dude, but the defense affected him. He was off-target at times and could not navigate in and out of the pocket as well as he usually does.
That is because the Clemson defense did a better job of keeping Burrow in the pocket than other teams. As a result, he was not able to scramble as much as he has in recent weeks. Clemson’s edge rushers were disciplined and their blitzers came with great timing, sometimes unblocked.
LSU gave up an average of 2.14 sacks per game throughout the season, but Clemson had 5 sacks on the night. These sacks were generally drive-killers that pushed them too far off of schedule to recover. In fact, they only converted a first down after a sack once, and that was the result of a pass interference call.
The pressure and the sacks had an impact on Burrow, especially early in the game, but he was never seeing ghosts like Sam Darnold against the Patriots. Once he was able to get his bearings and adjust to what they were throwing at him, he was off to a record setting performance.
LSU started slow offensively, but the pressure wasn’t the only thing holding them up. They started each of their first two drives backed up inside their own 10 yard line. On their 3rd drive, they finally converted a first down, but on the very next play Burrow was sacked. 2 incompletions later, they were forced to punt for the third time.
They fell behind 7-0 before finally getting on the board with a 52-yard touchdown pass from Burrow to Ja’Marr Chase. While LSU’s offense lacked its characteristic timing and Burrow was not able to create in the same way that he normally does, he was able to stand in the pocket and deliver deep balls in stride to receivers who won their 1 on 1 matchups.
While that was his only touchdown pass of over 25 yards, he set up two additional scores with completions of 56 and 43 yards, both to Chase.
Take away what Joe Burrow wants to do, and he’ll find another way to beat you.
LSU led 28-17 going into the half, but went three-and-out on their first drive. Clemson took advantage and scored on their first possession, cutting the LSU lead to 3. LSU went three-and-out on their second drive of the half as well, before scoring a touchdown on their third.
Again, a slow start for LSU out of the gates and a big shift on momentum, but they did not go away.
This was a great game for Joe Burrow, but not just because he threw for 5 touchdowns and set a record for passing yards. It was a great game because it put him in bad situations, but he endured. The Clemson defense gave him the greatest challenge he has faced all year. They took him out of his game, but he still managed to figure out how to win.
Burrow showed resilience and flexibility he will need to be successful in the NFL, and this game should only add give excitement to Bengals fans.