How Joe Burrow became the answer to fans' prayers and LSU's offensive nightmare

Joe Burrow is not from around Baton Rouge. The transfer quarterback is reminded of it almost daily at LSU.

"I always tell the story: In camp, I went to get a salad and everyone started making fun of me," Burrow recalled. "I eat salad. People in Louisiana don't like to eat salad. I got made fun of for that. I don't eat salad in public anymore."

Burrow was born in Iowa and raised in Ohio. He transferred from Ohio State. His dad and two brothers played at Nebraska. Baton Rouge and Louisiana are a micro-culture, an acquired taste unto themselves.

"The Cajuns," Burrow said, "they like to party a little more than the ones in Ohio."

OK, so the quarterback who just might be the best player in the country at the halfway point of the season isn't a cultural or culinary fit in his new surroundings. He does, however, speak the language all Tigers understand: Burrow is the difference-making quarterback LSU has coveted for just about forever.

It's taken a philosophical shift by his coach Ed Orgeron. In the offseason, Coach O fully committed to spread/RPO concepts. Orgeron hired Saints wide receivers coach Joe Brady to help install them. It helped massively that Brady and offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger bonded like andouille and rice.

It took the quarterback, though, to make it work. That makes Burrow the central figure in the week's biggest game. No. 5 LSU has been here before many times prepping for a huge night game in Tiger Stadium.

Saturday's showdown marks the second top-10 game for each team this season. No. 7 Florida just had its top-10 game last week, a defensive beat down of Auburn. The Tigers and Gators see Saturday in Death Valley as their latest championship jumping off point.

These days, if you've got a quarterback, you've got a chance. Burrow is the quarterback LSU has desired. No more lip service about opening up the offense. It has happened. No more longing for an elite quarterback. He's in place.

LSU is the highest scoring team in the country (54.6 points per game). After six touchdowns (five passing) against Utah State, Burrow is tied for second nationally in touchdown passes. The offense he commands has converted on all 31 trips to the red zone (26 have resulted in a touchdown).

"They trust me enough to put my ideas in the game plan," Burrow said. "They trust me enough to make checks at the line. It's kind of evolved into a line-of-scrimmage quarterback in a way."

Burrow has become not only an alpha male but an alpha quarterback. He was made a team captain in July after an effective 2018 debut at LSU. In the second week of the season, he showed no fear throwing four touchdowns as part of his 471 yards (second-most ever at LSU) in a 45-38 win at Texas.

The final install of that new offense might have come in the fourth quarter of that game. Instead of sitting on the lead on the road, the Tigers attacked.

"It showed me that this is who they are now," said Jacob Hester, a 1,000-yard rusher for the 2007 national champions under Les Miles. "It would have been easy to revert back to the old LSU. In the old 4-minute offense, it would have been 'Let's run it and play defense.'"

With 2 ½ minutes left against Texas and LSU nursing a seven-point lead, Burrow threw a 61-yard scoring pass on third-and-17. Ballgame.

"I thought Joe Burrow was the difference in the ballgame," Texas coach Tom Herman said afterwards. "He's going to have a heck of a year if he stays healthy."

As Burrow tells it, Herman recruited him to Ohio State when nobody else would. Now in a football irony, Burrow is running the offense at LSU that he was recruited to play at Ohio State. That was before Dwayne Haskins happened.

"I would say that's a fair statement," Burrow said. "The spread offense is designed to get your playmakers in space with timing and accuracy. That's what we did at Ohio State. That's what we're trying to do now."

LSU has basically joined the offensive revolution that has defined the college game for the last 15-20 years. The Tigers had one three-and-out in each of their first two games. They are No. 1 nationally in third-down conversions and No. 2 in passing plays of at least 20 yards.

"How long do you have?" Burrow said when asked to describe the changes that have transpired on offense. "It's not the same offense."

Orgeron said it took him two seasons to get the coaching staff, offensive line, receivers and running backs the way he wanted. The quarterback has been in place.

Burrow transferred to a place that had been its own Death Valley for quarterbacks. An LSU quarterback has finished in the top 30 in yards passing just once in the last decade. Burrow's 22 touchdown passes to this point are the third most in a season for an LSU quarterback.

Burrow and the Tigers weren't quite ready for prime time in last year's meeting against the Gators in Gainesville, Florida. The Gators rallied for two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to win 27-19. Burrow threw two interceptions.

"The real season starts now that we're in SEC play," he said this week. "Those first five games are nice. Kind of got our confidence going. This is when big-boy football is played."

Before he had even coached him, Brady seemed to foreshadow this summer what was ahead: "Quarterbacks are not game managers. You don't come to LSU to manage games. That's now what we're looking for. You come to excel on the biggest change."

Pro Football Focus can't praise Burrow enough. The analytics website has Burrow ranked as the No. 1 quarterback in the country. PFF called him "the nation's most exciting downfield thrower" on intermediate passes. Burrow is completing almost 71 percent of his passes under pressure, according to PFF.

There's kind of a pleasant, conversational cockiness about him, too. Burrow came to SEC Media Days in July wearing Road Runner socks.

"You look at me," he said,  "you don't think Road Runner."

When asked about a real gator taking on a real tiger, he played along: "A gator stands no chance. Just go look at the videos on YouTube."

On being named a team captain: "Guys like to be around me, like to follow me."

Then there is the Louisiana culture that he has fit into -- except for the salads.

"The open container law [here] is very different for me," Burrow said. "In Ohio, you can't walk around and drink. [At LSU games], you see people walking around without even Solo cups, just … beers. First time I looked at it, it was like, 'You're not going to arrest that guy?'"

LSU and Florida are gearing up for a top-10 battle and Geaux247 has a special offer for Tiger fans ahead of the big matchup as Ed Orgeron's club looks to move to 6-0. Get 60 percent off an annual pass for your VIP SCOOP on all things LSU and Tigers recruiting for just $42.96 for your first year.

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Dennis Dodd has covered college football for CBS Sports since it was CBS SportsLine in 1998. He is one of only seven media members to attend all 16 BCS title games and has chronicled conference realignment... Full Bio

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