The Louisiana State Tigers have not had a quarterback who can win them a national championship during their rise back to prominence in the 2000s.
Now, don’t misconstrue those words: LSU has had two starting quarterbacks win national championships this century, but here’s a hot, heaping bowl of étouffée that says you can’t name either of them.
(We’re waiting … Matt Mauck and Matt Flynn.)
You’re going to know Joe Burrow’s name by the end of this season, if you don’t already. There’s a chance it will be etched into the 2019 Heisman Trophy if he keeps playing like he did Saturday night in a near-flawless performance that put the sixth-ranked Tigers over the ninth-ranked Texas Longhorns in Austin, 45-38.
LSU won what will be the biggest non-conference game of the season — one of those early matchups that earn a team that title bout later on — not because of its defense stocked with future NFL freaks or a bruising run game. The Tigers won because Burrow and his speedy stable of wide receivers were relentless, and because their underdog coach allowed them to be set free.
Ed Orgeron did two things that no LSU coach has done in recent memory: He found a real quarterback and paired him with a fresh offensive mind in Joe Brady, the 29-year-old wide receivers coach/passing game coordinator who was an offensive assistant with the New Orleans Saints.
Orgeron didn’t do it because he wanted to beat Texas, although who couldn’t have enjoyed ruining Matthew McConaughey’s weekend? It was because Orgeron knows he won’t keep the highest-paid public position in his native state if he doesn’t beat Alabama and Nick Saban — soon.
Orgeron may look like a Cajun wild man roaming the sideline with a face so beet red it nearly matches LSU purple, but this couldn’t have been an easy move for him to make, going to a wide-open, up-tempo, spread offense.
Orgeron came up in Pete Carroll’s pro-style system at USC, where there was plenty of fun but the game plan was built around a strong rushing attack. He kept those ideals when he floundered in his first head coaching job at Mississippi, and he brought them to Baton Rouge too, as an assistant turned interim head coach turned permanent head coach.
LSU had an encouraging start last year too, but it had the familiar feel of an oncoming flameout. The Tigers were third in the College Football Playoff rankings when they hosted Alabama and were shut out, 29-0.
This year, it doesn’t just feel different. It will be different, as long as Burrow stays healthy.
There were so many moments that Orgeron could have gone conservative Saturday night with a lead on the road, and he just stayed out of the way. The result was Burrow throwing for 471 yards — the second most in school history — and wide receivers Justin Jefferson, Ja’Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall Jr. becoming the first Tigers trio to each have 100 yards receiving in the same game.
The coaches who man the thrones at these top-15 programs often bring in new staff members and trumpet that change is coming. They rarely have an immediate impact like Brady has had at LSU with Burrow, the highly recruited Ohio State transfer.
LSU plays at Alabama, so it is unlikely to go unbeaten. But even if it loses in Tuscaloosa, the Tigers have a legitimate shot to be 11-1 and knocking on the door of the CFP, where they could ride Burrow and their traditionally mean defense to the big prize.
After Auburn’s last-second win over Oregon last week and LSU’s victory at Texas, the Southeastern Conference cache will be overflowing the rest of the way, particularly after Georgia handles Notre Dame on Sept. 21.
It will be tough to keep two SEC teams out of the playoff, and now, when it comes to Joe Burrow and the Bayou Bengals’ high-flying aerial attack, seeing is believing.